Do you take notes in a class? Do you write down word for word what someone is saying in order to not miss one nuance of their message? Or do you write down major points, leaving it up to your mind to fill in the blanks when you call the information forth? Or do you not bother taking notes at all?
It has been a long, long, LONG time (15 years!) since I sat in a classroom environment and took notes. I had forgotten what my methodology was for learning: copious note taker? random thought recorder? snoozer?
I have recently completed the book Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell. I discovered (or learned or remembered) that I fall into the copious note taking category. Copious. It means abundant. Plentiful. LOTS.
The thing is, the more I read, the more I wanted, no, needed to take notes. I soaked up the information as if I was dying and this was my only source of water and/or food. Perhaps I was dying–in a professional sense.
I have always thought (in my heretofore uneducated opinion) writing came naturally to the very talented. Of course, I fall into this category. I have never doubted that. (Insert loud background guffaw here). I tended to turn my nose up to those who wrote and those who read all books on the craft of writing. Then I attended Glorieta Christian Writer’s Conference last year. Everyone said the same thing, over and over: learn, study, read, take courses, and then read and take more courses. You can never learn enough about the craft of writing.
I heard this from well-published (and by that I mean those with 30+ published novels under their belt) authors. One of whom was James Scott Bell.
He happened to be the keynote speaker at Glorieta. I heard him speak the first night (he had a two-night gig) and was surprised at how dynamic he was. I hung on his every word and took (copious) notes. The next night I looked forward to Part Two of his address. Before the session, however, I went to the dining hall of the facility, and, since I knew a total of no one there, looked for a table that was empty (sometimes it’s ok to be a loner…it’s good for the soul). What I found instead was a table with one lone occupant: James Scott Bell.
Before I knew what I was doing, I walked over and asked if I could join him. I didn’t look at him long enough to see if the look of “oh great” passed his face or not. He graciously offered me a chair and I joined him. I’m not sure exactly what I expected from him, but I know none of the following moments were what I think I may have expected. That sentence makes me dizzy.
Since it was the final night of the conference, I figured he was pretty wiped out and had probably been over-tapped for information. He wasn’t overly chatty but he did engage in polite conversation. We continued this awkward-but-polite dance for the duration of the meal and I made it a point to not ask him any questions about writing or the craft of writing or anything. I hope it was a relief to him. As we chatted, he became a very real person to me.
When I got home, I read through my conference notes and discovered that upon many occasions people recommended his book, Plot & Structure. So I purchased it. I received it (I’m ashamed to say, last November) and promptly put it on my bookshelf. Then never touched it until last week, when, yet again, it was recommended by another person.
I went to my bookshelf and what should my wondering eyes see? Not one but TWO copies of the book. So I became Rita’s benefactress and sent her a crisp, unblemished copy.
I found it interesting as I read through the book (which taught me more about the craft of writing in 230 pages than I ever thought possible) that I kept identifying the writer of those words with the man at that table all those months ago. His demeanor and his voice…it was suddenly clear and fresh in my mind as if I had spent several days in his company instead of a few minutes. It’s fascinating how an impression can be so lasting and thorough, even when brief and uneventful.
I guess I felt the need to take copious notes because whereas before James Scott Bell had been someone I had met at a conference, now he is someone I respect.
So my opinions about learning the craft have been reversed. I have a stack of books I need to read that is currently 9 books tall. And I intend to read every one. I mean, if the first book I read produced copious notes, can you imagine what any subsequent books might do to me?
Hopefully, as I read (and continue to write), all those books will do wondrous things to me, not the least of which is make me a fabulous, inspirational, and well-respected author.
And maybe one day I’ll sit at a conference table and share a quick meal with someone else who might read one of my books one day and say to herself, “What can I learn from her?”
Or maybe she’ll just eat quietly and leave. And go on to write her own breakout novel.