Writing Ideas notebook inside story idea notes

An Intention To Write and a Notebook of Prompts

A writer must write. Once you stop writing new stuff, you become a former writer. I don’t think there’s an official number of days or months without writing after which you lose your writer’s license, but six months to a year might be it.

I published my most recent book in May 2022. Since then, the only original material I’ve written has been blog posts and book reviews. My posts are short and my reviews are informal. I don’t think of them as “real writing.” Novels, short stories, poetry, and polished essays on specific subjects—those are the real thing.

If I don’t want to stop calling myself a writer, I’d better start writing something new. Soon.

For more than twenty years, my writing efforts were directed to the four novels I call the Herbert West Series and the two that succeeded it, She Who Comes Forth and She Who Returns. There is also a collection of short fiction I published in 2020, but seven of its fourteen stories are spinoffs from the series. I lived in the world of those novels for more than two decades.

It’s time to write something different. Vague ideas have been fermenting in the bottom of the old writing vat for years. When something specific bobbed to the top, I would make a note in the Writing Ideas notebook. (That’s if the notebook and a pen were on hand at the time, or if I managed to remember the great idea long enough to write it down. If only one could find the place where all the lost great ideas end up!)

Writing Ideas notebook cover blue Mead Five Star

This is my Writing Ideas notebook. I have recently combed through it, looking for anything that doesn’t relate to stuff I’ve already written and published. I now have a list of story ideas, plot outlines, and half-baked thoughts to work with.

Writing Ideas notebook cover blue Mead Five Star

The preceding was a circuitous way to get around to this declaration: During 2023, I will write a number (as yet undetermined) of stories or other works based on those notes.

I will report progress on this project in July 2023. The idea is that once written, some of these pieces will coalesce into something bigger. Not a novel, exactly, but something held together by themes that persist in haunting me. Even if that doesn’t happen, I will at least have a number of original pieces and maintained my Writer’s Cred.

Fellow writers, what do you do when you don’t have a work in progress? Do you worry that you’re no longer a real writer if you’re not working on something substantial?

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Saved seeds 2018

Seeds and Notes

Ever since midsummer, I’ve been saving seeds. First, the dark blue delphinium finished its first flush of bloom and formed seed pods on the single stalk I didn’t cut down. Then the aconite “Stainless Steel,” which goes dormant soon after it finishes blooming. This year it produced some seeds before checking out, so I saved a few. Then the irresistible chunky seeds of the mysterious and beautiful cerinthe “Pride of Gibraltar.” I made sure to retrieve a few before they fell (I’m anticipating random seedlings to pop up soon; the problem is they don’t always survive the winter). Last week I cut the plants down and shook out the remaining seeds onto a white cloth. Now I have more than enough to keep this intriguing plant going in my garden.

I even squeezed out some tomato seeds and kept them and their attached pulp sitting around in a jar, supposedly fermenting, a supposedly necessary process. I’m pretty sure the seeds I grew this year’s tomato plants from were ones I dried and packaged several years ago, without any fermentation. We’ll see if the new ones are viable when spring rolls around again.

Pacific Coast iris seed packet, Libertia peregrinans seedsI collected various other seeds in my garden and elsewhere. Libertia peregrinans, for example — a plant I’ve lusted after for years but haven’t managed to find in commerce. Last summer I encountered some in a boulevard planting and nabbed a single seed pod. And I bought a packet of seeds of our native Pacific Coast Irises while touring a notable local garden. These two plants will be new to me, so both a challenge and (maybe) a thrill.

I’m actually of mixed minds about saving seeds. Putting them in labelled envelopes is only a beginning, not a completion. Saving seeds means I can grow an annual again next year, or grow more perennials if I want to. They do peter out or meet with misfortunes, so it’s reassuring to know I have a handful of their descendants safe in an envelope.

Saved seeds, cerinthe seeds, beach pea seeds 2018But seeds in an envelope don’t turn into plants all by themselves. Unless I remember them at the correct time of year and expose them to conditions that will cause them to germinate, they’ll just sit in their envelopes until they lose their viability. Turning seeds into plants means rounding up suitable containers and soil mix, putting the seeds on or in the soil, and exposing them to light (or not) at the optimal temperature for germination. And germination is only the beginning. Tiny seedlings need a lot of attention if they’re not to expire from damping off, drying out, or lack of adequate light. And that’s while they’re still in their first little pot in the house. Further operations are needed before a mature, healthy plant is added to the garden.

Writing notebookStory ideas in notebooks are like saved seeds. Just as the seeds are unrealized potential until planted in damp earth, the ideas are dead scribbles until they are unpacked and spun out in words. The seeds I gathered will be safe in their envelopes and repurposed pill bottles until next spring, but I will use the dark time of year to revisit and ponder my story ideas, eventually setting pen to paper to begin the process of creation. The requirements for success are more nebulous than those for growing plants. Time and stillness, the right music, an overheard remark, the light falling through the window at the perfect angle, the caprices of mood and mind. Maybe something will come of these conjunctions — ideas that will bloom and bear fruit in the form of stories, or even another novel. Maybe.