How To Keep A Writer’s Notebook

I’ve previously written about the 7 benefits of keeping a writer’s notebook.

But how do you keep one? Should it be organised or a collection of scribbles? Should you separate prose from outlines, free writes from drafts?

The easiest answer is: do whatever feels right.

But I would argue that you should do whatever will best serve you later on — and that means pinpointing your needs to decide what kind of notebook you need.

A writer’s notebook is a tool; its aim is to help you with your writing. What kind of help do you need?

Perhaps you simply need a place to collect ideas. A place for quick lines of observation, description, snippets of scenes, character names and inspirational quotes.

There’s no structure to this kind of notebook–and no restrictions. You’ll browse through its contents at a later stage when you’re hungry for inspiration.

Julia Cameron promotes keeping morning pages — writing three stream of consciousness pages every morning to get the juices flowing. You may never use this content anywhere else; the aim is to get into the habit of writing and unblock your creativity.

If you want to increase productivity, this is the kind of notebook for you.

For Darksight, I’m keeping a project-specific notebook.

The beauty of a project-specific notebook is that is that it keeps me focused. I flip open to a page, and know that I can only write about ONE story. No procrastination allowed.

To keep myself organised, I’ve split the notebook into two halves.

The front half of the notebook contains outlines, character bios and family trees. (I’ve also seen other authors number the pages and leave space for an index, in order to easily find content as it builds up.)

The back half of my notebook is for snippets and scenes: pieces of prose as and when inspiration strikes.

Eventually the two halves will meet, but I love having all of my notes and reference points in the same notebook as my ideas, yet in some way organised too.

There are many more types of notebooks, from dream journals to diaries.

What kind of notebook do you keep? There is no right or wrong way – only what works for you and helps your writing.

7 Benefits Of Keeping A Writer’s Notebook

“But what is more to the point is my belief that the habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments. Never mind the misses and the stumbles. Going at such a pace as I do I must make the most direct and instant shots at my object, and thus have to lay hands on words, choose them and shoot them with no more pause than is needed to put my pen in the ink.”
– Virginia Woolf, A Writer’s Diary

If I have been a quiet on the blog lately, it is because I’m focusing heart and soul on my next novel, Darksight.

The writing process for this project has been very different from my first novel, Above Ground, which ran as an online serial. I don’t have a weekly posting schedule to stick to. I don’t have readers debating the story’s progression.

It’s just me… and my new-found best friend: my notebook.

This is the first time I’ve kept a project-specific notebook, and I’ve come to realise that the physical process of writing is crucial to the development of a story.

I used to think that those who carried around fancy *coughmoleskincough* notebooks were pretentious. A part of me still does: I’m using a bog standard spiral-bound affair.

But my new companion has taught me that what exists in our minds is formless, mutable. Only when it has a physical permanence can we build upon it to take the story further.

Not convinced?

Seven Benefits to Keeping a Notebook

  1. Memory aid: Have you ever thought of something great, told yourself you’d write it later, only to find it has slipped away like a dream? Keep your notebook close and it’ll never happen again.

  2. Stimulate thought: Do policemen walk around without their uniforms? No! Well, you’re an author. Carrying a notebook means that a part of your mind is always subconsciously in writing mode, seeking new ideas.

  3. Evaluate progress: You can track your ideas as they develop over time, and remember how you ended up where you are now. Particularly useful for character development and back stories.

  4. Ask questions: Why does your protagonist hate chocolate? How did the submarine end up in the zoo? A notebook allows you to jot down questions – even if you don’t have the answer.

  5. Focus: Your mind can only handle so much at any one time. Dump all of your thoughts into your notebook, so you can pick and choose what to work on.

  6. Gain perspective: Having a notebook puts your ideas outside of your head. The separation will allow you to look at your thoughts from a different perspective, helping you spot flaws or plot holes.

  7. Solve problems: Sometimes your story isn’t quite working, and you can’t figure out why. Instead of moaning about it in your head, moan about it on PAPER! It’s therapeutic, and you may find the answer somewhere amidst the scribbles.

Do you keep a writing notebook? Why or why not?