Saturday, May 23, 2009

Always Carry Pen and Paper

A wise and experienced writer once advised me to always carry a pen or pencil and a small notebook or stash of scrap paper with me. As I sat on a folding chair at a college graduation ceremony yesterday, for six hours of waiting, windy speeches, and an almost endless role call of professors and students, I realized the true wisdom of this tip. I found myself taking mad notes, doodling, and sketching out vague ideas and passing thoughts onto partially stained napkins, assorted graduation hand-outs, and on the back of receipts. Any paper that I could get my hands on. Was I taking notes about the graduation? Um, no. The truth is, I have just about finished my latest middle grade novel and I am about to send it off to my agent. This means that the gates that separate my subconscious from my conscious have been flung open. New ideas have been rushing through, showing up at the doorstep of my consciousness, auditioning like anxious American Idol wannabes. In moments of down time, when I’m not revising, reading or writing, they scream the loudest. The way that they did yesterday, as I sat, unprepared.

By the time that the graduating class filed into the open area surrounded by spectators, I had narrowed the auditioning story ideas down to three. The minute the students parked and the speeches began, I had nabbed the paper bag that had held my hubby's lunch. Even though it smelled like hot dog, I made the most of every bit of white space. When our graduate finally stood with those in her row, prepping for the march to the podium, I had one idea, a story foundation and even some sketchy scaffolding for my next novel. On a crinkled and stained bag with my napkin, hand-out, and receipt notes stuffed inside of it.

So, whether you are a writer or not (but especially if you are), allow me to recommend the benefits of keeping paper and pen (or pencil) with you at all times. You might just thank me the next time that you are waiting for an appointment, sitting in traffic, commuting, or, say, spending hours at a college graduation ceremony.

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