Shannon Stacey

Professional Writing Tools: The Diner Placemat

The Stacey family went out for dinner last night because somebody (me) didn’t have anything in the house to cook. I’m not great at meal planning because how do I know on Sunday what I’ll feel like eating on Thursday? There are also only three or four meals made from ingredients all four Staceys will eat and after a score-plus years, we’re all a little tired of them.

Anyway, I happened to catch my oldest giving me some serious side-eye and he gave a pointed nod toward my traveler’s notebook, which goes with me pretty much everywhere.

Why? Because inside the TN are four notebooks, one of which is for jotting down whatever crosses my mind while I’m out and about. I also have an iPhone, which has several handy-dandy note-taking options, as well as actual Office programs.

And there I was, scribbling notes on the placemat.

I had to blur quite a bit of it, so it looks weird, but yes, I was scribbling on the placemat instead of writing in the notebook designed for that purpose or jotting the notes on my phone. I can understand why somebody would side-eye the use of a placemat while the systems set up for just that reason are within reach.

There’s nothing more freeing for my brain than a restaurant placemat. I love scribbling on them. As a matter of fact, a ridiculous amount of 72 Hours was written on the back of placemats from one of our regular dining spots up north. All of my books contain some placemat words. But most often, I use it for brainstorming relating to the broader aspects of publishing and work.

Even when a notebook is intended for capturing random ideas and fleeting thoughts, I feel as if there’s a slight, subliminal pressure to put that information on the page in an organized way. Whether it’s the order things are written in or just writing in a straight line, notebooks have expectations.

But a placemat? I can scribble and make arrows. I can turn the placemat sideways or even upside down and just keep growing notes in any direction. Crooked. I can make boxes around things. I can cross something out with a mad scribble and shift the paper. No structure. No boundaries. No lines. Just coffee rings and the occasional spot of ketchup.

Sometimes, like last night, it’s just a quick burst of notes, so I take a picture and just leave the placemat. Other times, I fold it up and take it home with me. (They’re used to me at our usual haunts. That whole she’s a writer thing is real.) Every once in while, I’ll fall in the hyperfocus hole and my husband will have to clear a place on the table for the server to set my plate. There was even one time the bill was paid and my food had been put in a to-go box before I ever looked up. My brain loves placemats.

Sadly, it doesn’t work at home. If the actual placemat could draw words and coherent thoughts out of my brain, I’d order my own in bulk. And plain paper doesn’t work, either. I’ve bought sketch pads in the past, hoping it was just the freedom of a big, blank page. It wasn’t.

It’s just the magical, mystical power of the diner placemat.

One comment to “Professional Writing Tools: The Diner Placemat”

  1. Froukje van den Berg
      · December 28th, 2018 at 5:18 pm · Link

    Hallo Stacey,
    A friend of mine sent me this story with the words: this remind me of you. And as i read your story I knew exactly what she ment.
    The same happend to me when I was in Glasgow last september!

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