The Commonplace Book Pt. 2

Okay, I’m back. I have, as I suggested, delayed the book release to June 1st. It just needs one more run through.

So, tonight, we are going to discuss my commonplace book. I know, it’s been a minute, but this is actually tied up with Bone Deep and how much I’ve struggled to get these last two books up to scratch and the general struggle I have with focus, so we are going to take a good look at what it is and why it makes me a better, faster writer.

Let’s take a look at the books I wrote before. Bone Deep is part of this number as it is the last book that was written before I was separated from my husband. I will be completely reworking these books over the coming year, though I’d like Bone Deep to just be done, which is why I delayed it. So, I’ve spoken about my recent decision to become more serious about my writing, hence the blogs and the Patreon account and all of that. My new approach to writing – a sort of pre-game program that allows me to build my books without attempting a creativity killing outline – is my current attempt to understand my creativity and harness my ability to focus. I may find another way in the future, but this is where I am right now.

I don’t have one idea at a time. When I have writer’s block, it is never for lack of things to write. Rather, I have a multitude of ideas, each one struggling to get to the front of the line and the clamor and commotion freezes me in place. Tons of ideas sounds awesome, right? Until you consider that having so many ideas at once means I cannot put all my energy on a singular one. See, I love to write and, when I can focus, I can get super deep down the rabbit hole. I don’t know if you’d call it great writing, or even good, but I love what comes out and that is all that matters. But, when I’m jumping around, trying to keep hold of a hundred different threads for several different stories, I end up with a bunch of shallow starts that end up dying when I know darn well they shouldn’t. Thus begins the super fun (sarcasm!) battle in which my muse stands before the bridge leading to a full draft screaming about flesh wounds.

So, my commonplace book is how I’m conversing with my muse, these days. It is cut into sections, not so much a planner as book of shadows for stories. Building it is like fleshing out a complicated ritual and it is meant to catch and shift out the things that actually matter. When I start a book, I insert a section for it and start to build as though I’m preparing for a lecture or to write a paper. It is my map of the story. During this building process, I don’t write on the book. I do writing sprints in my notebooks, poetry, non-fiction notes, that sort of thing, but I tend to keep anything on the current project to a minimum. The idea is to let the excitement build, to let the whole picture emerge.

Before we get deeper into the sections of the book, I’m going to tell you about my special file on my Mac. See, just the commonplace book isn’t enough. The other side of this problem is that hurricane in my head full of ideas and characters that just won’t shut up. In order to stop worrying that I’m going to lose all these other books in the process of focussing on a singular one, I created a file in Scrivener using the fiction book with parts set up.

The first part is for the books that are closest to whole ideas. I set them up so that there are bulleted lists under certain headings like Character, Plot Points, Places, ect. I won’t go too much into detail about that because it is important to set it up in a way that works for you, but I do allow every separate thing, like a place, to have it’s own ‘scene’ subdocument. These are files I can drop ideas into and leave them for later. Each book has its working title and the general idea behind it. Opening it to look at the ideas I’ve put here is usually enough to ease my mind when I start to think  I’m losing all these wonderful thoughts I have.

Part two is for characters that don’t have a book. Sometimes I have people walking around in my head that aren’t ready to tell their stories, yet. So I give them a file in this section and make a bulleted list for the things they are telling me, a description, quirks, and maybe a few of the things they say.

Part three is for ideas that have no book or characters. They are all ideas or themes, little snatches of those oddball sentences that I know belong somewhere, but can’t say where. This could be a single line or paragraph or this could just be a vague plot idea. The point is, I can’t see the rest of the puzzle yet; I just have a piece or two, maybe a few that I know belong to the same picture, but I don’t have the box, just a few little corners.

So why do I do this and how is it different from what I have always done? Well, I do it because I’m tired of getting all excited about a character or story, tired of knowing they have something awesome to say, scribbling for five or ten pages, then coming up against a wall. I’m tired of finding amazing bits of stories in my notebooks that died right there because I wasn’t organized enough to know where it was trying to go and can’t plot in the usual way. I have done something similar before, it just wasn’t on this level; I have a growing list of books I know I want to write. They are really just titles and a basic rundown, something that is, at best, a blurb. The file is something much more detailed and it is still in its early stages.

I got the idea for this file from a writer who was talking about writing fifteen books in eighteen months. My first response was ‘no way is she producing quality’. But the idea stuck with me because there was a little, nagging voice in my head saying that, if I could just get my muse to focus more intently on one thing at a time, I was fully capable of writing a book in a couple of weeks and editing to publication standard (and, honey, my standards are HIGH) within two to three months. When I am focused? I tend to turn out intense writing that gives me a sense that there is no way I am responsible. I rarely remember this writing until I read it and it makes me think that it is like the fugues someone with multiple personalities might have. I don’t know where the voice comes from, which means I don’t know where to put the cupcakes if I need to bribe it, but, hey, I try not to dwell on the negative.

Anyway, like I said before, the actual creativity, when I’m not spread out, trying to hang on to all these wonderful stories, is available in massive quantities. I have no issue writing. I can hold an end idea in my head and write toward it and I don’t bother to count words or think about how long I’ve been doing it; I love it too much to wrap it up in the question of numbers or time. Unfortunately, the more books in my head, the harder it is to get in the flow and my writing suffers for it.

This file is a way to get my ideas safely into a place where I can play with them. Some of the characters might end up in one of the books in the first section or they may die completely, but the point is, I can evolve and shape the things here without that sense of ‘oh my god, I need to write this NOW’. I call the file Vision Quest because I am a huge dork for the Native American idea of speaking to spirits to seek wisdom. Anyway, the muse is a spirit, isn’t it? if this is part of my sub-conscience or a voice that really does come from outside does not matter. All that matters is that it takes the dreams out of my head and puts them where I can mess around with them, taking them apart, putting them back together in a different order, like they are a bunch of legos. Luckily, I can’t step on them, so, you know, no life ending pain. Just building blocks.

Only the current project gets moved out of the file and into the commonplace book stage. The CP book is not wholly focused on the project; my book is about becoming a better writer and my future manuscripts are only a piece of that. We’ll get to more details on this tomorrow, but, for now, just understand that, while all this may sound like a lot of work and very complicated, what it’s really about is safety and efficiency.

Analogy Time!!!! *Jumps up and down cheering*. Y’all missed this and you know it.

So, in the past few years, I started rock climbing. There is something called bouldering and that’s alright, but I don’t do it. I’m not into bouldering for a couple of reasons. One, I’m not big on the falling part; with a bad back, even a small drop can trigger weeks worth of agony. Two, I like equipment.

In rock climbing, you have a belay line. It isn’t meant to pull you up the cliff face, it is just there as a safety. My favorite is the auto belay. People are great, but the auto means I don’t have to rely on anyone else to keep up their end of the deal – anyone else remember Mathew McConaughey swinging around screaming in Failure to Launch? Yeah. Lizards are everywhere, people.

Anyway, the Vision Quest file gives me peace of mind; my ideas are still there and, thanks to Scrivener, they are laid out in a way that can easily be shuffled around. Knowing the ideas are all there relaxes me. If it’s going to dead end, chances are I’ll know long before it gets out of that file, yet I don’t have to worry about killing them when I’m just adding things here and there. Like the CP book allows me to explore ideas in full before I start the actual writing, the vision quest allows me to figure out what I’m actually trying to say. It removes the pressure; like a sieve, it lets the silt fall through while the gold is left behind. Did I just put another analogy on top of the first one? Yup.

Don’t you judge me.

This has the effect of emptying my head. Remember Sherlock’s brain attic (if you say you haven’t heard of it, you need to google that). Or you can remember Dumbledore, if you like. He plucks out the memories from his head when they all start swirling around and getting him all frantic, and he puts them in the pensieve where he can examine them at his leisure. This is what all of this is about. It is a very unique map (god I love movies). It shows me the project and it reminds me of my goals. It is the place where I write down quotes and ideas from books like Walden, and there is a section where I brainstorm things I can do to get me closer to the success I want. I shove leaves in there, maybe put in a ziplock bag with sand or soil. I make playlists and find the personality of this particular story. There are photo sleeves where I tuck in wildflowers or business cards for the characters. And, yes, it wouldn’t shock me if a freaking bat really was in there somewhere. There is even a little bit of drawing paper because you never know when you might want to draw something out. There are even actual photos I printed out from my digital files. There is a list of books I want to look for at the bookstore and ideas I want to study. It only looks neat written out like this, FYI. In person, it is just carefully controlled madness. It gives me space in my head and because I intentionally made it the place where I carry my license, credit cards, debit card, and cash, it is always present, so if I see something I want to remember or look up, I have it with me.

It is a career book. A book for studying and discussing certain subjects. It is a book of shadows that is about writing rather than spells and everything in it serves a purpose for my writer side. I highly suggest the old fashioned dayrunner type planner, particularly the sort that zipped up; you can still buy the calendars for them and you can shuffle things around or remove what you no longer need. It doesn’t have to be super fancy, but if you want to get really personal, let me know; I know a guy (girl, actually).

Tomorrow we will discuss the first section. The goal tracking, appointment keeping, idea recording, goal journaling insanity that is me  is laid out in neat little blocks there. When I stumble and fall flat on my face, this is where I go first; chances are, the answer is somewhere in there and, even if I don’t find it, I will remember the where I was going so, you know, it does it’s job and keeps me moving in the right direction.

See you tomorrow!

2 Comments on “The Commonplace Book Pt. 2

  1. I so need to do this. I’m a very linear writer and won’t write anything until it’s time for it to be written, which means I can spend years holding onto ideas in my head. Which takes up way too much mental space, and probably why I keep trying to put milk in the laundry room. I really need to try this method.

    Liked by 1 person

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