Shoot me down in flames if you don’t agree with me, but I’d say that a writer who does not have at least one notebook, is not a writer.
To me, it’s the most essential tool. So essential that it’s the very first thing we look at in Writing Skills; Keeping a Writer’s Notebook. Just as a sketchpad makes you think like an artist, using a notebook transforms your approach to writing.
So, new writers are asked to keep a notebook, but seasoned writers don’t just keep one; even though my fingers are now hardwired to use a keyboard and my writing (and spelling) has deteriorated to chimpanzee level, I am never, never without my many notebooks. Right now, I’m using notebooks for;
- Short story ideas and jottings
- Characters I like the idea of
- Poems, especially haikus
- The novel I’m writing
- Ideas for future work
One of my students wrote to me recently to say this; “Now I have to write regularly, I’m writing on any available scrap of paper – the top of the cereal box at breakfast, the back of junk mail, the receipt from the supermarket, the birthday card someone sent me. I’m beating a track of ripped-off bits of paper towards confusion. Sometimes I never find them again. I emptied out my pockets the other day and a confetti of golden nugget of ideas floated to the floor…”
So how can ‘confused scrapper of Cheltenham’ avoid his problem? My advice is to rush to the nearest shop and buy a notebook, stick or clip all the scraps into it, and keep it close by so that you never need to be scrappy again.
With this in mind, don’t forget that as well as having a notebook for each subject, as I have, you can keep separate notebooks for separate times, too.
- One by your bed
- A little one for your pocket or handbag
- One by your desk.
- One in the glove compartment of your car
- A bright, new one with blank pages for your holiday adventure
And what sort of notebook should it be?
- A recycled green notebook if you care about the planet
- A Pukka Pad or similar; you can slide your cuttings straight into the pockets and use the sections to break the project up into manageable categories
- An A6 lightweight one to tote around
- A really fancy one, so the luxury of the paper urges you to write and makes you feel special…or a dog-eared cheapie, so you’re not terrified to write.
- A business-like hardback, such as the Red and Black notebook.
- An ipad or tablet if you really must
- An accounts book or organizer, so that no one will know you’re writing a book!
- An unlined sketch book for mind mapping (see below)
Having finally attained your notebooks, there are so many ways to employ them. Check the suggestions in Project 1 Part 1 Writing Skills, which include;
- Factual Diary
- Creative Diary
- The blank page hurdle
- The confessional
- Aid memoire
- Polishing up your description
- Jotting down information
- Recording passages
- Recording your dreams
As well as all the above, you could also use your notebook as;
A Place you can Freewrite: See my blogpost go-with-flow for a description of this technique
To-Do Lists:There’s a great sense of satisfaction in ticking off your to-do list, or, better for some, ticking off your have-done list after you complete writing tasks.
Journal: Each day use your notebook to record thoughts or events as a writer, or dip into your personal history and get those memories written down.
Which leads us to…
Motivator: Write on the front page of a new notebook, the time each day you’ll use it. Say, on the train to work or (not) watching the 6 o’clock news at home. Stick to the brief you give yourself.
Mind-Mapping: Put your theme in the middle of a new blank page, draw a circle around it and around it. Jot down idea until intriguing results turn up.
Polishing Up Description: Whenever you see or experience something that can be described, whip out your notebook. Travelling is a good time – sitting in the bus or tube, or waiting at a station. When everyone else is dozing after the picnic, you can be taking down descriptions of the landscape. Read my blogpost here.
Recording Passages: Sometimes, a scene or piece of dialogue will come to you whole, often in the most inconvenient place. Keep your notebook with you at all time, including on the bedside table, and you’ll always be able to get it down.
Competitions: Keep an account of competitions you’d like to try for, ideas that would work for certain ones, and, most important, a list of what you have sent where, so that you don’t, as I did once, send and succeed with two at once! See my blogpost
Recording your Dreams
Project Book: A book that will really get you thinking about the new piece of work
Recording Information: When out, you can note down anything from a telephone number to something read in the library. At home, you may want to makes notes about other writer’s text, to remind you later.
Your Writing Diary: Finally, you need a separate place to record the writing diary you’re asked to keep for your OCA creative writing course. This can be electronic, of course.
Some final hints and tips about your notebook
- You should never throw away a notebook. Hide or store them, but don’t let them disappear.
- Bearing the above in mind, please don’t be precious about the writing – remember, half the point of a notebook is that things aren’t written in stone.
- No one need ever see what you write.
- You don’t even need to read it through. If it suits you, you can ‘write and go’.