Archive for October, 2010

Ad for the Commonplace Book

Attention: All writers.
Announcing a “must-have” item now available to stimulate thoughts and generate the flow of ideas. It’s been available for centuries, but I was only recently introduced to this fabulous item. And frankly, I can’t believe I’ve lived so long without it! Now that I’m paying attention, I find that a substantial majority of well-respected writers I’ve encountered in the last few months—modern, classical, or ancient and from all economical situations—keep/kept this item or it’s equivalent with them at all times.


Commonplace Book
The “must-have” for any writer or conscious thinker is the commonplace book—a pocket-sized (or purse-sized) notebook carried with you at all times in order to record what is uppermost on your mind at any given moment.

See if this sounds familiar: you’re driving down the road, or in the dentist’s chair, or suddenly awakened in the night with a brilliant, or at least interesting, idea, but you’ve no place to jot it down! By the time you get your hands on paper and pen, the thought has long since faded into the far recesses of your mind. Lost forever.

Don’t ya hate that?!

The commonplace book defeats the above scenario. That never has to happen again! The moment a thought hits, you whip it out, and write it down. Voile! The thought is saved from certain death. (Although, if you’re driving, I recommend taking the time to pull off the road before recording your thought.)

How To
A few things to keep in mind while getting used to your commonplace book:

  • The thought itself is important and should not be prejudged for quality.
  • The trigger and the idea it promotes don’t necessarily have to reflect one another.
  • Trust your instincts. Editing as you write may destroy the beauty of the original thought. So write it first, that way it’s safely preserved, and then hack it to pieces.

Also, among your jotted thoughts, please include thoughts from the following categories:

  • Dumb
  • Stupid
  • Obvious
  • Irrelevant

Any thoughts from the above may be, or lead to, your best ideas. In particular, obvious thoughts actually hold a fair amount of value, because they usually resonate well with the masses.

Give it a try. If you’re not in the habit already, pick up an inexpensive, small notebook the next time you’re at the store, and see if this works for you. I’d love to hear how it goes.

Write Back: Defense for Information Overload

I used to consider writing a proactive activity requiring time and motivation. But my current lit professor has effectively broadened my view. Writing is also a defensive tool meant to help us sift through and respond to the information onslaught of our sometimes chaotic world.

Information Overload
Not too long ago, people were starved for information and would go to great lengths to gather it. Self-education on any given topic was not easy. Informal research used to be a somewhat painful process filled with digging and dead-ends. But that is no longer the norm.

We used to chase information, but now information chases us. A few keystrokes bring up gazillions of pages filled with opinions and facts on every topic imaginable. Television, radio, magazines, newspapers, email, blogs, automated phone messages. Billboards and other signs along the roadways demand attention with flashing lights and even sirens. Fliers in the mail, and on my car, and inside my screen door; they’re totally inescapable! Community leaders, politicians, protesters, and even that poor sap dressed up like the statue of liberty, dancing around on the busiest street corner in your neighborhood is trying to shove some tidbit down your throat about pizza or taxes or whatever.

Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful to have information so readily available. However, it’s safe to say that the amount of information swirling around can be overwhelming. And if we’re not careful, it’s easy to drown in the current. I’ve been there a few times, and I’m sure you’ll concur. So what are we to do?

Write back.


Defensive Writing

When my professor first suggested this, I was quite flabbergasted. With all the time it takes to work through the information presented on any given day, I couldn’t believe he was suggesting that we take even more time to create more information. I was concerned that he was only adding to the stress of my life.

But I dutifully began to record my thoughts as they came. And surprisingly, I found that it did not add information overload, it helped decrease information overload. Responding to information and recording our responses allows us to sift and process information, then set it aside until we need it again. It frees up space in our brain for the next onslaught. It’s like constantly emptying our “in-box.”

This concept makes me think of… laundry. No, seriously! Pretend it’s washday and the dryer has finished a batch. If we attempt to just hold in our arms all the clean, dry laundry as it comes out, we will soon be dropping things, which will lead to the loss and destruction of our clean, dry laundry. Plus we will be ill prepared to handle the next batch and soon completely overwhelmed. But if we fold those clothes and put them away—or process them—our arms will be empty and ready for the next batch.


Using Information

Information by itself is useless. Information merely gathered is only helpful to the gather-er. But when we respond to information, we create a dialogue that benefits all within earshot, especially ourselves. Information is usually intended to be helpful, but that can only happen if it is sifted, processed, and responded to.

So now that you’ve been curious enough to read my information, give it a try. Leave me a comment, or open up a new word file and jot down your response.

The Distinction

Today’s guest post is from Ian over at Writing Fantasy who never fails to turn the wheels in my head every time he speaks. Someday I will ask him about what it must be like to live life with a 45lb. brain on your shoulders.

I prefer to write Fantasy, but I enjoy Sci Fi as well. Now Sci Fi is not the same thing as Fantasy. The distinction is small, and in some stories it’s blurred, but it’s there.

The best and most succinct explanation of the difference that I’ve ever heard is this:

“Sci Fi is what could be but isn’t.
Fantasy is what can’t be but is.”

I believe it was Orson Scott Card who said this but I can’t prove it. If anyone knows if it was indeed Mr. Card, or if you know who did say it, please let me know. If I happen to be lucky enough to have made it up without realizing it then I claim it as mine, but I doubt I did.

The difference is Sci Fi uses science to explain its impossibilities and Fantasy uses magic. The two genres have more in common then then not. And yet I’ve heard of infighting amongst the geeks and nerd ranks. Contention rages about the validity of Sci Fi over Fantasy or vice versa. Arguments that one is better than the other abound.

Brothers and sisters (assuming there are any girl geeks out there, I’ve yet to find any) please put this bad blood which runs between our two great genres aside. They are both capable of greatness and culpable of … ungreatness. But there are those who would deride us all of our place in the world. Those who view both genres as dross. The enemy is out there, let us not do their work for them. Besides if Sci Fi and Fantasy really were to clash one with the other I think we all know who would win.

Huh… I didn’t expect that. Although it may look bad now, this knight is totally gonna kick this space ranger’s butt. Trust me, because in Fantasy we got magic.

for more of Ian, be sure to stop by Writing Fantasy.