Watching the Sea is Noble Work

Kate Flora: It is a gift to have friends who are creative. They don’t just write good books

A sampling of what a writer sees

A sampling of what a writer sees

and poems or paint good pictures–they ask thoughtful questions and say interesting things. Once in a while, I find myself writing those things down to save for a day when I need an inspiration, or something to ponder on, or a blog topic. Those things used to go into a little notebook that I carried in my purse. More recently, though, they tend to get written down in the “notes” app on my iPhone or on my iPad. There they rest until I need them.

The title of today’s blog is a recent acquisition–I only acquired it two days ago. I was just back from vacation–a driving trip around Nova Scotia to sort of make up for having to cancel two weeks in Italy–and though I was home and work and the shiny new office beckoned, I didn’t want to leave the porch, or my rocking chair. I wanted to stare out at the sea and read a trash novel (is a novelist even allowed to say this, I wonder?) and just veg out until it was respectably late enough to long for a gin and tonic. In the wicked habit fallen into by those of us whose publishers have told us we “have” to be on Facebook, I posted my guilt about not working. And I got the line above in reply.

Sometimes the signs say it all. Or, as Craig Johnson says, stay calm, have courage, and wait for signs.

Sometimes the signs say it all. Or, as Craig Johnson says, stay calm, have courage, and wait for signs.

This post might really be about the importance of being in the world, and of carrying that little notebook to write down the things that happen around us. In my little notebook there are names, and instructions to myself, and to do lists, and lots of numbers, and books I should buy. But what is most fun are the odd things that are written there.

“Bee truck” reminds me of this: Two summers ago, my husband and I were driving up the Maine turnpike and we passed a truck loaded with small, square white boxes and draped in a lot of netting. As we passed, I could see that it was a massive load of bees bound for a blueberry field. And as we finished passing, I saw that the driver was texting. Since my mind is often in cop world, I said to my husband, “I’d hate to be the cop who rolled up on the scene if that thing has an accident.” The next year, I read in the paper that one such truck had tipped over in Baltimore.

If I scroll through the notes, I find things like this:

The empty channels through the salt marsh look like slick brown eels.

An odd thing to find deep in the forest?

An odd thing to find deep in the forest?

Or this, though I don’t know what it means:

Driving around with skunks

A person is only as strong as their enemies.

The pain of being from away was a comment made by a writer who had moved to Maine and felt like an outsider.

And these: Decadence can’t be rushed. Rental caskets. There’s always a farmhouse. World’s largest marine taxidermist. No just any ooze. Fifty shades over fifty.

There is the thing a friend said, quite casually, one night at dinner: “Every time I got clam poisoning . . .” And from another friend, “I’ve come terms with the pickles.”

From a talk by James W. Hall:

Hide the word that is the subject of the book in the first paragraph

The experience is both “of course” and “aha!”

Just mossy tree roots or the strong toes of a lurking giant?

Just mossy tree roots or the strong toes of a lurking giant?

Weird word sequences like fuzzy logic, fussy logic, fluffy logic

There is a page of tee-shirt mottos for writers, including:

I’m a mystery author. I write wrongs.

Major Heroine Dealer

Is “Publishing Business” an oxymoron?

And of course: Living in Sue Grafton time–where no one ever gets old.


So, dear readers: Do you have a notebook? A stack of index cards? An entire bookshelf full of notebooks? A shoebox full of those little pieces of paper you’ve scribbled on? And will you share some of your notes with us?



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9 Responses to Watching the Sea is Noble Work

  1. John Clark says:

    I’s gots me brain, such as it still be, ant that’s where I hold such stuff. Guess I should write more down, but the good stuff seems to bubble up as needed. Funny the stuff that gets tucked away up there. I can’t help commenting on one of your snippets above, Driving around with skunks, the thing that came to mind immediately was an image of guys in a beater, one of whom had no business in the vehicle, but had fallen so far in his own mind that he needed to hang with lowlifes in order to feel good. Thanks for sharing all the brain fodder above.

  2. Heidi Wilson says:

    Kate — brilliant! So good to know someone else’s pocket notebook contains a high percentage of weirdities. I’m on my fifth book. Here are three of my favorites. The first was my own experience, the second from a newspaper, and the third, I think, from one of Oliver Sacks’ books (peace be upon him.)

    Middle-aged, well dressed man walking with similar woman down Piccadilly. She gives him a perky smile and says, “They exhumed his body?”

    “The violin, which police said appeared to be in good condition, was stolen late last month from a concert violinist who was shocked with a stun gun…. Police traced the stun gun to Universal Knowledge Allah, a 36-year-old barber….”

    “Charles Bonnée’s Syndrome: a brain response to partial loss of sight which causes hallucinations, from spots and patterns to “a three-foot tall Tom Jones singing in my living room”

    I too have worked a few blog posts out of such material.

  3. MCWriTers says:

    Oh, Heidi, these are wonderful! Thanks so much for sharing.

    Will never see Tom Jones the same way again.


  4. Yup, so much this. I get ideas and hear others all the time: characters, names, phrases, incidents. Scribble them down and then later put them into different files. Here’s a few fun ones:
    The business side of the blankets

    It was not so much a bar as a bad basement party put on by shabby, low-class people you didn’t like. (Actually walked into a place like this!)

    I don’t want to say he’s cheap, but he glues the bills into his wallet.

    Never go white-water canoeing with a dyslexic who doesn’t know his right from his left!

  5. Monica says:

    I like the one about hiding the word that is the subject of the book in the first paragraph.

    My little scraps of paper are everywhere. The one I found had these hints on it:

    Pond with swans?
    Is Maine on your bucket list (I write a blog about travel in Maine)
    10 cent tip
    Green pickup missing plates

    Where those are going I don’t know.

  6. Lea Wait says:

    I carry a small notebook … and periodically either add my notes to the book they were intended for … or, if generic or for some possible future project, I file them o=under the creative title “Ideas” I now have a full file cabinet drawer of “ideas.” And — once in a while — I actually sort through them, and pull a few out. Once in a while I even use one. Note: my earliest “ideas” include a notebook I kept during my undergraduate years ….

  7. Kate,
    You always have such thought-provoking posts. I am not good at writing things down in the course of a day, but I do occasionally wake up enough in the middle of the night to write down a stray thought that, in the wee hours, seems absolutely brilliant. By morning, assuming I can read my handwriting, it rarely makes a lick of sense, but at least I’m not tormented by thinking that I’ve forgotten something important.

  8. Kate, A great column that strikes home in a number of ways. I too write ideas down in small notebooks. Unfortunately, these ideas are rarely looked at again. I think for me, it’s a matter of writing them down to help cement them in my mind for later use. On the rare occasion when I do refer to my notes, I can rarely find what I am looking for.

    • Heidi Wilson says:

      Russell, I keep my current notebook with me at all times, and when I’m in a long line at the supermarket or waiting for my husband, I reread it for fun. The good stuff sticks in the brain. Oscar Wilde took his diary everywhere, he said, because “One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”

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