Datebooks, calendars, planners: A year in the life of a writer

daytimerI should have known it wouldn’t work for me. I know that everyone else has transitioned into the new world of technology, and I have to say that I thought I was right up there with the most tech savvy of writers. But there’s one area of my writing life – and life in general – where I am singularly unable to evolve. I cannot seem to give up my real-paper daily planner.

It all started two, years ago when I decided to try to wean myself off the expensive Daytimer™ I had used all throughout my academic career. When PDA’s (remember those Palm Pilots?) first emerged, I was one of the first adopters among my university colleagues. I do have to admit though; I never gave up that Daytimer. In fact, I even bought one of those Daytimer covers that included a paper planner as well as a slot on the inside of the leather cover into which to slide the PDA.  What that really amounted to was using the paper almost exclusively and only removing the PDA at meetings so as not to be seen as a dinosaur.  But I never really did get the hang of the electronic calendar ‘thingie.’. At least I could never figure out how people clung to it both physically and psychologically as if it were their very lifeline. Those early days of Palm Pilots have to be seen as the birthplace of the dreaded “cellphone elbow” that is so ubiquitous these days, soon to be followed by “smartphone neck.”

These days I do use the calendar in my electronic devices. Of course I do.  What would I do without that little ringing reminder of today’s dental appointment and tomorrow’s meeting at the bank? And a significant number of my friends/acquaintances/colleagues are joined at the hip to their devices so send messages that I can immediately add to my electronic calendar.

But what would I do without my leather-bound Daytimer lovingly stationed on the edge of my desk with its week-at-a-glance that not only tells me what appointments I have this week, but also contains notes about what needs to be written when? It also has an add-in page where I can continue to add items that need to be done before I head south on a vacation two weeks from today, as well as make notes on what I’ve accomplished each day. I’m sure that an electronic calendar of one sort or another (there’s an app for that) can do much the same thing, but I have no intention of finding out.

To be clear, I also use my devices for note-making – in fact I wrote the draft of this post on a mini-IPad, but it will never take the place of either my paper calendar or all those journals I love so much!

So, to justify my existence just this side of the Luddites of the world, I offer you my top five reasons for using a paper calendar.

  1. It enhances my creativity by forcing me to find innovative ways to remind myself about appointments without benefit of that annoying little sound effect.
  2. It gives me an opportunity to ensure that the lost art of penmanship is not entirely lost in my own world. Since I write longhand less and less, when I do have to write someone a note, it is usually barely legible.
  3. The sound of the pen or pencil on paper soothes my racing writer’s mind. This might be a throwback to a simpler time in childhood!
  4. It enhances my ability to see the bigger picture of my week/month/year. Maybe others can do that with the electronic calendar, but I can’t.
  5. It requires me to physically connect to the notes I write. As dumb as it sounds, I have long been a person who remembered something more easily if I wrote it down. Tapping on a screen doesn’t seem to have the same effect. So, if I write down that appointment, I’m more likely not to even need the reminder.

As I start a new year, I have a new calendar and it’s a bit like having a clean slate that is actually physically present. I’m going to use it and stop feeling like a Luddite for not being able to wean myself off!

A writer’s letter to Santa Claus

christmas treeWhat do you give a writer for Christmas?  Most of the lists of suggested gifts are filled with things like computer writing software, printer paper and coffee cups emblazoned with bon mots from writers who have gone before us.  I have a different view of what a writer – like me at least – really covets.  So, apart from the Moleskines which I covet every year, Santa Claus is really the only one who can fill this list.  I’d like to share my 2014 letter to Santa with other writers and aspiring writers.

“Dear Santa:

So we come to the end of another year.  It’s been a year of writing, not writing, writing some more, editing manuscripts, madly searching for a publisher, and taking a foray into self-publishing.  Well, you know what I’ve been through this year.  I’ve worked hard so I know you’ll look kindly on this writer’s little Christmas list.

  1. First, I would like a few Moleskines.[1] I know that they’re expensive as notebooks go. I know that other people in my life can provide these as well – but one can never have enough Moleskine notebooks, can one? After all if they’re good enough for Ernest Hemingway, they’re good enough for the rest of us. I also know that most of my work is digital. But I can’t shake my addiction to those brightly-colored covers. I seem to be inspired to write just by looking at them. Or at least I’m inspired to think about writing. That’s a first step in any project, isn’t it?books
  2. Now to the things that only you can give me. First I’d like the gift of a continually open mind. Let me see ideas everywhere I go and in everything I do (then the Moleskines become very useful, right?). Let that open mind accompany me when I read the newspaper, eavesdrop on conversations in restaurants and airports – well, you get the idea.
  3. I’d also like the gift of patience in the rewriting and editing process. That feeling that comes at the end of a finished manuscript at long last is wonderful, but can put me off from the rigors that are then required in the revision process. I need that forbearance more than anything else to get me through that part of the writing process.
  4. Then, Santa, although I know it might be difficult, I’d like the gift of compassion for all those agents and editors who can’t seem to answer their email in a timely fashion – even when they’ve requested the proposal or manuscript. *deep breath*
  5. I’d also like the gift of creativity so that I can see old ideas in new ways. I have journals filled with all those ideas from my sometimes open mind (see #1), but they are often derivative or jotted down on a whim leaving me without a clue as to context later. Please let me revisit those journals and consider how to turn those ideas on their heads or inside out to come up with a truly innovative approach to the material.
  6. Finally, thicken my skin just a little bit as I prepare to send out a manuscript to readers for pre-publication comment. I’m sure they won’t all love it (as they should).

Well, that’s it for this year Santa.  I’m planning another hard-working writing year and hope to be able to share with you at the end of 2015 just how far I’ve come with these gifts of Christmas 2014.  Merry Christmas!”

[1] For the uninitiated, Moleskines are (as their web site says): “…the heir and successor to the legendary notebook used by artists and thinkers over the past two centuries: among them Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway…”  You can read about them at http://www.moleskine.com/en/moleskine-world and buy them all over the world in book stores and online.  The paper is great and the array of sizes and colors amazing.

Travel as writing inspiration

Who wouldn't be inspired by a beach in Tahiti?  I was.
Who wouldn’t be inspired by a beach in Tahiti? I was.

As I finish draft three of the new book and begin deliberations with a new publisher (more about that in an upcoming post), I’m also thinking about my packing list – that list is the one for an upcoming trip to London, Rome, the Greek Islands, Athens and ultimately five days in Istanbul. Travel is the other love of my life – after my husband, son and my writing.  I’m taking a few notebooks, a great pen, a mini-iPad and a flash drive.  Other than clothes, that should about cover my needs!

The truth is that I think we can be inspired by so many things. Whether we write fiction or non-fiction, we need to be always aware of our surroundings, what we see, what we hear, how we feel about what’s going on around us.  There we can find the genesis of an idea.

As I’ve said before, “The most accurate way to describe my mind is to use the Buddhist term: monkey mind. That’s me.  My mind is always moving; the thoughts are chattering away, unbidden.  Ideas fill my head from morning until night.”  Obviously, this can sometime make real life challenging, but I’ve learned to cope as all writers do.  The truth is that travel – whether to the other side of the world or simply to the other side of your town, province, state or country – opens up my mind t new things if I only pay attention and let my mind fill with the ideas without grasping for them.  Then that’s what the notebooks are for.  I take along several Moleskines™ of different sizes, my favorite kind, a great pen, and an iPad for making electronic notes that I then either store in Dropbox or send to myself as an email.  The flash drive is in case I have access to a computer in an airport lounge or, as is the case on this upcoming trip, in our suite on board the ship that will take us from Rome to Istanbul.

My new character.  What could she be thinking?
My new character. What could she be thinking?

I’ve been inspired with ideas for historical fiction in particular several times in the past. Two great ideas are still gestating in my mind as we speak, since I’ve been embroiled in several non-fiction projects with deadlines and haven’t had time to get back to my real love.  But that time is fast approaching.

One time several years ago, my husband and I were on a ship in the Mediterranean. Believe it or not the ship interior was the inspiration.  Among the various pieces of fabulous artwork on board was a large painting that covered one wall of the piano bar.  I was drawn into the face of the main subject as she sat aboard a ship on what in my mind at least was a transatlantic voyage.  She was a character out of an era that has always fascinated me: the 1920’s.  I photographed her and thought about her, wondering what she was thinking.  I didn’t figure it out until a year later when we visited the Caribbean island of

Bequia and I saw the ruin of a village that was evidently built in the 1960’s but in my mind (and that’s all that really matters to a writer, isn’t it?) it was built much earlier and finally I had a transatlantic connection.  I’ve already started the book.  Maybe I’ll post the first chapter here some time.

Moon Hole, Bequia.  My character is headed here.
Moon Hole, Bequia. My character is headed here.

The places that we’re visiting over the next month and a half are steeped in ancient history. I’ve been doing as much background reading as time permits and I think I’m ready.

I’m going to listen, look, smell, taste and feel some new experiences. I’m going to write those impressions down in my trusty notebooks and then I’m going to come home and write a new book.

Other thoughts about inspiration, keeping journals, and travel:

The Genesis of an Idea

Keeping journals

Maybe Bora Bora will inspire you! (from our travel blog)