Excerpt from my new tips book. First published as a writing column in VERGE ezine.
"…That book in many’s eyes doth share the glory
That in gold clasps locks in the golden story…"
--Romeo and Juliet Act I, scene iii
All right, I admit it. That quote is stretching it a bit, but in keeping with the tradition of a Shakespearean beginning to the column, it is fitting. I would like to discuss one of the most important tools in any writer’s repertoire—a personal notebook.
I have mentioned this tool before in passing, but I want to devote a little more space to it this month. A writer’s notebook is like a piece of his or her soul. It is more than a mere journal, though it can serve that function in part. It is also not essential that it be black, though many of mine are—they show less wear. I find that a 5"x7" spiral is my favorite. This size fit into the pocket of my smock when I was working on a production floor, so the choice of size was made for practicality, but choosing the proper notebook is almost as important as filling it. I also prefer to have unlined pages, because occasionally I sketch a prop or costume beside the piece I am writing, but this is also a matter of personal choice. (Perhaps the best alternative is one of those wonderful books that are lined on one side of the page and unlined on the other. Then you get the best of both worlds.)
The process of choosing a notebook should be looked at as an opportunity to express yourself to yourself. Take your time and enjoy the search. Don’t just grab the first notebook you see unless it grabs you first. I usually browse the journal section in any bookstore, stationary, or paper store I enter. You never know when you will find the perfect writing companion. I already have my next book waiting for me to finish my current one.
What do you write in your book once you find it? Anything and everything. Here is a sample of the things in my current book: email addresses from friends or possible research links that I don’t want to forget; homework assignments from my writing classes; scraps of scenes I am working on at any given time; outlines of action to work out plot details; a transcript of a chat session that might make an interesting story someday; story ideas; maps of my lands; job-related notes (when it was the only paper handy); poems; personal exercises (my last volume had swatches of fabric taped into it and then descriptions of the characters who might wear them); and yes, journal entries—personal frustrations, triumphs, fears, feelings, all the things that you would tell a diary.
The important word that kept popping up in that last paragraph was "personal." Yes, you can share your book with friends or relatives if you want, but if you never want to show any of it to another soul, YOU DON’T HAVE TO. And you can expand the idea of a personal writing notebook to more than one level. For example, I have my "writer’s notebook" which I carry everywhere…though I don’t always have time to use it…but I also have another notebook specifically for writing down dreams, some of which have later become plot outlines. I have a third notebook for writing out "dark" thoughts (that one has black paper pages, and I write on it with a gold gel pen.) One further extension is my "inspiration" board, which is a bulletin board covered with postcards, photographs, magazine pages, sketches, and notes that stir the imagination and represent characters or possible settings in my writings. It also serves to remind me of things I might want to explore further, and provides a welcome distraction when that pesky writers’ block rears its ugly head.
What this rather rambling column is getting at this month is that no one should be without a notebook. Not only does it help you organize current projects, it also makes sure that you don’t lose that precious scrap of an idea that might one day become a best seller. Most importantly, it keeps you writing, and by daily communication with your silent partner, you keep your creative juices stirring and the wheels of your imagination turning away. Choose the size and shape that best suits you, but always carry something. You never know when inspiration will strike.