Tag Archives: Stories

Writer’s Guide to Dead Trees

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As a final step in transforming the front bedroom (my former office) into a guest room I am going through my closet. A depressing amount of the contents were old receipts and papers long overdue for shredding, but there were still a few small treasures to be found. One box contained literally dozens of post-it pads, tiny spiral notebooks, writing pads from hotels, scrap paper, note-cards, and nicer scratch pads. Turns out I’ve been serious about paper for a long time.

My “g0 bag” has six notepads of various sizes, each with a specific purpose. At home I have dozens more, even though I primarily work with computers. But I still consider these notebooks to be an essential part of my process, and I think they can be for you as well. Here’s a survey of the types of notebooks I buy and their uses:

vintage-237568_1920The “Oh Crap!” Notebook – This is the notebook that is most important to keep around. It should either be on your person, or stashed away in key locations in your house. This is for when you get an idea and need to get it down immediately. Probably 75% of this is stuff I will never look at again, but the real gems are important to have. I’ve even at times kept one in my car (only writing at stoplights of course). I like little flip-pads for this, with pages that tear out, though I’ve also used 3×5″ little books with lots of pages. The box I found in my closet is perfect for this kind of notebook.

The “Idea Planning” Notebook – This one may or may not travel with you. I’ve currently got two, a nice leather-bound wrap around that fits in my bag, and an older Picadilly thin-ruled thick bound book. This is where ideas from the “Oh crap” book get stored for longer use, or where story-plotting or book outlining happens. This is the kind of notebook you refer back to and even have open as you write. An unlined book makes sketching easy, though with my handwriting I tend to be able to fit more if I have the lines.

The “Notes” Notebook – In college these were college ruled spiral bound notebooks or composition books, but in my later life I tend to like something smaller. I used to carry a huge backpack, and am now trying to live out of a small laptop bag so space is at a premium (and spirals tend to get bent anyway). I’m working on two books right now that involve research, so I need two different note-taking books. I tend to use the 8×5″ medium rule, 100-page Picadilly 3-packs you can get at Barnes & Noble for $6. There are fancier designs online if you’re willing to pay shipping or make a huge order, but I tend to have fairly simple needs in terms of style, just a different color so they’re easier to tell apart. These types of books also look nicer in book shelves for longer term storage.

notes-933111_1920The “Technical” Notebook – One of my new books involves a lot of drawing, equations, and mathematical notations so I sprung for a nice compact graph paper notebook. Something small and hard-bound (Moleskine seemed to be the only thing I could find that met all the parameters, though I don’t love the expense). I tend to be a very functional based purchaser when I buy notebooks (otherwise how could I justify buying so many), so I don’t get a lot from the whole background of Moleskine (used by Hemmingway and the like).

The “Story” Notebook – This notebook is largely aspirational for me, and I don’t currently carry one. As a writer I sometimes have a romantic notion of writing stories by hand, but the longer I’ve been at this, the less I see the advantage. Taking notes for ideas, or research makes sense to me, in part because of research that suggests retention is actually better when taking notes by hand, and in part because ideas and research are tasks I need to be able to do anywhere. Writing stories tends to happen in much more fixed locations, my home office, a couple hour session at a coffee shop, and sometimes my lunch break. These are places I always have a computer. The idea behind writing a story by hand, of slowing down and paying real attention, just keeps me from getting any real meat out. I get caught in the particulars and lose a sense of the whole. And I tend to start a story, never finish it, and then have the rest of a nice blank notebook with nothing to fill it with.

downloadThe “Journal” Notebook – I don’t have one of these. The closest I have to a journal is this blog. I used to have a TNG diary that had “Personal Log” on the front, and unfortunately there are entries from my elementary life (and possibly middle school). I imagine for something like this it’s best to have something that feels nice as an artifact more than something purely functional. And maybe something with a log, or that burns easily.

The “What the heck am I going to do with this” Notebook – This is usually something wide-rule, over-sized, 48 page, possibly with a big colorful out of character picture. There were also a lot of these in the box from my closet, though most were leftover relics from middle-school (192 page no-spiral, wide rule, 4×6″ Star Wars cover books, one of which had the beginnings of a CYOA Star Trek fan-fic story inside). May I suggest a couple hundred games of Scrabble? Or maybe Mille-Bornes? Grocery list?

How many paper notebooks do you own? Approximately how many pages per notebook are filled?

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Watching the storm

Well spring finally appears to be here. I don’t know how it has been for the rest of you, but in Ohio winter has not wanted to quit. We got snow three weeks ago, and not light fluffy snow, but the heavy stuff that becomes muck to drive in.

But tonight I am enjoying one of the simple pleasures. I am sitting in my office with the lights low and the windows open, listening and watching the storm go by.

Personally, I love a good thunderstorm, and when this post is finished I may adjourn to my screened-in porch for a better view. One of my best memories of a storm was back when I was a teenager up in Cedar Campus, a 500 acre camp in the middle of the north woods of the upper peninsula of Michigan. We’d spent the day in Cedarville watching the 4th of July parade, complete with vintage cars and pretty decent fireworks for a town in the middle of nowhere.

But they did not even compare to the experience of “God’s fireworks” that night. Cedar Campus is not rustic by any means, but being in a cabin in the middle of the woods when there’s a good storm is an experience like no other.

(Sorry went AFK for a few seconds there, thought I heard a tornado siren).

We’ve had a number of good storms since my wife and I got married. A few months before we got married we were doing some last minute planning, and a windstorm with gusts of up to 60 mph knocked out our power, and put a tree through the windshield of the little red haired girl’s car (like a lance). The effects were fairly widespread, with power lines down throughout the city, meaning unfortunately I would have to spend the evening sitting my candlelight with my bride to be.

What a shame.

I used to work for the library just down the street from me, and one of my best memories of working there was when we had a storm sit over our little suburb for an hour and a half. The gutters had clogged and sections of the ceiling were beginning to come down due to the water coming through, meaning we all had to scramble to protect the floor and more importantly the books! (an experience eBook readers may not relate to). We used an array of book shipment bins to create a bucket layer on the floor, and enlisted patrons and everyone on staff to move books to safer parts of the library. By the end of the night we were an island, and I actually carried a few of the staffers out to their cars.

We actually lose power a lot around here, so much so that I actually bummed one of the UPSs (Uninterruptable Power Supplies) from work (thank you warranty returns). Hopefully it won’t need to kick in while I’m writing (since the internet will go down in a power outage anyway). One of my parent’s wedding presents to us was a weather radio\flashlight with a hand crank and it has seen it’s share of use.

But I don’t see storms, or losing power as a pain in the butt. Maybe it isn’t to surprising that a guy who likes fractals is fascinated by lightning, but it’s everything about storms really. The smell right after a good rain, the sound of hail dropping on the roof of our porch (or acorns if it’s a windy storm and the time is right). Sipping a beer and watching the show.

I don’t know what it is but there’s something about a good storm, even a crazy thunderstorm that is … peaceful. Maybe it’s just a good moment to snuggle with someone you love, or maybe it’s an appreciation for things that are bigger than ourselves. I’m not a nature guy most of the time, being in a technical field, so it is nice to have these reminders to pull me out of the safe world I’ve created for myself.

What’s your best storm story?

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Forty Minute Story (“Mowing”)

REMINDER: I’ll be posting the compiled story of “Baby You Just Got Slapped” on Friday at 12pm. If you haven’t already, consider continuing the story in the comments section. Thanks!

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Scott flipped the covers off the bed, sitting up in the same fluid motion. His skin was damp as he threw on boxers and an undershirt. He had feigned illness for this rare opportunity, working up a sweat by doing some quiet push-ups next to the bed. Everyone in the house and in fact the whole street would be in the community meeting hall for at least the next 45 minutes. Plenty of time.

With no one else around Scott didn’t bother with the rest of an outfit, stopping only to slip on an old pair of tennis shoes before running out the door toward the garage. Leaning down he grabbed the base of the garage door and pulled upward, revealing the disheveled contents within. The few tools he used regularly, the shovel and garden sheers were within easy reach, but his goal was further back, under a dingy green tarp that almost blended in with the surrounding deitrus.

He flipped the tarp back as eagerly as he had his bedsheets, revealing his pride and joy, the LawnCo self-propelled mulching lawnmower. He used to have a riding mower, but he had to get rid of it when the new laws had taken effect, but he had at least managed to save this gem. He wheeled it out of the garage as quickly as he dared, knocking over the shovels and a couple of rakes as he pushed it through the narrow walkway. He’d polished the chrome finish and changed the spark plugs in anticipation of this opportunity, but he wasn’t sure if it would even start up until he gave the pull cord a third yank.

The LawnCo roared to live, drinking hungrily of the crude he’d been able to siphon through weeks of effort. The blade met the fertile edge of the lawn and sent green mist shooting in all directions. Scott revelled in the smell, the blend of burning fuel and freshly cut grass, having to remind himself to press forward if he was ever going to get the back done in time.

The reel lawnmower he’d been forced to use for the last six years was quiet, only the soft turning of blades like the wheels on a bicycle. His LawnCo on the other hand was fierce, its roar echoing off the house, and drowning out everything around it. It was a sound he had first remembered from his youth, his Dad waking up early in the morning to beat the heat. The neighbors had found such behavior inconsiderate, but Scott has always loved being woken up by that sound, and was equally proud when his father had finally trusted the upkeep of the lawn to him.

This was a real lawnmower, not some flimsy kid’s toy. It had rained the past two evenings and the grass must have grown two inches in that time. The reel mower would have taken hours to get an imperfect cut, but his LawnCo had already reduced half the lawn to perfect order in fifteen minutes.

Back and forth he walked, his mind easing for the first time in years as the roar of the engine blocked out the world. The biking to work, the hand raking of leaves and the slow mowing of grass all washed away in that nostalgic hum.

It wasn’t until his last pass that he saw them, the whole neighborhood running toward the back fence. The LawnCo’s voice had drowned out the dozens of footsteps and shouts for him to stop. He’d known they would come of course. Fuel was too precious a thing to waste on maintaining a yard. There would be fines, possibly jail time, and of course the confiscation and destruction of his precious LawnCo. As the crowd descended on him, Scott looked over the perfectly trimmed rows and smiled.

The lawn was glorious.

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