Day 4: In which our clueless heroine meets Lottie, lives as a Mardi Gras queen, and finds Tiana’s Palace
Tiana would never be this lazy, I think guiltily as I roll out of bed, scandalously late in the morning. But I couldn’t resist sleeping in. Today’s the first day I don’t have something official on my itinerary, and I was up late last night making a friend: my new roommate, Anna!
Okay, okay, so Anna isn’t a lot like the unhinged Charlotte “Lottie” LaBouff…aside from being super warm, friendly, and game for adventure! She tells me about her home in Singapore, and we giggle over our shared love of Korean dramas. I tell her about my Princess and the Frog project, and mention that I saw a restaurant called “The Palace” on Canal Street. We make plans to meet there for dinner. Tonight, Tiana’s restaurant fantasy will come true!
Think of it as being sorted for a wand at Ollivander’s. You wander into the journal section of Barnes and Noble or Powell’s and there they are: the tempting leather handmades, the flamboyant PaperBlanks, the understated Moleskins, the humble 5-Star spirals.
But how on earth is a novelist (or poet/blogger/nonfictioneur) to know which one to pick? You’re in luck! This handy quiz is all you need. Get your results and then scroll down for more details on your notebook.
Before you begin, here are some universal dos and don’t for your quest:
…buy anything with “Journal” or “Diary” on the front. First it’s inaccurate, and second, if you use your notebook often (as you should!) then it will be awkward to write in public. Unless you want to constantly explain to nosy onlookers that you’re making art, not obsessed with your feelings, steer clear of these titles.
…ignore the binding. That twine lacing up the spine may look cute now, but it’ll be a pain when it breaks, or is too tight to keep the book open. Also, no pretty notebook is worth cheap glue or plastic spiral binding. Your heavy messenger bag will rip that apart before you can say Emily Dickinson. Some hardback covers will also slip off of spiral notebooks, though this can be fixed by dotting the spiral tips with hot glue.
…buy a lined notebook that’s not college-ruled. Maybe this is just a quirk of mine, but I can’t stand wide-ruled lines. I feel like I have to write bigger…and I feel like I’m five. Enough said.
…Buy the notebook in person. I’m the empress of online shopping, but this is one purchase you need to hold in your hands. Notebooks are a long-term relationship, and often you won’t feel justified starting a new one until you’ve filled up the last one. Make sure you’re enthralled before coughing up the money!
…Make sure the design is inspiring, something that will encourage you to write. Do be realistic… there will be days where you won’t feel like picking up your notebook even if it shows Richard Armitage covered in clotted cream and strawberries. But still, a dreary cover won’t get you anywhere…
…Check to see if it has a storage pocket in the front or back. This isn’t mandatory, but it’s helpful to store scraps of inspiration that didn’t quite make into the notebook, or even pages from a computer draft that you’re continuing on paper.
…Smell that sucker. I don’t care who’s watching. You’re a writer: embrace the bounty of your geekdom. Sometimes everything will seem right, then you give the book that last conscientious sniff and—ugh. Sour processed paper and glue. Then another book will waft sweet handmade leather, fresh ink, or that faint milky paper scent. Think of it as being fitted with the perfect core for your Ollivander wand. That’s what I said— find your Elder Notebook.
Now for what you’ve been waiting for—the quiz! Have fun, and if you like, post your results in the comments!
How to Recognize a Victorian Diarist Notebook:
Exterior: Hardback, elaborate design
Size: Medium to Large
Suggested brand(s): Paperblanks (Good gravy I love these people. They are freaking geniuses. If I have any secret admirers out there, keep in mind I’d rather have a box of Paperblanks than flowers and chocolate any day…)
How to Recognize a Starving Artist’s Notebook:
Interior: Lined or Unlined
Exterior: Paperback, cardboard, plastic; solid colors or simple prints
Suggested brand(s): 5-Star, general composition notebooks, various school/office supply/book stores. (These are usually inexpensive, so you can get away with buying more than one. Though if you’re a Starving Artist, you may want to save that extra 6 bucks towards rent or Ramen Noodles.)
How to Recognize a Fantasy Novelist’s Tome:
Interior: Lined or Unlined, preferably the latter so you can make sketches, maps, etc.
Exterior: Hardback or Leather
Size: Medium or Large
Suggested brand(s): Paperblanks, Etsy, various book store selections. (Note that these will often be an investment, budget at 30 dollars at least. I’ve always found impressive Fantasy Tomes at Barnes and Noble, though this is one case where it’s okay to break the no-online-shopping rule. Etsy has some incredible specimens!)
How to Recognize a Minimalist Draft Book:
Exterior: Hardback or Leather
Size: Medium to Large
Suggested brand(s): Moleskine. (I’ve never been Minimalist enough to shell out for a real Moleskine, but from what I’ve seen these are really quality products. Prices range from 10 to 25 dollars.)
How to Recognize a Scribbler:
Interior: Lined or Unlined
Exterior: Any- hardback, paper, colorful, solid, etc.
Size: Small, pocket size
Suggested brand(s): Paperblanks, Moleskine, Etsy, various book store selections. (The more the merrier!)
So now you know, and happy shopping! I’d love to hear about your results below (and pictures of your findings!).
I once heard that writing is the only socially acceptable way to be a compulsive liar, and in my case, it couldn’t be truer.
I’m quick to launch into metaphysical reasons why art is necessary. But honestly? When I fumble for my notebook or whip out my laptop, I’m not thinking of “reflecting the image of God” or “the significance of aesthetics.” Instead, my thoughts are a minefield of images, ideals, and emotions—passions that give meaning to life but find little place in everyday routine. The heartache I felt in tenth grade is healed and buried, but there was something exhilarating about it…so it seeps into my love stories. The hope that springs from lifelong friendships is too precious to log in texts, Facebook messages and conversations I only half-remember. So that hope finds immortality in character arcs and plot lines.
A story is a place where passion can be preserved in tact, like a pressed flower, and perhaps painted over to be more vibrant than before.
Here the “compulsive liar” part comes into play. Often, art serves me as a way to bring my mediocre epiphanies to their full potential. Friendships blossom into lifelong journeys complete with prologue, climax, and denouement. Favorite places explode into universes and kingdoms. And of course, every life experience could use some ruby-eyed dragons.
But these reasons for art discontent me sometimes. I feel self-absorbed and ungrateful, like I can’t accept my life the way it is, or appreciate the fantastic reality God created. Then again, my compulsion to spin shadows is driven by fulfillment as well as longing…from joy and wonder, as well as sadness.
I don’t want to replace my experiences but to extend them: to see them in different colors and with new eyes.
In short, I write and act from an innate longing for eternity. Art serves as a way to fully appreciate concepts bigger than myself, to examine and admire them from every angle, and to perpetuate their significance in my life. Humans, in their hearts, experience many things in similar ways, but often those experiences are never validated. We think we’re alone in our deepest desires. Sometimes seeing our hearts in print gives us permission to let them beat—and I hope that my art will give that validation.
Part Two: the Actual Work
Well, that was fun. But now I have to take off my philosopher glasses and put on the old ink-stained apron.
To any person who has read Little Women, the idea of a fiction writer is glamorized. A true writer, or so we think, is struck by inspiration and, driven by a passion beyond her control, shuts him or herself in an attic for a night. Ten hours of concentrated genius, and then—poof—a novel! Many years ago I crawled out my shell to participate in a teen writing group, and the director asked all of the participants why and how they write. The responses were dramatic, ranging from “The ideas just come to me” to “the voices in my head tell me I must write about them!”
Imagine how dull I felt when I described the incredibly technical process I follow when writing. Yes, the fantastical aspects of the immense worlds I spin from my pen are organic…but if I stayed in Inspiration Land all the time, I’d never finish a thing. “Voices in my head” don’t come up with literary structure, consistent voice, and clear delivery.
That said, most of my stories spring from an experience. The inspiration for my current project, for example, grew from memories of my time with prodigies at a tiny private high school. Real life experience feeds a story like kindling on a fire. It’s all very well to know that I want a quest, a monster fight, and a kiss in the end, but priceless moments from real life are what cause me—and probably my readers—to take a story seriously.
Anyone can learn to notice the world around them. Turning experience into stories is like pressing flowers, and then taking their seeds and planting new, immortal ones. If I could give one piece of advice to fellow writers, it would be to hoard their memories, every emotion and sensation. Don’t experience an important life moment and then let it slip away.
Of course, then there’s a danger of your stories being autobiographical, which dampens a story’s ability to grow. You really can’t re-plant a pressed flower. You bury seeds from it in a new place, and then give it space to become a life in its own right.
But again, all inspiration starts with something real. You can avoid being autobiographical by changing the setting (a music gig at a coffee shop, for example, could become a small concert hall in a palace) changing the people, and most importantly, changing the stakes. The singer for the “music gig” could be singing for the last time in her life, rather than her last time at Coffee Cottage. Once one becomes accustomed to repainting real life memories into stories, everything becomes an inspiration, and ideas appear around every corner.
Next, I get a feel for the setting of a story, and if I have enough inspirations linked together, I will already know quite a bit. But I must always resist the urge to plow ahead without asking myself questions. What do people value in that place? What is the climate like? What does it smell like? What would I like or dislike about the place if I visited it? The small details are what make stories come to life for me.
After that, I establish a skeleton for each character. It’s not enough to know that a person is handsome, impulsive, and good with a sword. I must continue to ask questions—why is this person impulsive? Is he afraid of missed opportunities? What happened to him to make him afraid? No one can flesh out a character completely up front, but if I preset “rules” for how a character acts and stick to them, I avoid sounding like I am making up something as I go.
At last, after I have generated ideas, a world, and character skeletons, I scuttle through an instensive outline. While voice will change with each person, an integral, teachable part of this step in process would be that I always try to write from what I “know.” If I have done my homework, I should not have to make up what a character would say. Rather, I can ask myself about their past and discover, rather than create, how they would react. Writing from what I know is probably the most defining characteristic in what separates my weak pieces of fiction from my strong ones. It does not matter if a scene takes place in a modern day college campus or a glittering castle; if I give characters reasons to do what they do, the situation will appear realistic.
To briefly touch on the beast of editing: I find it most effective to edit for content simultaneously with writing a chapter or section, and then go back and edit for delivery when I am finished with the initial draft. I know this goes against the “serious writer” philosophy of draft draft draft, but really? There’s no one way to write. Do what works for you—not what’s most comfortable—but what works. That’s your true style.
Still, it’s helpful to try out new ways, which is partly why I’m sharing my process. Mostly, though, I’m just grateful for all the people that have supported me in my journey, and I wanted to share with them a little of how I do what I do.
Thanks for reading—but now it’s your inky apron time. Make some art out of life today.
Thanks for reading! Remember to comment or share, and check back for new posts each month.
I’ll admit: when I first started writing in notebooks, my reasons were less than practical.
Those were the naive days when I still viewed writing as glamorous. I thought only spunky, beautiful women wrote novels, scribbling away in attics until publishers chucked six-figure book deals on their doorsteps. My notebook possessed a romance completely absent from my laptop. Whenever I rose to find my fingernails, desk, and blouse ruined from ink stains, I would nod and think, Yes: Behold the scars of my literary genius. Only a poser, after all, would emerge from the battle of first drafts with spotless hands(and clean shirts).
Of course, once I learned that writing was less about midnight inspirations and an entourage of imaginary friends, and more about hours of research and hard work, notebooks grew less attractive. Computers were just so easy. I was no Luddite. In my world, convenience reigned supreme. I could type as fast as I could think; I could move things around without awkward dashes and and arrows. Best of all, I could integrate previous drafts without rewriting anything. Copy, paste, and presto: a month’s smattering of ideas, all in the same place.
But I never managed to shake my notebook addiction. Perhaps old habits die hard…or perhaps a part of me will always romanticize writing, no matter how many times I’ve been on my third cup of weak tea and the cursor still blinks, blinks, blinks on an empty page. Over the years, however, I’ve realized that notebooks are more than security blankets. They’re actually invaluable to a writing process, and here’s why.
Reason 1) They’re portable.
Unlike your laptop, a notebook can be swept off a desk in a hurry. You don’t need to haul cords or protective casing everywhere, and you never have to camp by power outlets. More importantly, notebooks come in every size. I invest in big ones for intensive work, and pocket-sized ones for when I don’t intend to write.
But I still take it. Always.
Fact: if you carry a notebook, you will use it. You know those fleeting moments when you have Possibly The Most Brilliant Idea You’ve Ever Had– a Pulitzer Prize worthy character idea, or the solution to that plot loophole that’s been torturing you for weeks? Funny how those always happen when you’re miles away from paper, but you swear you’ll remember it for later.
Yeah. You won’t.
Think of all the inane things you do with dead time, in between commitments or standing in line. Most of us check our email every few minutes; those slightly more conscientious might bring along a book. But what if every time you reached for your phone, you reached for your notebook instead? Even if only to jot a few sentences, a word, or to browse whatever you’ve written so far. You’d be surprised how much flows when you prime the pump…and nothing passes time more quickly than a paragraph gaining momentum.
Reason 2) They’re more suited to outlines than computers.
Word processors encourage you to think in lines. You can go sideways, up, or down– space button, backspace, return button. But that’s not the way story boarding works, regardless of whether you’re writing fiction, non-fiction, or a blog post. Details become pertinent as you write them out; you make make crucial rabbit trails, elaborating in some parts, saving other areas for later.
On a page, you can think in any direction you darn well please. You don’t have to stifle details because they’re not relevant to the central plot line. You can rant for as long as you like, to the side, and then snap right back on track. Huge, unlined notebooks are especially wonderful for outlines, though small ones work just as well for smaller scenes or character brainstorming.
Reason 3) You won’t get distracted (as easily).
Six words: No Facebook, no email, no Youtube. Need I say more?
You can always turn off the wifi on your computer, of course, but you’ll still click your browser out of habit…and it takes Herculean will power not to turn the internet back on. In contrast, when your pen hovers over a page, the only thing it can do is…well, make more words.
Reason 4) They are so freaking fun to shop for.
I won’t lie: I have an insane amount of notebooks. More than I could fill in years, all different sizes, colors, personalities, and to all of which I have a Gollum-like attachment (especially the Paperblank Precious. We love the college-ruled and Italian leather binding, don’t we? It will never be false. It loves us forever…) I even have little christenings when I start a new one, engraving my name on the title page in curly script.
And maybe cry a bit when I finish one.
Here’s the main thing: if you have them, you will want to fill them. Surprisingly, the stacks of empty, glittering books filling my closet have never discouraged me. Rather, they feel like an investment in myself; a promise that I’m not a hit-and-run. A pact that someday, I will have a body of work big enough to fill all the Preciouses.
I’ll leave off the titillating details of how to find and purchase your perfect notebook, which could (and will) be a blog post in itself. But seriously: so many choices.
Reason 5) They don’t have a backspace button.
This button is possibly the most fatal feature of a computer. Every draft of your work is valuable- not just major changes but also minor descriptions, dialogue, plot details. It’s not impossible to save these on a computer, but they seldom survive, due to the ruthlessly efficient way in which we edit a digital document. Name doesn’t sound right? Delete. Don’t like the way that scene ended? Delete. Don’t need that person in the story after all? ViveLaGuillotineDelete.
More often than not, you include things in first drafts for a reason. If you change your mind once, you can do it again. I’ve dismissed countless scenes in notebooks, only to look back through the crossed-out lines eons later and think, “Hey. That’s actually pretty good.” Even if I still don’t use it, often my story “bloopers” include details I need to flesh out a setting or character. As children’s novel goddess Gail Carson Levine chants in Writing Magic: always, always save what you wrote.
Computers are irrevocably necessary, and always will be. But maybe it’s time to expand your toolbox. Go on a quest for the perfect notebook and pen. Put away all your electronics on a quiet evening and light some candles. Get your fingers dirty.