A Gathering of Notes

At the risk of being more incoherent than usual, I want to explore my gathering of notes for a prospective science fiction, umm, novel. (It just seems like such an audacious project.)

A gathering of notes.  That’s suggestive of those phrases for other congregations of things.  A charm of finches, a shrewdness of apes, a mob of kangaroos, a gaggle of geese, a giggle of children…

There is something organically complex about notes and note-taking. (There’s a lot of chaos in it that I seem to enjoy.) I’ve got notes in one main notebook, but I also jot things down occasionally in another, because I forgot the first one.  I think of great things all at once at work doing something completely unrelated, and I may send an e-mail to myself at home with the wonderful news.  I’ve got other computer notes in various formats scattered around. And later one note may give rise to another even more whimsical in yet another place.

I know by now that if I don’t write it down immediately somewhere, I’m going to forget, and the world may well be the worse for it…

I really like making notes: cryptic little sallies into new ideas, wierd things I see people do, unusual scientific developments, quotes that give insight, snatches of real life dialogue caught out of context. If I lived in a universe where the mere collection, and perhaps, compilation of notes could immediately give rise to a novel, I would be extremely motivated and amazingly prolific.  Unfortunately, as it stands, the mental access of pleasure occasioned by a neat idea gives way to a sense of grinding devolution by the time I have to write.

But I hope to change that!

A Desperate Plan 

My desperate plan to improve the chances of even getting to the writing stage depends, I figure, on organizing my notes in the right way. Not just organizing but done in such a fruitful way that new connections will be joined, new insights gleaned, new tiny epiphanies blossomed.

But there’s that cautionary story related, among others, by Krishnamurti: The Devil and a friend of his were walking down the street, when they saw ahead of them a man stoop down and pick up something from the ground, look at it, and put it away in his pocket. The friend said to the Devil, “What did that man pick up?” “He picked up a piece of Truth,” said the Devil. “That is a very bad business for you, then,” said his friend. “Oh, not at all,” the Devil replied, “I’m going to help him organize it.”

Other than the small matter of how much Truth is contained in my notes, too much organization is a danger akin to actually having to write something.

My skeptical other self, whom I shall call Boris, for his truculent, forbidding air, might say, “Get the hell off your rear end and start writing something.  You don’t need all this back and forth, to and fro. Write or get off the pot! You!”

But as I quail I know I have a juggling act in front of me, trying to find the right balance.   I could use the pre-industrial method of organizing my ideas on notecards and placing them in different piles or spread in rows across the floor, deciding where they go, occasionally writing a new card and fitting it in.

I could make an enormous mind map on a large sheet of paper, with circles around concepts and ideas and settings and characters with lines of connection between. (Actually I tried that once. It got too big and spaghetti-like and I just bogged down.)

But I got technology.  Why not use it?  I’ve been debating with Boris whether to gather everything together with Papel or with WikidPad.

Strike Sparks?

Papel looks increasingly attractive. Its author, Michael O’Donnell, is constantly working at developing and refining it. I’ve tried it out in a testing way and it is appealingly intuitive. It uses icons and its own desktop to visually collect and connect your thoughts. You can even create your own icons and project themes. I can see it could strike sparks.

But Wikidpad is very interesting and attractive for the job as well. It is a personal wiki, which is a slight contradiction in terms.  But basically, it relies on hypertext links to connect your scraps of information.  Just type a CamelCase word, and you’ve got a new linked page. No copying and pasting of links.  On the left in another pane you can organize everything in a hierarchical way. But Wikidpad is not so intuitive to use, not so visual, so I shall leave it for my …next novel.

So Papel it is. It will be a place to consign notes (I’m not necessarily going to use them all, you know) like:

~Suits and dresses made of chicken feathers and rice straw… apparently recent textile research allows this to be done. The feathers are reduced to a wool like material, and the rice straw becomes like linen or cotton.

~Electronic images on clothes.

~Ceres as a solar system waypoint.

~Autistic girlfriend?

~Words from Bob Dylan song, “When the Ship Comes In” as opening quote…

So what’s this story going to be about, anyway?

The story will take place at some indeterminate time in the future, but still where our present and near future is part of the archeology of that time. I see scattered coastal city states, some in loose federations, much fewer people, and a frail economy based on space flight within the solar system and the rare and necessary resources that the freighters bring back to earth.

When My Ship Comes In 

Something to do with the phrase, “When my ship comes in.” (Historical British parallel, for some germ of a social/family structure). Families and cities that depend on the ships returning with scarce resources from the solar system.  A ship will only arrive once every few years, so there are long waits for anticipated prosperity. When it does, those who own shares are very well off.

There’s a story of a youngster with some kind of revenge/mystery to solve motif, and a larger story of First Contact…

The young fellow is about 16 when his parents are murdered, and their shares in an upcoming arrival stolen.  The young man recently became somewhat estranged from his parents and family (for reasons yet undetermined). He feels deeply guilty at not having been at the scene of the crime to at least try to help them.  The last he knew, a con man with powerful connections had undue influence with his parents, and then they are dead.

Split structure to start perhaps. Our innocent young man and what happens to him as one story thread.  In another, he is much older, a hardened spacer working for bare sustenance on the same ships his family once hoped to get rich from, drifting, dissolute and without hope, until one day he crosses the trail of the con man he considers responsible for his parents’ deaths.  The two stories come together somehow mid-novel and follow the revenge trail which leads to a First Contact situation which changes everything.

Well, it’s a start!

Explore posts in the same categories: Science Fiction, Writing

14 Comments on “A Gathering of Notes”

  1. Eliza D Says:

    Ha – I like this post. I like what you said about notes. And I love tech allowing for more organised note-taking. BUT – there’s something still very – romantic – about manually filling up the pages of a real physical notebook. While the fingers do ache and the scrawls can become impossible to decipher, it’s still a more intimate act than just typing out words and phrases on a PC. I’m doing both and manual writing (in the classes) allows for more spontaneity but I do find that my words flow better when I’m tapping on the keyboard. I use YeahWrite by the way for my “computer writing” but will check your links out (though I suppose they are for MACs rather than PCs).

    On your story, I’m a little iffy about the clothing material (except for the electronic images part) but you seem to have got more than a semblance of a world in place already. I’d be very interested to follow the story’s development (plus how you intend to structure the writing process!) so do keep updating!

  2. bein Says:

    I was thinking about what you wrote the other night whilst painting. I too have many different thoughts and write them down, mostly about art and ideas. What I have noticed is that if I give them time they seem to develop at their own pace. That is to say I don’t try and force the connections but wait for them to come to me as I think you are doing now. Eventually I get around to the canvas as I am sure you will too to the page. Just don’t forget to enjoy the process of leading up to that moment, it’s a unique creative stage.

  3. fencer Says:

    Hi Eliza,

    Thanks for your encouragement!

    I do love my little notebooks. The pages are small, so they force me to be concise. But they are the handiest things for stray thoughts and discoveries. Often I will suffer a glancing blow from some idea associated with a news or scientific event, and because I am now starting to always have this novel intention floating in the background, it will spark a new connection that I have to write down somewhere or lose it.

    I do use a PC and I’m not familiar with YeahWrite — I will have to check it out.

    I hear your reaction to the clothing note – chicken feathers, anyone – but I’m kind of leaning towards a techno-peasant ambience for this future world of city states. Sandals and jetpacks, that kind of thing…

    Yes I will be interested too in how I structure the writing process.


    Hi bein,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments… There’s a lot to be said for the gestation (or maybe it’s digestion) process that you mention. The note and reference gathering for this project do take time, first to find, second to fit, slowly, into whatever will develop, and third to come to the realization that the note gathering time is drawing to a close.

    I think I understand how this fits with painting, as well, since I do that a bit too. What kind of painting do you do?


  4. Timo Says:

    I think you will like Notebox disorganizer at http://www.geocities.com/goosnargh37/.

    It is not visual like Papel, but the novel part is that you get a grid with the beginnings of all your notes, in perfect disorder if you like, but still have all the possibilities to have a functional order in it. The author explains it much better than me!

  5. bloglily Says:

    Mike this is great! It sounds like a wonderful story. Get those notes organized — soon! — and start writing. xo, Lily

  6. bein Says:

    My artwork is currently in a black and white phase. Mostly I do abstract designs

  7. bein Says:

    Sorry … as I was saying. My artwork is mainly designs (example see link) and currently in black and white. But I’m exploring larger and more colourful designs as well as other mediums. Good luck with the story, it already sounds quite interesting!!


  8. fencer Says:

    Hi Timo

    Thanks for your comment and the link! Very interesting note software. I’ve already downloaded it to try it out.


    Hi Lily,

    The proof will be in the writing, if and when I get up for it. I’m encouraged by the example of your recent posts…


    Hi bein,

    I left a note on your site… I enjoyed your artwork and the photos.


  9. qazse Says:

    Mike, Great intro on your functional/dysfunctional relationship with notes. I sounds as if you have some general notion of where your notes are but sorting and integrating them into the general structure of the novel is the challenge. I can see that a tool which you find intuitive would be the better choice. Just imagine getting all those desparate concepts and snippets onto a progressive framework. Then you will really be able to roll… best, Q

  10. fencer Says:

    Hi qazse,

    Yes, I want to put all the notes together somehow so they potentially can come together in new combinations I wouldn’t have thought of before… when I start to get them together I might try one of the cut-up procedures, a la Burroughs.

    Writing about it is a way to try to keep myself motivated, too…


  11. awils1 Says:

    Lovely post, expecially the idea about personal Wikis. Although, as a viewpoint in response to your own, I find it hard to imagine getting bogged down in mind-maps; their main purpose is to be clear and concise. Perhaps they are not suited to fictional writing, where subtlety and distortion rule supreme.

    The process of this style of note taking is, to join sometimes very unrelated concepts and merge them in a way that presents best aesthetic value, and perhaps, to fuffil your style of writing. Wikis suit this, because they are tree-like structures, with branches into other subjects that may have little relevance to the other branch.

    PS. I loved this quote:

    Unfortunately, as it stands, the mental access of pleasure occasioned by a neat idea gives way to a sense of grinding devolution by the time I have to write.

  12. sputnki Says:

    One of my favourite scenes in “The Matrix” is when Neo and Morpheus are sparring. Neo tries but is always beaten back. Finally Morpheus says “Stop trying to hit me and hit me!”.

    I have a lot in common with you. If I think there’s a program that will help me organise my notes, thoughts, observations, etc., I’ll be all over it! But I’ve learned that’s a way I avoid the actual work. The only way I get something written is to ignore everything except putting my words to screen (or even paper). When I zone out everything else and just ‘download’, that’s when I’m finally writing.

    If I ever achieve that perfect state of writing, I’ll let you know!


  13. Rick Matz Says:

    Thanks for the post. I’ve been struggling with the idea of starting a personal wiki to organize my training notes, but have been a bit intimidated by what I thought it would take to begin. I’ll look into both products.

    Good luck with your writing!

  14. fencer Says:

    Hi Rick,

    It sounds like Wikidpad might work well for you. Papel is more visual, and I think that’s why I like it for gathering notes for a writing project…


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