My writer’s notebook is ‘pulchritudinous.’ Wait. What? I just found out that this is another word for ‘beautiful’ and just had to squeeze it in somewhere. Who would’ve known there was such an ugly word for something so pretty?
Anyway, I digress. This post is all about what I put in my notebook, not any superficial nonsense about how attractive it is, even if it’s Arabic gold and impossibly shiny. I never used to use a notebook before I became a creative writing student, typing stories directly onto my computer. Not seeing the value in one, if I did want to jot any ideas down it tended to be bits of paper, receipts, old scraps or my arm.
But in having greatness thrust upon me in the form of an A4 Flame Tree Notebook (and made to use it as part of my course); I can now say: “I’ll never look back”. Here’s why…
Before keeping a notebook, I used to write the first draft of something with the intention of sending it away to a competition. Did that happen very much? No.
But now, I list all my current ‘works in progress’ under the title ‘competition’ so that I know exactly what I’m going to send off, the stage each piece is currently at and ideas about where to send it to. It’s a great way to keep track and stay accountable; and there’s nothing better than seeing my collections listed.
Updates on My Writing Routine
You know the lift in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with hundreds of buttons that take you in any direction you want to go? That’s how many times I’ve tried different writing routines. But there was one button I hadn’t pressed yet.
For a long time I’d made things pretty hard on myself, before realising that the more I simplify, the more likely I am to stick with something. Even then life circumstances change and so routines need to be updated accordingly. Each time I do this, I line off a new page with a pastel highlighter and note down the new times I’ll dedicate to my writing practice.
Notes for Improvement
A large part of studying creative writing at uni means reflecting on your work and writing commentaries. Although this may sound tedious, it’s such a useful practice in terms of self-awareness.
Noting down changes I make and why, the things I’m finding difficult, mistakes I need to correct later etc; has not only helped me improve my craft, it allows me to stay in control. Think of it like a personal diary for every piece of work you do. You can even give it a pet name.
As you probably know, ‘journalling’ or ‘morning pages’ are the in thing at the moment. Freewriting is basically the same thing without the glamorous name. You take your pencil and your notebook and basically vomit out words without judging yourself.
It’s a weird and uncomfortable thing, until you realise it can be impersonal if ‘personal’ isn’t your thing. Freewriting doesn’t have to be about spilling your innermost feelings, it can be about anything: characters, plot lines, settings and much more.
So if I need some ideas for my current WIP (or am feeling blocked), I take ten minutes to write in stream of consciousness, inspiration guaranteed.
Some days ideas hit me quicker than balls shooting up a pinball machine. This is great, but when I’m focused on another piece of creative writing, this distraction is, well, distracting.
Because ideas for stories can come from anywhere, when they do, I like to have a place to keep them together in one place to sit and stew until a later date.
I read a lot, but I’m haphazard, multiple books at once, stopping and starting. It’s complicated. To regulate my crazy system, I’ve created a ‘bespoke’ reading list in my notebook, ten or so books that I colour in (very smugly) with a Nile-green colouring pencil when finished.
Not only does this help keep my reading habits on track, making sure that I’m reading a variety of material is important to improving my craft as a writer.
Ok, this one might sound a bit weird. This is because I write fiction as though I’m directing a film in my mind. In any case, watching films helps me to study character, plot and most importantly, to expose myself to new ‘moods’ I may want to capture in future projects.
Let’s get mathematical. This is a relatively new thing I’m trying out, so far effective in applying my own experience to universal and eternal story writing principles.
But what is this strange alchemy? It’s not that mysterious. I’ll take a formula like the ‘3-Act Structure’ and write out the main plot points of say, a book I’ve just read. In this way I can study the mechanics of storytelling to practice getting the ‘skeleton’ of my work just right.
There are many techniques I’ve picked up so far on my writing journey, and when I discover one, I make a note to remind myself to use it!
This might be something like ‘freewriting’ or ‘scanning the local newspaper’; simple things that are beneficial in generating ideas. So whenever I’m a bit struck, I go to my ‘skills’ page, pick a technique to practice and wait.
I’ve never yet written a piece of fiction that didn’t require some research, even if it’s just a quick Google tour.
Sometimes, if the subject matter is more involved or I’m writing about ‘what I don’t know,’ I like to make a list of what I need to research and write down the most important points. This isn’t to restrict myself or even use the material, but rather to deepen my understanding of the story (and to make sure it’s believable).
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You know when people say that something has ‘changed their life’? Well, for me a writing notebook really has. If you have one, what do you keep in yours? How do you organise it?
If there’s anything I haven’t mentioned that you think is useful, I’d be grateful if you let me know. I’m always on the hunt for more ideas!