Tag Archives: Writers Resources

The Writer’s Notebook

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My spiral bound writers notebook – these pages show planning for a historical novel I am working on.

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.

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My baby moleskine lives in my handbag. Snippets get stuck into these, as well as overheard conversations and quotes.

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Just to prove notebooks don’t have to be neat, or be devoted solely to your writing life – this one also has details of some tights my mum wanted me to buy her!

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!)
  • Doodle
  • 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!

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Sticking in pictures of actors who inspire you can be useful!

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.

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How to begin?

If you want to write, just write.  If you want to paint, just paint.  If you want to do anything creative, as the Nike people say, ‘just do it’.

Only, its not that simple is it?  How do you get out of your own way?  How do you crush all those voices in your head, the teacher who told you that you were rubbish at art, the music teacher who threw you out of choir because she said you couldn’ sing (actually she didn’t like me, but thats another story!), and the old Devil Himself, the Perfectionist voice (I call mine Nigel for some reason) that says nothing you do will ever be good enough.

Well, let me begin by telling you a little story about how I gave my Nigel voice a good kicking, and ended up here, writing my first post on this website about Writing and Creativity.

About two years ago, I was stuck in a creative hole.  I have been writing for as long as I can remember, literally since I could hold a pen, but I didn’t take my writing seriously until 2001,  Since then I had written seven novels and dozens of short stories, but none of them satisfied me, felt good enough, or finished enough.  I was not achieving the standard of writing that I wanted.  I was not getting published.  I had ground to a halt.

Then I heard about fanfiction.

Yeah, yeah, you’ve heard all about that stuff thanks to ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’.  Well, let me tell you something you don’t know about fanfiction.  There are literally thousands of people writing it out there, and the standard is at times gobsmackingly good, as good as anything you would find listed on the Man Booker shortlist.  Yes, some of it is terrible, but a lot of it is written by people for whom English is not a first language, or by college students, so you have to take that into account.  (Anyway, this is not intended to be a defence of fanfiction.)

What happened next:  it occurred to me that I had been writing fanfiction for years.  I just didn’t know it had a name.  I tell myself stories every night while I wait to go to sleep (insomnia has been my constant companion since childhood).  Often they are peopled by the characters I see in TV and films – in other words, they are fanfiction.  I decided to write the stories down.

By the end of the first year, I had written over 100,000 words, was writing every day, sometimes two or three thousand words a day (which any writer will tell you is an enviable productivity rate) and I was getting better at my craft.  I was learning.  Fanfiction turned out to be a great playground to test out techniques and ideas.

And all I was doing was writing down my daydreams.

It was money for old rope, as they say here in Britain.

The day I hit the ‘publish’ button on my first story at fanfiction.net was a huge turning point.  My work was out there.  People could read it.  It was terrifying.  Nigel was having a nervous breakdown!  But you know what?  The readers were kind.  They loved my work.

Fanfiction doesn’t have to be perfect.  That is why it is perfect.  The perfect learning place, a supportive community of writers and readers who give you positive feedback, encourage you and help you to do better.

Since my first publication day, I have put out 27 works in various fandoms, and get on average over 100 readers per day.  In one month last year, I had over 44,000 readers for my works.  How many conventionally published writers can say that?

What I am asking you to do today is to think about this story.  I went from scribbling down a daydream to a massive readership, because I found a way to outwit my own fears.  I’m still terrified, don’t get me wrong.  But there is a way, and if I can do it, you can too.

This is what this website will be about.  Outwitting our Nigels.  Taking baby steps.  Finding ways to be creative.  Being gentle with ourselves.  I hope you will join me on the ride, and I hope we will have fun making glorious pictures in the clouds together.

Best Wishes,

Evenlode’s friend.

(You can find my fanfictions at fanfiction.net and at An Archive of Our Own, but be warned, these are NSFW and deal with VERY adult issues.)