Every craftsman needs a workbench. The notebook is to a writer what a workbench is to a carpenter. Every book about how to write will tell you that. The trouble is that there are as many ways to keep a writing notebook as there are carpenters’ workbenches. So I thought I would say a little bit about this most basic of skills.
Your notebook travels with you continually, wherever you are. It is the hopper into which you throw all the useful scraps you collect on your journey through life. It is like a memory that you carry with you – one that won’t malfunction, unless you drop it in a pond or set fire to it, of course! This is where you scribble all your ideas, the clever sentences and metaphors you dream up, the quotes that inspire you, the snippets of conversation you overhear on the bus. In the old days, this was called a Commonplace Book, something like a scrapbook, but one in which you record more than events. It is a little like your journal, but more functional. I always like to think of mine as a record of the development of my mind.
Most teachers suggest you start out with one notebook. The important thing to know is that this is a skill that evolves, ebbs and flows. You will find a comfortable way to do it after a while, a way that fits into your lifestyle and way of working. In anycase, to start out, choose yourself a notebook that will stand heavy use, and one that you like (otherwise you won’t be drawn to write in it.)
I use an A4 hardbacked spiral bound lined notebook by Pukka Pad, which I love. I can fold it over, stick things into it, draw diagrams, and because the cover is plain, I can decorate it however I like.
However, A4 is a BIG size, and its not something I can just stick in my pocket and carry everywhere. As a result, I’ve evolved a second notebook. It is a tiny Moleskine, which I carry in my handbag. It is hardback too, so it withstands a great deal of getting knocked about, and chocolate stains. This is my scribble place, where I note things down on the move.
This is a method of recording that I have developed over time. It may not work for you. You may need to keep everything in one place, in a single book, or you may need several different notebooks for different purposes. It depends on how you work, so it will be different for everyone. There is no one right way. But I suggest you start with a single notebook to make life easier.
Here are some things you can do with it:
- Reflect on where you are with your writing, and what you would like to achieve
- Scribble down a paragraph that comes to mind
- Record useful or inspiring quotes
- Plan your stories
- Write your characters’ back stories
- Draw pictures of your characters, or collect photos of actors and actresses who put you in mind of them
- List books you might like to read
- Do writing exercises
- Stick in interesting newspaper stories for future inspiration
- Stick in inspiring pictures or postcards
- Review books you have read, movies or TV shows you have seen, art exhibitions you have visited, music gigs you have enjoyed
- Take notes at meetings of writers groups you attend
- Note ideas for new stories or characters
- Mindmap plots
- Draw diagrams
- Describe the weather (you wouldn’t believe how useful this can be when you are trying to write action set on a sunny August day but living through a wintry November afternoon!)
- List music that inspires you. (A playlist for every novel really helps set the mood for writing)
- Potential character names – I came across someone called Theodicy Godbolt one day when I was researching 16th Century British History – you couldn’t make that one up!
- Whatever else takes your fancy – it’s your notebook!
There is one absolute that every writer’s notebook should have at the back. A list of words and their meanings that you come across. Every writer should be expanding their vocabulary all the time. Come across a new word? Write it down somewhere you can refer to it, and then you will remember it!
These are just a few ideas to get you started. I’m going to talk a lot more about notebooking in future posts, not least because I am a notebooking fanatic, but you might like to grab yourself a pad and pen and start scribbling right now. And if this doesn’t inspire you, maybe you might like to read this, or this, which is one of the best books on writing I have ever read.