My Writer’s Notebook

I think having a writer’s notebook is one of the most important steps to becoming a writer, and one of the most important things about being a writer. I take mine everywhere I go and would be lost without it.

What kind of notebook should you use?

Does a writer’s notebook have to be an actual notebook? Well, I like using an old-fashioned composition book, the kind you can get for $1 at Walmart or Staples.

I like these for several reasons:

1. They are cheap. I find that if I buy a fancier notebook, like those lovely leather-bound ones at the bookstore, I save it for something special. I have a small collection of fancy bound books that I haven’t been able to bring myself to write in.

2. They are a standard size. I fill these up pretty fast, and they are all the same size so they stack well or line up neatly on a bookcase.

3. I hate spiral notebooks. Not only do comp books not have an annoying spiral (more annoying since I’m left-handed), but there is no temptation to tear out pages when you “mess up.”

What do you put in a writer’s notebook?

My writer’s notebook is not like a journal or diary. I try to avoid writing about my day or writing personal stuff about other people. Occasionally I put in a dated entry, or a few thoughts on an issue, but for the most part my notebook is filled with a lot of random crap. Things you can find in my notebook:

  • Lists of books I have read and want to read
  • Lists of books and stories I want to write
  • Possible titles and opening lines
  • Character sketches
  • Cool words and sentences
  • Bits of funny dialogue that I hear people say or that I imagine
  • Funny things my kids say
  • Dreams
  • Admonitions to write more (I need to include less of these and MORE WRITING)
  • Actual scenes for my novel
  • Partial essays and blog posts (some of which never get written)
  • Recipes
  • Inspiring quotes
  • Random thoughts while sitting in faculty meetings
  • Notes taken during conference presentations
  • Freewriting
  • Ideas for teaching
  • Packing lists
  • Poems

What do you do with your notebooks?

I credit my writer’s notebook with helping me come up with my award-winning play idea, Pork Belly Futures, which was based on a conversation I had with my father. I keep some notebooks, especially the ones with partial novels or lists of ideas I don’t want to lose. Sometimes I copy things from an old notebook into a new one. I just recently dug through a pile of old notebooks looking for some teaching ideas I jotted down in 2007. Because I often label my notes at the top (Teaching Ideas, Novel Notes, Novel Scene, Dialogue, etc.) it’s usually easy to find stuff. My goal is to eventually transfer my notebooks  to searchable documents, partly to make them more available to myself and others, and also to prevent a bunch of dusty clutter from piling up.

I have seen some really amazing and cool-looking writer’s notebooks. I would love to see pictures of notebooks or hear about what you put in yours. I’m also considering writing a series of posts or articles about this, including more tips on how to get started and what to include, links to blogs and sites that address this, as well as excerpts from my notebooks and other notebooks.

Tell me what you’d like to read about here, link to any cool resources you know about, and submit pictures and excerpts from your notebooks.

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