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Taking Notes In The Course of Writing A Novel, by Onil Lad

Writing advice from established authors usually begins with write, write and write. There’s no substitute for spending hours at the computer.

When asked where her novels come from, romance novelist Barbara Cartland said that every word was dictated to her by God. It’s not like that for me, as the thoughts have a habit of popping into my mind out of the blue. Sometimes they come gushing out.

During the last year I’ve found that my best ideas have come when I’m not trying to beat it out of myself whilst stuck at my desk. It’s not just one-liners that come to me but plot twists and whole paragraphs as well. When this happens I’ve always got my iPhone handy. I’ve become a continual note-taker.

Taking notes on my iPhone isn’t a complete replacement to sitting at the computer and writing, but spread out over the day, it’s worth several hours at least. I’m at the stage where I ‘m constantly thinking about my novel and once I write one thing down, other thoughts follow.

It means that when I formally sit down to write, I don’t feel stuck because there are numerous pages of notes to work through. It’s saved me hours of frustration and lets me do the things I enjoy, like reading and watching movies, while still having part of my mind on the novel.

I take notes all the time. Sometimes I just have to lie down or take a shower and within a few minutes the thoughts flow.

I can still put in the hard hours at the computer, when required, usually when I’m facing a deadline or I’ve got enough notes to make a chapter. When I do this I’m productive for the whole six hours, instead of trying to force out the ideas.

Note-taking becomes a habit. After watching a movie that has similar themes to my novel, I’m up half the night making notes. It happens when I’m out walking, running and even cycling.

Some authors maintain that no idea is worthwhile unless it sticks in your mind, but I need all the help I can get.

Tom Waits, as a struggling songwriter, was stuck in traffic in LA when he was hit by an inspiring thought for a song. He had no pen, paper or way to record this elusive spark, so he spoke to it and said, “Can you not see that I’m driving? If you are serious about wanting to exist, I spend eight hours a day in the studio. You’re welcome to come and visit me when I am sitting at my piano.” Apparently this dialogue with himself worked and the rest is history. I’ve tried telling myself the same thing but it didn’t work. I’ve got a mobile phone that Tom Waits didn’t have all those years ago, so I can’t complain. I’m just grateful for the inspiration.

Eventually you have to turn your notes into scenes, characters and plots, but the grunt work has been done on the go. Writing on the go gets you away from the internet, but I find that when the time comes to flesh out the notes on my laptop I’d rather do it in short bursts at a café or library and not go back to my desk. There are also numerous note-taking software apps on the market.


Onil Lad’s bio page


Wings of FearHouse for all Seasons by Jenn J McLeodA Distant LandThe Fortunes of Ruby WhiteSavage Tide

Writing Novels in Australia

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. donaldmcmiken #

    Enjoyed the read, but a mobile phone! Jeez, you must be young. I can’t even hear mine when it does go off. Your note on taking notes though is spot on. I do it the old way with a notebook and pen. At least if you’ve got a pen you can write something on your arm (though maybe not the entire chapter). Cheers, Don

    January 1, 2014

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