Writing on Cocktail Napkins


If you are paying attention and writing everyday, the muse will be aroused. You do not know when the muse will whisper in your ear.  Sprout a seed.  Alert you to  your obsessions. Trigger your subjects.  I know this because it happens to me all the time.

The muse may strike while you are doing everyday activities – making dinner, washing dishes, walking the dog, or weeding the garden. It may happen while you are in the downward dog position at your evening yoga class. The muse may be triggered from listening to  a conversation at the next table while you are enjoying a night out having dinner with friends. An idea may occur while you’re in the shower. Subjects for stories, after all, come from everywhere.

Once an idea takes hold, your muse continues to nudge you  toward creating. Toward writing more stuff down.  Even if you write the idea for a story down  in a safe place where you can return to work on it, don’t wait until you get back to your desk. The muse will awaken at the oddest times and give you more and more until the thing is done.

Be willing to write at any moment. Use every spare moment you have and write on whatever you can find. For those of us who have to work day jobs, our the muse will demand a snippet of our attention. We may have a short time to get those ideas down on paper. Like while working as a bartender for Broadway shows before Intermission while patrons are watching the first acts.  That’s what happened to Aaron Sorkin who wrote the acclaimed play “A Few Good Men” on cocktail napkins during first acts of ‘La Cage Aux Folles’ at the Palace Theatre. “A Few Good Men” later became a blockbuster film starring Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise.  And, it all started on cocktail napkins.

If that does not inspire you, Sorkin just won an Oscar for Best Screenplay Adaptation for his script “Social Network”.  Do you think he left his work at home and did not pay attention to ideas for scenes in that movie when he was not at his desk? I’d like to think given Sorkin’s immense talent, he wouldn’t wait until he had suitable paper to transcribe ideas the muse fed to him for scenes in “Social Network,” but instead he grabbed whatever could be written on and ran with the idea.

The muse can whisper in your ear at any time, any place. So don’t wait to write your ideas down. Don’t bother hunting down your spiral notebook  if it’s not handy or running to get your laptop if it’s not turned on and ready to go.  Use whatever paper is available.  Ideas are slippery.

All writers need is a pen and paper. Maybe you don’t have anything to write the idea on. Paper may be scarce where you are. A pen, however, is one thing a writer should always have. Stick it behind your ear, put it in your pocket, put it on a chain and hang it around your neck if you have to.  Then use whatever paper is available.  If you are in the kitchen, grab a napkin from the dispenser. I have written ideas down on the back of grocery lists I have stuck under magnets on the fridge.  Use the margins in the newspaper spread out on the table where you left it that morning.Even cereal boxes have a little white space, grab one from the pantry.

You do not have time to leave the room to hunt down suitable paper. Suitable paper is not needed. A cocktail napkin, for goodness sake, a cocktail napkin. Don’t be choosy. Be a writer and write those ideas down while the flame is burning before the idea flickers away.



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Friday’s Plum Point

Feeding the Lake

“All of writing is a huge lake…All that matters is feeding the lake. I don’t matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake.” ~Jean Rhys

Sometimes, you have to leave your writing desk and take a walk to clear out the cobwebs tangling you into writer’s block. For me, a walk to the lake does the trick.

At Enid Lake, where I live, there are many paths I can take to get to the lake.

walk to boat ramp

I can walk to the left of my home down a black-top road past thick woods of tall pines, oak trees, cedar, and birches on both sides of the road. This road leads to one of the smaller boat-ramps on Enid Lake, but a surprisingly very busy one in the summer. Other seasons, I often find solitude on this walk. I like to take this walk in the morning when there are less likely to be fishing boats returning to the ramp. There, I sit on a bench on a hill under a small covered pavilion and allow my thoughts to wander freely about a story I’m working on as I watch anglers casting lines from fishing boats trolling across the lake.

Sometimes, I bring my fishing pole, walk down to the end of the boat ramp, and fish. Fishing, like walking, also helps me to clear out the cobwebs. Often, I work out the story problem and walk back to the house, feeling refreshed, and ready to work again.

Another option is to walk to the right of my house and walk down another black-top road which curves down to the campground overlooking the lake. My favorite time to take this walk is right before sunset. During the week, there are rarely any campers. Usually, it is just me and my three dogs. I always walk to the last camp site at the end of the road. Like all the camp sites, it overlooks the lake, too. Yet, it is a special place. It faces directly west, and the sunsets are amazing. There are two side-by-side gray concrete picnic tables. I take a seat on top of one of the tables, resting my feet on the bench, and wait for nature to do its thing. Great Blue Herons glide across the lake down at the beach and overhead, Red-Tailed Hawks take flight from their perches in the tree-tops.

As the sun begins to sink lower and sets below the horizon, the sky’s palette slowly shifts from powder blue to a bright yellow-orange then to purple, pink, and a fiery mix of reds.  My mind is focused on the setting sun and the changing palette. I am no longer wrestling ideas working themselves out in my brain. My dogs are sprawled in different places on the hill, taking in nature’s painting, too. They have such patience. They teach me to be still, to wait. Something will happen. Something will click on in my brain.  I ‘ll sprang into action and walk a faster pace home to get to back my desk before the ideas fade into the horizon.

Sunset over Enid from the Point

Finally, my favorite walk is down a short trail through the woods down to the lake with my husband and our dogs. This is the walk usually taken after a Friday writing session. In the spring, I really look forward to this walk because the woods come alive with a glorious symphony of  a multitude of bird songs and calls from swallows, jays, wrens, nuthatches, and crow.  I’m fond of the Fish Crow caw-caw. Unlike other crow caws, this crow has a lower pitch and more guttural double  noted caw-caw. In the winter, when most birds have migrated to warmer climates, the woods are quiet except for the crunching of dried leaves as we walk in silence, hoping to  hear the peck-peck of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in the pines.

At the end of the trail, the woods open like a door and reveal miles and miles of sandy beach and water smooth as glass. We walk down the beach to our favorite spot and perch ourselves on the massive sandstone rocks on a hill we call Red Rock Point.  We have a deep fire pit that we dug out ourselves and surrounded it with various sizes of smaller sandstone rocks to block gusts of wind on windy days. This is our camp — our little spot in paradise. In the fall and winter, we spend most of the day tending the fire. It is silent except for our voices calling out to each other now and then as we gather wood. One of my tasks is to gather tender – try twigs, dried pine needles and leaves, pine cones, cattail heads.  While my husband combs the beach and searches the woods for larger pieces of fallen limbs and logs, I also gather the kindling to stack like a tepee in the fire pit. As the fire burns throughout the afternoon, we continue to feed it. We sit still on the sandstone rocks around the fire and meditate on the lake, spotting herons and egrets diving for fish. The dogs play on the beach — finding sticks, sniffing out clams, or taking a dip to swim with the fish.

Red Rock Hill

Sometimes, my husband joins the dogs in their play while I sit on the rocks, tending the fire, and writing in my head (I do have pen and paper in my backpack just in case). It never fails. A firestorm of ideas always occurs. Some ideas are just tender, others are kindling, and some are the really big logs. If I have the sense to quickly write them down, I carry them back with me on the walk home.

The Plum Point: “Solvitur ambulando” Translation: “It is solved by walking.” Take a walk; feed the lake.


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Today’s Plum of a Point

No, I have not been writing every single day or posting daily to my blog as I promised in the last entry.  It is not that I do not have time. There are 24 hours in a day after all. Yes, I am busy with teaching, grading papers, renovating a house, and just life in general. Things come up. Spring is around the corner. The fish in the lake will be calling my name, and most days, I’ll answer that call. Before casting lines, I’ll be writing lines. There will be always be something on the schedule, but writing is the one thing that must come first and be non- negotiable.

Here I am, living in the woods, far away from most distractions. I moved here with the intention of creating a place to write. So here It goes! I do manage to write on most days.  The more I write, the more I feel the call. This week, I worked on a poem. I worked on ideas for a short film and other script ideas. I revised a short story. This is the story I will submit to five different journals. I was given this task by my friend, Gabriel, who is a very productive and published writer. She is an inspiration! Read her writing at AngelSpeak.

And you know what? This week I answered the call. I am a writer.

The point is writers write.

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