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Justin Taylor Recommends...

Writers Recommend

Posted 2.16.11

“Don't take notes. This is counterintuitive, but bear with me. You only get one shot at a first draft, and if you write yourself a note to look at later then that's what your first draft was—a shorthand, cryptic, half-baked fragment. When I am working full-time on a piece (story, novel, review—whatever), I find it excruciating to be out somewhere and have some relevant-seeming idea and not be able to add it to the manuscript right away. It is very hard not to reach for the notebook, but the discipline is a great teacher, and it quickly became a kind of game. I would spin out sentences and paragraphs—entire scenes and chapters—in my head, then just let them go. I learned that the important, useful stuff came back when I could sit down for a proper work session, and that what stayed gone was the junk I would have cut anyway. Whether it re-occurred to me or not became the first test of whether the idea was worth exploring. I think I read somewhere that Marilynne Robinson does this too, which, if it's true, is about as solid an endorsement as you could ask for."
Justin Taylor, author of The Gospel of Anarchy (HarperPerennial, 2011)

Reader Comments

  • doyle says...

    Whatever is right in front of me is what I find to be the best inspiration. It is fresh, immediate and real. All I do is describe what I see to start with. That beginning brings to mind people and places from my memory or helps me imagine new people and places. Once begun, sometimes I add an opening to what I have written to place it in some exotic location or other era in time, but it really begins in the here and now. I take that inspired moment, add a couple of characters and an activity for the story foundation. At some point I select the genre (romance, murder, mystery, action, etc) and just let the story evolve from my imagination.

    My little town of Cobden IL is wonderful inpiration; richly wooded, full of old houses, interesting characters, a rich history, etc. Yours is no less. Other writers and musicians inspire me as well, and I like to keep their company when I can. I've been in every State at least a couple of times, and read a couple of thousand books, so I suppose those help, but what is immediate is really what helps me the most.

    I keep a small spiral notebook in my back pocket to write down those great ideas that come at inconvenient moments, but find it hard to bring back that inspired feeling, even when I reread the note. My advice is, "Get in the moment".

  • gwilhm says...

    Great minds think alike Justin. I was once asked if I ever jotted down something I thought of when I'm away from my work. I didn't know how to respond, because at the time I hadn't considered my reasons for anti-jotting before. From now on I'll refer all questions on the subject addressed to me by non-writers to your article to help back me up. Big thanks dude!

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