The Writer’s Notebook

January 17, 2012 at 11:25 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments


Do you keep a notebook?

Catch Those Ideas; Corral Those Details

I often see something that I may want to use in a poem or a story – a name, an image; an interesting person. I’d think, I’ll remember that and write it down when I get home. But thoughts are fleeting, and I’d forget all about it in the busyness of life. Memory is erratic, and I would have forgotten the details I’d thought so engaging at the time.

I’d write on a scrap of paper or a shopping docket, then unthinkingly toss bits of paper into the bin or they would be mulched in the wash. Eventually, I realised I needed something in which to record my observations and ideas; something relatively permanent. So, I learned to carry a notebook.

The notebooks I bought were small enough to fit into my back pocket, and I carried a cut-off pencil. The notebook often lost its cover and the edges became frayed but, being small, they filled up quickly and a new one would take its place. Later on, I took to carrying a handbag. Now my notebook is larger and I have space to write longer items in it – a good thing as my memory becomes erratic.

A Record of Moments

So, what do I record in my notebooks? The quick answer is: anything that takes my attention or that I need to remember. It may be names, phone numbers and dates unrelated to writing. Generally, however, the following list covers much of what I use my portable notebook for.

Sights, sounds, smells – details, not generalities; *flashes of inspiration; *character names; *titles that occur to me; *fragments of overheard conversation; *quotes; *notices and signs; *names of authors and books; *one-liners; *appropriate aphorisms; *brief character sketches; *lines from a song or poem; *new words; *phrases; *writing prompts; *unusual incidents.

Journal of Henriette Dessaulle

A Record Over Time

The notebook that records moments is great, but it isn’t the only kind of notebook. I also want somewhere to write at length, so I have a writing journal in which I write almost daily. I write about writing and anything relating to writing. I also write about life; not strictly my writing life, so my book is a life journal as well. I wrote when my father was critically ill in hospital a couple of years ago, recording everything that happened to him. When I was undergoing chemotherapy, I wrote my impressions of the experience, the chemo unit, staff and patients. Some of those impressions and details could be of help in future writing.

I write drafts of poems and other short pieces. I used to hand write first drafts of my novel, but now I write drafts of longer works directly onto the computer. I write character sketches, ideas for stories, experimental pieces, pieces on local or world events, my impressions on political, religious or social issues, etc. I might rough out a blog entry, note my writing goals or frustrations, or list the books I have been reading. In short, I write anything I feel like writing.

Some would not call this notebook a writing journal – it has too much of my own life in it. Many people see a writing notebook as strictly to do with writing. They may divide it into sections, in which you write about particular aspects of writing; descriptive passages; character sketches; story ideas; newspaper or magazine articles that could prompt a character or a story line; titles; articles on writing; etc. In these and other sections, they might expand on the brief notes they took in their pocket notebook. But my journal is good enough for me.

The Value of Keeping a Writing Notebook

If you keep a writing notebook, you will know how good they can be. If you don’t, you may decide to start keeping one. The kind of notebook you keep will depend upon the purpose you want it for – a brief memory jog; an expanded writing journal; or a combination life/writing journal.

I believe that making an effort to observe and record those observations brings us closer to life. We see people, places, events, actions that we can use; the little gesture, the phrase, the quirk of character you may not have otherwise noticed. You may never use anything you write in your notebook or journal, but at the very least, you will know to include those little bits of life. The moments you capture could bring a far greater sense of realism to your novel, memoir, article, short story, or poetry writing.

    Do you keep a notebook to record those ideas, characters, moments? What kind of notebook do you prefer?




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  1. A notebook is a good idea, Linda, but instead I just jot down ideas on a piece of scrap paper and go from there. 🙂

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