“The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.”  Agatha Christie


A few years ago I blogged on the importance of brooding.  Today I want to revisit that topic.

Most well-written books—fiction or non-fiction—don’t happen on the spur of the moment. Instant inspiration is rare and if the result is worth saving, it’s even rarer.  Even Dame Agatha had to brood her new novels over a sink of dirty dishes.

Most serious writers not only brood over their work before beginning, but brood about a great many other things only understandable to other writers.  As Malcolm Cowley rightly said, “The writer is a person who talks to himself, or better, talks in himself.” To me, this talking in one’s self is a form of brooding.  Brooding is necessary to good writing.

During the course of a day, a writer may interpret virtually every event as fodder for the present book, a future book or short story, an essay, a letter to the editor, or even just a Facebook post.

Though we may not take Agatha’s advice and plan our books—or brood over them—while doing the dishes (curse those automatic dishwashers!), we certainly do so as we sit in traffic, wait for our name to be called at the doctor’s office, or sit in the park watching people go by.  By nature, we are nosey. We are unabashed people watchers. Sit us down in an airport and send some interesting looking people our way and we’re in danger of missing our flight.  What on earth is that beautiful young woman doing  with that middle-aged paunchy man? Within minutes, we have determined whether he is a dear relative, a sugar daddy, or a beloved professor.  A few minutes later and we have imagined their destination, their entire past history and the course of the rest of their lives—both individually and as a couple. If, by chance, they sit next to us, we’re all ears as we eavesdrop to find the answers to our questions. And if the answers turn out to be as boring as they usually are—we will invent better lives for them.  If their dialogue satisfies us, out comes our notebook and we scratch down bits of dialogue we may or may not use in a novel six or seven years down the road, having long ago forgotten the incident that brought it our way.  Our imaginations are like chickens constantly scratching the ground for this or that morsel.  Most of it we will spit out…but oh how fun it is to find a nugget we can tuck away for future use.

Woe to the writer who does not keep a notebook to jot down his or her encounters, observations, ideas, and scraps of dialogue.  In the mind’s quest for the next morsel, it may well forget yesterday’s morsel if it’s not written it down.  Your notebook is your lifeline from past brainstorms and divinely appointed encounters to one of your future great works.  Guard it carefully! Last night on my way to a meeting, I had to stop at the grocery. As I got out of the car, I wondered if I needed to lock the doors. I was only going to be in the store for less than five minutes and there was nothing in the car worth stealing….except….wait a minute! There on the seat next to me was my several-years-old notebook. Good grief!  What if someone stole that gold mine? It’s literally irreplaceable to me, though absolutely worthless to anyone else.  Needless to say, I locked the door.

The fruit we reap from our hungry imaginations is vital. And the simple truth is that the writer’s instinct for searching out a story, either real or imagined, is embedded deeply within us. When we’re not writing, we’re constantly on the hunt for more food for our ever-hungry imaginations.  May it ever be so!



4 replies
  1. Judith Robl says:

    It is second nature to me to lock the car door – and to pull the keys — even when in my in-laws’ driveway. Wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve been asked to move the car from that location and castigated for having locked it and pulled the keys. No one in that family ever pulled keys from the car. And cars were always left unlocked.

    Of course, that was forty or fifty years ago. And times have changed, drastically. Does anyone else remember those simpler, trustful days?

  2. Lindy Swanson says:

    I’m still searching for the best idea-catching method. I have three notebooks full of ideas. My grampa always kept a small notebook in his shirt pocket, with a retractable pencil. Since I’m not into shirts with pockets, I’m thinking about hanging a little one around my neck on a string. I have a hard time making it from inside the store to the car before I’ve forgotten the nugget. So many nugget thoughts come to mind when its not convenient to write, like when I’m driving, its hard to imagine getting through the regular responsibilities of life, if I stopped to record each one. Its hard to know which ones are worth stopping the car to capture. Do you have similar challenges?

  3. Lisa Simonds says:

    Hi Nick, what a wonderful illustration, “Our imaginations are like chickens constantly scratching the ground for this or that morsel.” Perfect! The idea of it actually gives me a warm feeling. Crazy, right? Always looking forward forward to your next blog. Lisa

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