….how I’ve been talking about my post-it notes, writing down ideas, thoughts, never throwing away anything that you’ve written? Having a special ‘place’ where you create and write?
It’s so bizarre to read recently that Roald Dahl (1916) espoused the same tenets that I have found to be true for my writing process. Dahl is the author of dozens of brilliant books for young people, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda.
I have discovered elements of his process that are as important for writers today as they were for him when he was writing his books more than 60 years ago. Here are some tips from the legendary writer Roald Dahl …
1. Capture every idea
Roald Dahl was never without his notebook. In it, he constantly wrote down ideas for stories, characters, and plots. Sometimes he would hear or read something interesting and he’d record it in case it might be useful for a story. Carrying something to record notes wherever you are is a great lesson for all writers. It needn’t be a paper notebook, but the principle is the same.
You never know where you’ll be when you get your next great idea for a post, a complete outline for a book, or just a seed to develop — and you can guarantee that when you do get these ideas you won’t be sitting at your desk waiting for them, pen poised. As I have mentioned before, I use post-it notes. I also carry a little notebook in my purse. I have a tablet in my car also. I know other writers who use their Evernote app on their phone. It doesn’t matter what you use, toilet paper and a crayon, a bar napkin, an electronic app, use SOMETHING! Did I lose ideas before using this? Definitely! I’d get an idea for a post with a few strong points, but by the time I’d get to writing it down, I’d forget some — or all — of it. I often mull a story over for days or weeks until I reach the point when I’m ready to sit down and write. I thought about my latest short play, “If We Break Up, I’ll Die!” for a couple of weeks and then wrote it in four hours.
Dahl kept a secret diary from the time that he was eight years of age. To keep it out of the hands of his sisters he would keep it in a waterproof tin box and hid it high in a conker tree in the back garden. Every day he would climb up and, sitting in a high fork in the tree, would write his day’s thoughts.
2. Create a place to work (where have you heard this before?)
Roald Dahl built a writing shed in his back garden. He referred to it as his “womb” and “nest.” He positioned his chair and heater, had a table with various memories and artifacts, and even made a special table for his lap so that everything was just right for him to go there and get lost in his writing.
Many writers head to a specific “nest” to do their writing. J K Rowling has talked about getting her writing done in the cafes of Edinburgh. I believe it’s very important that you have somewhere you can go to work and write. This place separates your writing and your work from everything else that’s competing for your time and attention. The important thing is to have a place that’s got everything you need laid out around you, so you can focus on the writing. As I described in an older post, my studio is the spare bedroom where only my art and my writing co-exist.
I am surrounded by art on the walls, some of my books and a few framed quotes like: “the most creative force on earth is the menopausal woman with zest!” (Margaret Mead)
Watch for part two of this series