Writing Basics: The Notebook

I want to start a new series of articles that’s aimed at beginning writers, or towards seasoned novelists who are starting a new project and just need some fresh ideas. Today’s post is about something every writer needs: a notebook. I don’t care if you write everything on your computer, you still need one. Maybe even several, because you have to have one with you at all times.

Once you decide to become a writer, you need to realize that it’s not the kind of job you show up to four days a week from 9 to five. When you’re a writer, you’re a writer all day every day. You never get to stop working. But that’s okay, because writing is fun. A lot of the writing process is NOT sitting at your keyboard banging out awesome phrases, it’s gaining enough life experience and inspiration so that you have something to be writing about. Your job is to go out and have interesting conversations, explore new places, gather information, see things, watch people, an fully indulge in your emotions. Everything in your life is now potentially fodder for some great novel you will write.

But, you can’t just let those experiences shift through you like sand through a sieve. You have to start picking things apart and finding the useful stuff and saving it. I might go into how to do that in a later post but right now let’s focus on the topic. While you’re out gathering intel, you’re going to start forming some ideas. And if you don’t write them down, you will forget them. I promise you, you will forget even the most genius of thoughts. In fact, you’ll forget the genius stuff first.

So that is where the notebook comes into play. I get a lot of ideas while I’m driving because I’m relaxed, listening to music and I’m only vaguely mentally engaged in what I’m doing (sorry fellow drivers). Having a notebook in my purse has saved me from losing a lot of great ideas that pop up while I’m on the road. When I was a waitress, I used to write all my thoughts down on order tickets until that got really confusing and messy. I started keeping a slim moleskin notebook in my apron and that problem was solved.

You might be thinking at this point: won’t frantically scribbling things into a tiny notebook at work/dinner/during the movie/on my steering wheel make me look like an insane weirdo? The answer is: no it won’t. It’ll make you look awesome. If anyone asks you what you’re doing, just tell people you’re a private detective and you’re making notes for your case. Or tell them the truth– I don’t care what you do. Chances are, most people won’t ask you. I once wrote down everything a woman was saying as she was saying it to me and she didn’t even notice.

Now that I’ve convinced you to get a notebook, you have to decide what kind of notebook you want to get. Here are a few ideas and my personal take on the perfect writing journal.

  • Are you going to go cheap, or do you want something expensive? The benefits of spending a significant amount of dough on your notebook is that you’re committing to your craft and you’re likely getting a notebook that really appeals to you and makes you excited to write when you look at it. The drawback is that you might feel pressured to only put your best and prettiest ideas in it, and not ruin it with scribbles and half formed ideas. I tend to stick with cheap notebooks because there’s less pressure to validate the pricey purchase by not filling it with crap.
  • Lined or blank pages? I used to hate lined paper, because, Hey book, you can’t tell me where to write. But then I started to hate the blank paged notebooks and switched back. I still don’t write on the lines but I like having them there. I need something to rebel against. Too much freedom is boring.
  • Big or small? This one is up to you. If you’re particularly long winded or your ideas come to you in paragraphs and page long prose, don’t try to cramp it all in a tiny book. Too, if you feel like you need space to breath and plan, get a full sized notebook. For me, my little snippets of dialogue or four or five word ideas fit nicely in a palm sized notebook, so I stick with little ones. They’re also easier to cart around and keep on my person.
  • Where should I get it from? You can find nice notebooks anywhere. Barnes and Nobel has a nice selection, but Target has some interesting offerings as well. If style isn’t an issue, then any drug store or Staples will have you covered. If you want something more unique, check Etsy.com, where people can sell their handcrafted journals and notebooks, or cool vintage finds. You could even try to make one yourself if you’re so inclined. Or just get plain one and spruce it up with a cool drawing or quote on the front.

If you don’t think you’re as creative as this guy drawing an elf on his moleskin here, just google “moleskin art” and click “images” and you’ll find tons of awesome ideas for how to decorate yourself and make something unique that reflects your current project.

Here are a few links to places where you can get more info and browse some really nice looking notebooks:

http://www.moleskineus.com/ (Arguably the post popular brand, they’re reasonably priced and high quality)

http://www.shopwritersbloc.com/ (Very similar to Moleskin but slightly cheaper)

http://www.etsy.com/shop/msquaredesign?ref=pr_shop_more

http://www.etsy.com/listing/66143835/wire-bound-letterpress-journal-woodland

http://www.etsy.com/listing/77002652/stuffed-with-inspiration-notebook?ref=cat2_gallery_21

http://www.etsy.com/listing/76984642/super-sale-animal-pattern-gocco?ref=cat3_gallery_2

http://www.etsy.com/listing/61500930/letterpress-handmade-letterpress-dried?ref=cat3_gallery_9&favorite_listing_id=61500930&show_panel=true

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About apricotteacup

My name is Meghan and I like to draw pictures and write words. My other hobbies are taking people's food, napping, playing video games, and drinking coffee excessively. I will read almost anything-- preferably YA books and comics, but I will stoop to reading the crappy recipes on the backs of food boxes and Pottery Barn catalogs in jam.
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3 Responses to Writing Basics: The Notebook

  1. I admit I don’t have a notebook going for my work-in-progress. I think this is the first time I’ve worked on a novel without using a particular place for freewrites and ideas. I do use certain computer “idea” files like notebook pages, possibly because I’ve had a lot of hand pain recently, and the computer’s easier. Or possibly because my 4-year-old would want to decorate a notebook and draw on all the pages. Or possibly because there’s always a piece of scrap paper around. Notebooks are quite efficient and lovely, though! I do miss carrying one around.

  2. Thanks for your comment! I have word files on my computer like that too. That’s how I work at home. I like that you can keep adding to a computer file. For my last book I had a file of made up shops and businesses from my fictional city, a file of chapter titles I wanted to use, and so on and so forth. My computer idea files are a bit more organized. My notebooks are just pages of scribbled phrases and crappy drawings– but I love them because they seem to be creativity in it’s rawest form. Plus I like to look over then months later and wonder what the heck certain things I wrote down were even supposed to mean.

    • It’s true that computer documents have to be at least slightly organized (at least focused enough to be able to name the thing). I do miss having a journal because of the joy of flipping through and reading those spontaneous jottings. Maybe I’ll start one for the next novel!

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