The rains poured down, flooding roads, soaking fields. Then they lifted—and a magical new world appeared on the steep forested hills of my property. Suddenly, eight streams rushed forth, the water pitching over waterfalls that, hours ago, were dry stones and bluff rock. The streams chattered loudly, their fluid voices rising over a land that, not a week before, was locked in a deep freeze.
I raced to my home office, grabbed a pen and notepad, ran up to the hillsides, and quickly scribbled out images. I rushed to describe the way the land looked and sounded as it happened, finding words to show the land’s arterial system coming alive in the dead of winter. I jotted images, scribbled a couple of stanzas, and fleshed out an inspired sentence or two. That was it.
The purpose: to collect raw material to use later. How will I use it? I have no idea, but there are plenty of options: a new poem; an essay; a scene description within a story or novel; an observation from a fictional character; for my next book on writing; a song lyric; maybe as part of a memoir twenty years from now. When I captured these images a few days ago, I never thought of putting them in a blog—but here they are.
Point is, I set my nets to capture the moment. I worry about the writing form later. By capturing the moment as it happens, I forever emblazon that experience on paper, which causes me to recall it vividly when I sit down to write a piece. It all feeds my purpose: to place my readers in the moment with everything I write.
As working writers, it is essential that we capture the moment — all the time. Personal experience provides the most authentic material for our stories, books, essays and poems, because we know it best. It teems with the resonance of being, requires complete presence, and often compels us to make decisions on the fly—all part of what drives characters in novels, for example. We need to become like newspaper reporters, ready for that next lead, “tip,” observation, piece of a dream, experience or recollection that can find a place into something we will write. The more we consciously practice “getting the news,” as we called it in my newspaper days, the better observers we become — and the more raw material we gather. It’s like mining for gold and storing away the nuggets for future use.
Setting your nets to capture life’s moments begins with discipline and commitment. Here are 10 tips on how to cast those nets and fill them up in your daily writing practice:
1. Set lots of nets. I have a journal in my bedroom, notebooks in the living room and office, tape recorders in both locations, and notepads in the kitchen and bathroom. My digital camera is always nearby. So is my phone — to record messages if I have no means of writing down a moment. These are my nets.
2. Cast widely. All you see, hear or do is the potential basis for a piece of writing. Record thoughts, observations, experiences, perceptions, conversations and dreams.
3. Don’t censor yourself. When you see something that captures your eye or fancy, write it down. Don’t grill it with your inner censor. In 99% of the cases, you don’t yet know how and where you will use this material—just that you want to have it available to you. Let it in.
4. Record at the speed of life. As a reporter, I often scribbled down interviewees’ comments as fast as they spoke. Only once in seven years was I accused of misquoting someone. I learned to be deadly accurate. Scribble down the moment as fast as you can while retaining enough legibility to read it. Try to write as it’s happening. Convey the speed of life.
5. Write in notes and images, not sentences. Unless inspired sentences or lines of poetry roll through you during the moment (which they sometimes do—recognize them for the gifts they are!), jot your notes in images and broken sentences. Use keywords and buzzwords; they will return you to the moment.
6. Sit and simmer … and circle back. After you’ve landed the “catch of the day,” sit with it for a few minutes, then circle back and add any images or observations you might have missed. Stay in the moment; don’t be reflective.
7. Organize your notes. Every week, I spend one to two hours gathering all the nets and decoding them, putting my scribble on the computer. I type rapidly, still not reflecting on the material. Then I put date, time and location on the entries.
8. Create a logbook. Gather your organized notes and create a logbook, whether paperless or in a binder. Along with your journal, these logbooks are the most important “research” materials you will keep long-term as a working writer.
9. Get back to your notes — soon. Within a day or two, return to your notes and see if something inspires you to write a poem, essay or vignette. Try to build out your observation in your journal. If nothing comes, don’t worry about it: The material will find its way into your work.
10. Keep casting. Never stop observing, fishing, seeking new moments or ways of looking at things. Allow these moments to visit you. When you set the intention to receive these moments, two things happen: a) Your mind becomes more creative and pliable, able to connect moments and convert them into fine sentences, paragraphs or stanzas; and b) The moments visit you in droves … liquid gold.
Cast your nets and turn every day into a life-gathering and experiencing mission. Then get it down on paper.
REMEMBER: The Write Time Writing Contest is now underway! $500 in cash prizes, plus publishing opportunities. Deadline is April 15. Check the Word Journeys Website – or the January 22 entry of this blog – for complete details.