Writing Advice: The Writer’s Notebook
By Emma Evans
One of the first pieces of writing advice I remember receiving was to get a notebook and then use it. Carry it everywhere with me. Since getting this advice (and almost certainly owing to the stationery-buying problem I seem to have) I have half-filled many pretty notebooks with scraps of inspiration, hoping one day they’ll be used. Some have been used, most may not be but that is down to the volume of scribbles across many notebooks more than anything (I hope)! While I still have many, many writing notebooks, in recent years the Notes tab on my phone is full of random notes which, to most, would be void of any meaning. There are scraps of ideas, or even shorts stories and the odd scripted scene or two. I have still been known, however, to gravitate back towards my pretty notebooks and pens!
Read on to have a look at how to use the notebook and for discussion of the writing notebook in a traditional sense as well as in the digital sense…
How to Use a Writer’s Notebook
It may seem really simple and self-explanatory, but you think of an idea and then you note it down. Think of your notebook as a filing cabinet for all of the potential ideas you have of things you want to write.
There are no hard and fast rules on how to use your notebook specifically, either. Do what works for you! Write one or two words to use as a prompt. Write a paragraph that essentially would work as a pitch for your entire story. Write a few random lines that you want to include in your script. There’s no word count/page count/line count for your plans in this notebook (unless of course, one is set by yourself!).
Your writer’s notebook can even be used to note down scraps of research for a particular issue you’re writing about. Thinking of the idea I previously mentioned, likening the notebook to a filing cabinet, it is often helpful to have everything you need for a piece of writing (i.e., plans, research, lines to include) all in one place to save loose pages getting lost or not being easily accessible when you need them to be!
Traditional vs Digital Writing Notebooks
With advancements in technology in recent years, we are no longer restricted to the traditional paper notebook and pen – though many (including myself and my writing friends) still opt to use the traditional method, as well as the Notes tab on our phones…or anything else we can get our hands on to scribble/type on!
Below is a breakdown of some pros and cons of the traditional notebook and pen compared to using a more technical method.
Paper & Pens
Notebook = hard copies of notes. Taking out technological elements means that while there is the potential they could be lost, there is no chance of them being deleted and they can be accessed even if a phone/tablet is dead. In essence: you can work on your ideas anytime, you aren’t tied to a certain amount of time before any battery dies or not being able to find a plug to continue working.
For those stationery lovers like myself, it is a chance to buy a pretty notebook and some new pens to use in it. That’s one exciting shopping trip!
Physically picking up a pen and handwriting things helps me get the ideas straight in my head and organised more easily. This makes the plans clearer. (The same goes for my uni notes!)
While technology allows you to back up work – and this is undoubtedly helpful – often, there is a limit to how much space is on the Cloud/storage. With a physical pen and paper, there is no such storage constraint other than filling the notebook up that you are using…at which point, you can then look forward to yet another stationery shopping trip! A win-win situation: you’ve filled a notebook in its entirety with lots of ideas and you get to buy another new notebook!
In terms of accessibility, a phone is almost always with you. Therefore, by choosing to note things down on the phone/tablet you carry every day anyway, there is no need to be carrying anything ‘extra’.
Back-ups can be done to double check and ensure work can’t be lost, for peace of mind.
For me personally, it’s faster. I can type faster than I can handwrite.
Linking with the previous point of back-ups, it is easier to keep copies of versions of plans. You can often see and mark the progress of the idea from scrap to fully fledged idea. Also, if I deleted a section of the story/script and then realise it can actually fit later on, it can be easily retrieved and added back in.
So…Traditional or Digital Writing Notebook?
For myself personally, I tend to mix the two, as I have already mentioned. Mostly, scraps of ideas when out and about will be written on my phone. These imagination scraps get transferred to one of my notebooks. At some point, these scraps are properly fleshed out and then the actual piece is usually written on my iPad or laptop.
I asked my writer’s group what they prefer. Aside from finding out their preferred methods, it also raised some interesting ideas of what people write scraps of ideas on in the absence of our notebooks…receipts were a good one, and one I hadn’t even thought to consider!
Generally, mixing digital note-taking with the chance to scribble on actual paper with an actual pen seems like a good mix for all of us.
A piece of advice I’d give to writers – however you note down your ideas – is to at least have access to a notebook and pen and leave it somewhere like your bedside table. If you’re anything like me, the best ideas you’ll have in a while will pop into your head at 3 a.m. when you can’t switch off your brain. Don’t for one second think you’ll remember it in the morning so there’s no need to write it down. Famous last thoughts. I thought this once and I still don’t know what that idea was and probably never will again. Don’t make that mistake!
I think it is fair to say that with the technology we have available to us now, we as writers are able to note ideas down in a way that works for us and where we are at the time the idea pops into our heads. That isn’t to say that we should completely disregard a notebook and pen. They can also still be useful and do exactly the same thing as typing out ideas digitally. A combination of both digital and physical paper and pen provides a nice balance and enables us to access the tools to note ideas down wherever we are and whatever we are doing.
What is important to remember, though, is this: do what works for you as a writer.