Leather-Bound Beauties (I’m Talking About Journals, You Pervs)

I recently watched a video of Stephen King talking to a group of university students. It was a question and answer type of thing, and at one point, the subject of keeping a notebook of ideas came up.

If I’m remembering this correctly (and in the spirit of full disclosure, it’s completely possible I’m not), King said he didn’t have one. He took a survival-of-the-fittest approach when it came to his ideas. If something occurred to him that sounded like a decent story idea, he’d let it rattle around in his head for a while, along with whatever else was in there at the time.

If the idea was persistent enough and kept presenting itself, he’d eventually get around to writing it. It was his way of letting the cream rise to the top.

At this point, I’m going to state the obvious: I am not Stephen King . . . yet. (But I’m comin’ for you, old man. You best be keepin’ a lookout.)

While I admire King’s mind and its ability to keep churning out ideas, I am constantly worried about my story well running dry, so I don’t take any idea for granted. I write them all down, half-formed or not. I hate the idea of a missed opportunity.

Scattered around my house are three different journals where I jot down ideas. These include plots I want to think about, story set-ups that seem to have promise, characters that I want to explore, or even bits of dialogue that just pop into my head. Those that fall into that last category are usually a joke or something I find amusing that I want to work into a future story somehow.

Once things go into the journal, I don’t stop thinking about them. It’s just that putting them down on paper somehow makes them more solid, and it eases my worry that I might forget about them.

One of my journals has the plot of what I think is my next novel. I’ve already written some initial character sketches and included visual cues to remind me what each person looks like. I’m more or less ready to starting banging out that story; I just can’t settle on the first line. Several drafts of that can also be found in those pages. (Beginnings are a big deal to me, and I’m fairly obsessed about nailing the first line before I start.)

The pages of another of my journals are haunted by a kid named Notebook. I don’t know a lot about him other than my suspicions that he might be a tragic figure. I don’t necessarily want this to be the case because I kind of like him based on what little I’ve written, but again the entry point into his story is eluding me. I won’t know what happens to him until I can get in and flesh out the plot. For now, he is safe in his leather-bound haven.

In case you’re beginning to suspect my journals are a place where ideas go to die, never fear. Occasionally, one or two make a break for it and manage to see the light of day. One of those was the short story “Scout Pack” that I wrote for the Café back in September. For those interested, you can find it here.

The bones of that story sat in my journal for years. I had a general premise, knew the twist, and was familiar with all the principal players. I still think there’s a longer piece of fiction to be made with this same group of guys, but at least I have a starting point now.

I’m well aware that I may seem obsessed with my journals, but I’m comfortable with that. They’re my own version of an external hard drive, and in case of a house fire, there’s a pretty good chance I’m grabbing those journals before the family photo albums. After all, those pictures are shared memories. But these leather-bound beauties . . . they’re all mine.

Larry Jenkins is an aspiring Word Pimp. Has laptop, will travel. Let's make this happen, people.

1 Comment

  • I am the same way. I have multiple journals with all my ideas in various forms – a sentence, a paragraph, an outline of a scene, a brief character sketch. So many of my stories form around a single scene I envision, so while I admire Stephen King for not writing his ideas down, I will never be that way. If I don’t write something down, it’s gone forever. I wouldn’t remember to do my laundry if I didn’t put it on my to-do list. I also have an entire filing cabinet full of ideas throughout the years. I’ve often wondered if I’d be able to wrestle that out of the house in case of a fire!

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