Writer’s Notebook(s) – IDEAS


Using the term “the writer’s notebook” implies there’s one such magical thing and one way to properly keep such a magical thing. Wrong. I would argue that for most writers, one thing works sometimes, one thing another time, and you need to find what works for you — and, don’t be afraid to switch it up when you need to. The photo above shows different methods I’ve used: post-its for quick jots of ideas, notecards, mini-purse size notebooks, cell phone when I’ve been without a working pen and left myself a message to jot down later, composition notebooks, spirals, journals, three-ring binders. Don’t think I use all these all the time. I don’t. But, at different points, I have.

For me, the most common and frequent uses of writer’s notebooks fall into categories that fit neatly with the acronym: IDEAS.


This notebook would be considered by purists to be the traditional “writer’s notebook,” and purists would keep a volume continually updated with notes, lists, snippets of overheard conversation, photos, post cards, tickets, magazine clips, names, etc. — everything and anything from daily life that might inspire and inform future writing. I agree this is a fabulous idea, and I will tell you, it’s not effective for me. I’m not that organized and feel constrained by the pressure of updating and pasting and categories. I keep smaller purse-size notebooks where I jot ideas, lists, names, etc. I don’t do photos, clippings, etc. I rarely move the ideas into a bigger notebook, but I keep a basket of the small ones and will occasionally thumb them for ideas. This works fine for me. Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird describes her use of index cards for keeping track of ideas. And, for me, the importance of recording these moments when I first began doing so related to a comment by Lamott, “You start seeing everything as material.” That’s what the Inspiration notebook is for. Find a method you can use, and use it. Or not. Maybe you have a perfect memory and no need for writing things down. I don’t. I need those scrawls.

D – Dumping

This is not a necessary step for all writers, but it is for this writer’s sanity. My “dumping” notebooks are my daily morning pages, my blah, blah, blahs, my venting and my rejoicing. These pages are for my eyes only and my mental health, only. I need them as much as I need my morning coffee. (See an earlier entry on Julia Cameron’s morning pages.)

E- Exploring

Before discovering the convenient IDEAS acronym, I referred to this notebook as my diving notebook. In this notebook, I do writing prompts and if a story or chapter idea is embryonic, I begin drafts here, before moving to my laptop. (See Promptiful for suggestions for writing prompts.)

A – Accountability

This notebook is for writers who are submitting, engaged in the business side of writing. Here, ideally, you track submissions, rejections, acceptances, but you also keep notes of literary journals that seem to fit with your style of writing. If you have a novel that you are seeking representation for, you will have a section regarding agents as well. Again, this is a notebook that I don’t use. My method is to track my submissions to literary journals on Duotrope and my agents on sheets of notebook paper thumb-tacked to a bulletin board. (See – it’s a matter of finding what works for you, and using it.)

S – Specific Notebook for a longer work

It can be very helpful when working on a novel, to keep a spiral notebook with you at all times, related only to the novel. So, if you’re out and about and suddenly, a scene you’ve been struggling with or a character you couldn’t quite envision before becomes clear, you get it down in that notebook — with a big scrawl across the top of the page, identifying the scene or character. As you work on a longer piece, you begin to live and breathe with your characters, this specific notebook helps you save moments that may enhance your draft.

Hopefully, this post has given you some thoughts for what types of writer’s notebooks might work for you. If you use different methods that might be helpful for others, please do add a comment. Try something new if you feel its time.

As always, happy #writing all. (For those of you who may follow my blog as well, sorry, this is up on both sites. 🙂 )

Intentional Retreats


I must write it all out, at any cost. Writing is thinking. It is more than living, for it is being conscious of living.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea always makes me think of Cape Cod, where I’ve spent time every summer for many, many years. The tides, the gulls, the children’s splashes and laughs, it all combines with the sunscreen and the taste of lobster to add up to peace, calm and happiness. It’s a retreat from the day to day. My time on Cape Cod influenced my first published piece, “The Echoes of Infinity.”

Thursday I’m heading to Sinsinawa Mound in southwestern Wisconsin for a different retreat – the Hairshirt Retreat for women writers. Last year when I attended, I was wrapping up a draft of my first novel, preparing it to submit to Antonya Nelson for my mentorship with her at the Tin House Conference. This year, that novel is visiting agents, looking for a home. My plans for work for this retreat are more varied than last year – I’m going with two stories and one novel in progress. Tonight and tomorrow, I intend to reread that novel draft and begin the process of outlining where the novel is and where it could go. Which will I work on at the retreat? I don’t know yet; and, I’m not worried.

I will be “conscious of living” as I write – not distracted by laundry, dishes, meal planning, grocery shopping, etc. I know what a gift this time is — I am truly grateful for it. Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, speaks of artist dates, a time to explore and regenerate — a mini-retreat. If you can’t take a long weekend away from your life, can you steal three hours at some point? Can you spend time in a new coffee shop, a new library, an independent book store, and live with your work in progress for some precious time? If you need a writing retreat, how can you make it happen?

(Note: blogpost first appeared at Finding Meaning With Words.)