My writer’s notebook is ‘pulchritudinous.’ Wait. What? I just discovered that this is another word for ‘beautiful’ and had to squeeze it in somewhere. Who would’ve known there was an ugly word for something so pretty?
Anyway, I digress. 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 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’ll never look back. By the end of this article you will:
- Be aware of the possibilities of a writing notebook.
- Know how to use a notebook as an active tool in developing your writing skills.
Ready. Get set. Write!
Before keeping a notebook, I used to write the first draft of something with the intention of sending it away. Did that happen very much? No.
But now, I list all my current works in progress under the title ‘competition’ or ‘potential outlet.’ This way, 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 your 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.
I used to make things hard on myself before understanding that the more I simplify, the more likely I am to stick with it. 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 new ideas about my writing practice. Maybe you could try something similar.
Notes for Improvement
A large part of studying creative writing 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 you need some ideas for your current WIP, take ten minutes to write in stream of consciousness. Inspiration guaranteed.
Like me, ideas probably hit you faster than balls shooting up a pinball machine. This is great, but when you’re focused on another piece of creative writing, this distraction is, well, distracting.
Because ideas for stories can come from anywhere, when they do, it’s good to have a place to keep them together. They can sit and stew until a later date and it’ll take away the stress of forgetting important ideas.
I read a lot, but I’m haphazard: multiple books at once, stopping and starting. To regulate my crazy system, I’ve created a reading list in my notebook, ten or so books that I colour in (very smugly) with a Nile-green colouring pencil when finished.
You might be a more consistent reader or develop your own system. Nevertheless, keeping reading habits on track can be a useful way to make sure we’re reading a variety of material.
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.
If you’re not interested in including this in your notebook, that’s absolutely fine. We all approach writing differently and you could maybe exchange it for something else: comic books, museums, plays…the list is endless.
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.
This would be useful to include in your notebook if you can begin a story easily but struggle to sustain it beyond an early stage.
There are many techniques to pick up, and whenever you discover one, why not make a note to remind yourself to use it!
This might be something like ‘freewriting’ or ‘scanning the local newspaper’; simple things that are beneficial in generating ideas. So whenever you’re a bit struck you can go to your ‘skills’ page and pick something to practice.
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).
You don’t need to fill your notebook with loads of stuff, sometimes just one or two things are enough.
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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!
Until next time,