Tools for Writers
Charlotte Rains Dixon  

The Writer’s Notebook(s)

Storage-44155-mI am a total nerd for office supplies, and my most favorite kind are notebooks–spirals, perfect-bound journals, and binders, big, medium and little.  You name it, if you can write on it and its bound together in some form, I love it.

Part of this love, I'm certain, is because notebooks are tangible.  They exist.  They are real.  You can point to them as an object in this world–which is far different from the place I usually live, which is in my head, in worlds that don't exist until I put them on the page.

(Brief aside: I'm in LA staying with my friend Suzanne who bakes gluten-free goodies for a living. Helping her do even the most tedious of tasks, like washing dishes or boxing crackers, is actually fun for me because it is working with the tangible.)

I've always got a gazillion notebooks of various kinds going, and the thought occurred to me to write about them.   I've always loved the idea of the main character in Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook, who keeps many notebooks as a symbol of her fractured mind. By the end of the novel, she's healed herself and keeps only one notebook–the golden notebook. Or so I hear.  I've never actually made it all the way through the damn lovely book.   I will never, ever be able to consolidate all my notebooks (I have three of them here with me on this trip) into one.  To wit:

Types of Writer's Notebooks I Have Been Known to Keep.

1.  The journal.  Duh.  That place where you put everything and anything, where you explore private thoughts and ideas related to your writing. (Unless, like me, you reach a point where you're writing so much about your writing project that you create a dedicated notebook for it.  See below.)I have 5, maybe even more like 10, huge tubs of journals that I've filled over the years.  I'm actually planning to dispose of them all soon–but that's a topic for another post.

2. The novel notes notebook.  (Or memoir notebook, or whatever you are working on.)  This is the place where I jot notes about ideas that occur to me, where I line out scenes, write snippets of dialogue, etc.  I cannot live without a notebook dedicated to my novel.  I'm five chapters into a new novel, and I've already almost filled up one steno pad notebook full of notes.  I find myself flipping through it often to remind myself of ideas about themes, characters, settings, and scenes.

3. The novel free writing notebook.  (I know, this is getting ridiculous.  Please bear in mind I'm very right-brained, which should already be obvious.)  This is a bigger spiral notebook in which I have more room to do free writes related to the novel.  I find if I keep the free writes and the notes all together in the same notebook, they tend to get lost.

4.  The daily log.  When I'm working on a big project, I like to keep a daily log.  This is a simple word count tally, along with a note about which chapter I'm working on.  It's great for when you think you haven't been accomplishing much, because you can look back over it and see what you have gotten done.  At the moment, since I'm getting a lot of notebooks going (ya think?) I keep this in the back of #2.

5.  A three-ring binder.  This is handy for printed out chapters, if you like to do that, or I put the critiqued manuscripts from my writing group in there.  It can also be used for research, images of the characters (if you've not done a vision board) whatever you find useful.  It's a place to corral things that have gone beyond the note stage.

6.  The carry-around notebook.  Holy crap, I nearly forgot this one. I always carry around a mini-spiral, or something that's easy to stash in my purse.  (In a pinch, I make notes on my phone.)  This is handy for ideas, brilliant thoughts, recipes, overheard dialogue, notes in church or meetings or lectures.  

Okay, that's it, I swear.  What kind of writer's notebooks do you keep?

Some other posts on this topic:

8 Essential Tools for Book Writing

The Writer's Notebook: Loving Moleskines

Writing Notebooks

Image by ppdigital.

25 thoughts on “The Writer’s Notebook(s)

  1. Kay

    I use Scrivener for all my notebook needs, except for my little carry around one.

  2. Zan Marie

    LOL! I look like you, Charlotte. There’s the journal where I note what I’ve done each day even if it’s a terse NONE, a spiral for those private thoughts (my hubby knows to *burn* my bookshelf of them if I predecease him), the spiral where I rough draft, make notes, etc. for the novel, the binder for print outs, the binder for the sections of scenes I’m editing, and mini-notebooks in both the autos. Not to mention Scrivener! Is that enough? 😉

  3. Charlotte Dixon

    Oh wow, Kay, I'm impressed.  I still have to use pen and paper!  Thanks for chiming in–I think for a lot of people using something like Scrivener works best.

  4. Charlotte Dixon

    You are a woman after my own heart, Zan Marie.  Just reading your description of your notebooks makes my heart race.  I love little spirals and big binders!

  5. Jane G

    I can get so lost in stationary as well. I keep all of the above at different times for different purposes. I would add a cut & paste notebook, where I still cut out little snippets with old school scissors and tape them into the notebook for future reference.

  6. Charlotte Dixon

    Ooh, I like the cut and paste notebook!  That's a new one for me.  I just may have to visit the office supply store to find the perfect spiral to create one….

  7. J.D.

    I like the 3-ring binder. When I’ve written something really inappropriate, I can remove and shred it. There’s no trace. it’s better than email!

  8. J.D.

    Charlotte, I love your help on the manuscript I sent. Absolutely the best money I’ve spent on writing. I worked through a number of them today. A little more rewrite to do. I hope to have it ready in a month. That’s not the last time you’ll hear from me. Enjoy LA.

  9. Don Williams

    Wow! You have so many notebooks Charlotte that I think you might need a special notebook just to keep track of all of your other notebooks!

    Oh, by the way, I really enjoyed this post, because it was not only educational, but ever so entertaining at the same time.

  10. Charlotte Dixon

    LOL, JD.  Shredding is good.

  11. Charlotte Dixon

    Hmm, you gave me a great idea, Don–a notebook to keep track of my notebooks!  Love it!  And thanks for the compliments!

  12. Stacyverb

    I have a journal and I carry a mini-notebook in my purse at all times. My main notebook is a spiral with five sections, so I can keep different projects separated. I’ve been thinking of changing to a three-ring binder instead, though, so I can add more loose leaf paper to particular sections as needed. Some sections inevitably fill up faster than others!

  13. Charlotte Dixon

    Yes, that's one reason why I struggle with the sectioned spirals. I do love me a binder with sections in it, though!  Thanks for chiming in.

  14. Jessica Baverstock

    Well, as you probably already know, I’m the queen of notebooks. I’m trying to keep my tally straight. Here goes:
    – Journal for personal thoughts on everyday life, including diet, exercise and mental muddles. I sometimes refer back to the most-recent previous volume to check on things as I go. Actually, I have two separate personal journals going at the moment. It’s complicated.
    – Writing journal for writing on any new story or project that happens to grab me at the time.
    – Notebook for blog post ideas and other things to do with Creativity’s Workshop.
    – Idea notebook which is where I put down all my random snippets of thoughts that will one day meld into something that can go into the writing journal.
    – Larger ring-bound notebook for freewrites and so forth (as the writing journal pages are too small for intensive writing sessions)
    – Notebook for my current work in progress. (I usually have to take at least one of these with me when I travel, although usually two or three sneak into my bag just in case.)
    – Notebook for special occasions. E.g. My most recent one was bought for my trip to England where I’ve written thoughts and little essays just about that trip.

    Phew! Would you like to know the craziest thing? Each notebook has a preferred pen which I always must have if I want to write in that book. Can you imagine traveling with something like this?!

  15. Charlotte Dixon

    Actually, yes, I can. I took four notebooks with me on my recent trip to LA–just in case. We are two of a kind! And this is also why an Ebook reader works so well for me–I used to carry a gazillion books everywhere I went! Now I just take my Ipad mini.

  16. Ledger D'Main

    If only my loose-leaf was a little more moral, and my binder was less restrictive, tis true my composition won’t compose and my 3 ring is such a circus, I have tried to tame my pad with clips and staples but became lost among the cursive and printed scrawls then only to remember that once upon a raven night I wrote in my ledger, a memo that would make even
    Euripides wish for an eraser…

  17. Roy

    Great post! I kept a daily journal years…well over a decade. I’m picking the habit back up. I purchased a great 2014 desk calendar. I’m going to use the monthly calendar for the actual calendar, and I’m converting all other pages to journal page. It’s a nice, mobile size. And it is loaded from book jacket pictures of the 100 books that shaped America. I think it will be fun. Why am I starting it back up? I’m getting back on my novel, and this is a way to get the creative juices flowing again. Oh, I’ve been writing and editing non-stop daily since about 1990, but fiction is a bit different…I think. Anyway, fun post Charlotte! 🙂

  18. Charlotte Dixon

    I'm no match for your cleverness, I admit it, Ledger! And I love when you comment.

    Sent from my iPhone

  19. Charlotte Dixon

    Thanks, Roy! Love the sound of your new calendar/journal and I'm so glad you're returning to your creative writing!

    Sent from my iPhone

  20. Milli Thornton

    Wow, and I thought I was the Crazy Notebook Lady. :~)

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your confessions and comparing myself to you. We have a lot of similarities. Currently on my desk in a vertical folder thingy I have large, spiral-bound notebooks dedicated to novels and screenplays and another book I’m doing for writers. (These must be wide-ruled or they don’t come home from the store with me.) I also have cute, smaller spiral-bounds for capturing ideas. The ideas notebooks are separated according to various needs (ideas for assignments for coaching clients, ideas for screenplays, etc.) Also one small Moon Goddess notebook for journaling to my muse that does the To Be Cont’d thing from volume to volume.

    On a shelf built in to my desk I have eleven named and labeled volumes of my most favorite journal of all times, Spirit of Flight. This started out as a regular, stream-of-consciousness journal but evolved over time into a more specific use that involves invoking help from our invisible mentors (if you happen to believe in those). Those journals have become encrusted with pasted-in pictures and are replete with notes jotted in all possible colors of gel pens.

    (Don’t get me started on gel pens. LOL)

    So glad to meet a fellow notebook nerd! Did I mention that some of my notebooks have special images pasted on the cover? (Oops. Better get out of here. . . .)

  21. Charlotte Dixon

    Oh, you sound even worse than me, Milli–and I mean that in the best of ways!  I loved reading your description of all your journals and I'm especially interested in the Spirit of Flight volumes–more?  

  22. Milli Thornton

    I would love to share more about Spirit of Flight. I’ll be back later with some goodies on that :~)

  23. Charlotte Dixon

    Thank you!!!

  24. Carole Jane Treggett

    I’m a big fan of notebooks as well. I’ve got (turns head to count them on the bookshelf) six on the go at present. But wait…then there’s the smaller ‘catch all’ notebook tucked away in my purse and the one I just noticed under my coffee cup on my desk. I also have notes scribbled throughout my agenda/daily planner book LOL. Hmm, I may have to join a 12-step program to get this under control since I haven’t even mentioned the electronic note-taking apps I’ve got on the go too!

  25. Charlotte Dixon

    Oooh, I would love to know what electronic note-taking apps you've downloaded!  And I'm glad you're a kindred spirit when it comes to notebooks–can't ever have enough of them, in my world.

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