How $1 Could Make You a Bestselling Author

One thing has remained consistent about my approach to writing, from a seven-year-old in love with stories and Care Bears to a 32-year old full-time writer with publishing contracts in 18 languages—I always, always carry a notebook. Spiral-bound flipbooks in my back pocket. A jotter in the glove box of my car. One of my kids’ discarded drawing pads in my bathroom (yes, my bathroom). And, where possible, beautiful hardback notebooks in my office, handbag, and bedside table. Guest column by Carolyn Jess-Cooke, author of the award-winning poetry collection Inroads (Seren, Wales: 2010).
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One thing has remained consistent about my approach to writing, from a seven-year-old in love with stories and Care Bears to a 32-year old full-time writer with publishing contracts in 18 languages—I always, always carry a notebook. Spiral-bound flipbooks in my back pocket. A jotter in the glove box of my car. One of my kids’ discarded drawing pads in my bathroom (yes, my bathroom). And, where possible, beautiful hardback notebooks in my office, handbag, and bedside table.

Carolyn is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 1 week;
winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. (Update: Michelle M. won.)

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Guest column by Carolyn Jess-Cooke, author of
the award-winning poetry collection Inroads (Seren,
Wales: 2010) and four academic books on Shakespeare
and film. Her debut novel, The Guardian Angel's Journal,
came out April 1, 2011, and is being translated in 17
languages. She was born in 1978 in Northern Ireland
and currently lives in England.See her website here.



These notebooks are not used as diaries, nor do I tend to write more than a page at a time—these are for "lightbulb" moments, scribbles of dialogue, hastily composed plotlines, factual information or a headline that interests me, or just fragments of something-or-other that strikes me as interesting. If my house was on fire, I would fight tooth and nail to retrieve these notebooks. Why? Because they contain pure gold.

I return to these notebooks constantly, sometimes over a decade after first writing an idea. When I was eighteen or so I had an incredible idea for a title, though I had no clue what the story was or whether the title was for a poem, novel, or even a screenplay. Fourteen years later, I’m working on the novel that bears that title. Similarly—going back a bit further—I had an idea sometime around the age of seventeen for a screenplay which remains unfinished due to the fatal combination of lack of confidence and no clue how to get past the first plot point. The idea has stuck with me—a sign that there is clearly something working there—and so I plan to develop the initial idea as a novel in the future.

My notebooks serve as a very practical toolbox, too—on many occasions I’ve been asked to produce a piece of work within a crazily tight deadline, and I find that, most often, coming up with the idea for a commissioned work can take more time than actually writing it. Hence, notebooks—packed with ideas that can be developed to fit the bill, the random, undeveloped ideas I had many years ago have fished me out of deep water more times than I care to admit.

And while I’m selling the act of carrying a notebook at all times, let me divulge the most important benefit: notebooks can counter writer’s block. Whether you feel you have nothing to say or have something to say but are afraid of writing it, writer’s block is a vicious, draining, and highly inconvenient experience that all of us will encounter at one time or another. Dipping into past ideas can provide an imaginary ladder over the obstacle of writer’s block. The "a-ha!" moment that writer’s block ultimately prohibits is achieved by simply flicking through your own notes—after all, it was precisely an ‘aha!’ moment that made you write it down in the first place. Even if your ideas seem a little dumb, a little callow, or even a little silly on second reading, you can take them somewhere, give them some muscle, trim the flab, or even alter the tone to suit your purpose. At the very least, re-reading your notes should spark some new ideas—and so the notebooks flow.

The reason I believe that $1 might make you a bestselling author is down to the simple fact that continually writing down ideas is the only way to keep drilling down to the good stuff that agents and publishers will leap at. A notebook needn’t be expensive—especially if, like me, you want to pepper your house and car with them—and, if need be, you can always use your hand, a ticket stub or a napkin to write on until you can transcribe your ideas into your notebook later in.

There are many pathways to becoming a writer that will put you out of pocket—degree programs, mentoring schemes, online tutoring—and, for sure, some of these may be grand. But the quickest, cheapest, and most perennial way to "become" a writer is pen and paper—done often enough it will, as they say, reap the benefits.

Carolyn is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 1 week;
winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. (Update: Michelle M. won.)

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