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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Keeping Organized - Writing With A Notebook

When I talk to other writers, the one thing we really seem to have in common is the sense that we just don't have enough time to write.  We have jobs, families, household duties, take care of aging parents and grandparents, name it, we do it.
The other thing we have in common - we often put our own need to write last.

My critique partner suggested I start using a notebook.  I can always find few minutes to jot down a paragraph, a few lines of dialogue or ideas for the synopsis while waiting in line for kids to get out of school, soccer practice, boring PTA meeting etc.

And it really worked!  A page in the notebook here, another there, voila!  It might not sound like a lot, but when you're not getting anything written, and all of a sudden are getting a page a day written - that's a book in less than a year!

There's an added bonus.  When I transcribe from the notebook to my word processing program - I'm already doing some revising and editing, making my rough draft not so rough.  Not only am I doing the little things like adding more flavor to the prose already written, I'm also adding additional paragraphs.  I end up having much more when I'm done than just what was written in my notebook.

My notebook writing often works best when I'm at the beginning of the book, when the ideas are more fresh, and I'm in that rush to get everything down on paper.  It's also a lot easier for me to use my notebook when I'm in the proposal stage of writing, when I'm really formulating ideas (I'll have several going on at once).  

The middle - not as easy to write in the notebook.  Often, that's when I'll tuck in some research materials into my notebook.  In fact, I now have a car bag for my writing.  It contains a pen, my notebook and research materials I haven't had time to read, but are important to the book I'm writing.  Here's a sideways picture of my car bag hanging on the doorknob to remind me to get it.  (Why it's sideways, I'll never know.  If I were a children's writer, I'd say I lived in a sideways house.)  

When I'm at the end of a book, the notebook writing is easier once more.  The end is in sight, I see the scenes clearly in my head, and I'm back to that rush of getting everything on the page.

Little Hints:
  • Decorate or get an unusual notebook.  This will make it easily findable in the house, car, kid's backpack, whatever.  And yes, I've run around like an idiot trying to locate my notebook.  
  • I'll often work on a few ideas at the same time.  Use a new page for different ideas, and always write the Manuscript name at the top of the page.
  • After you've transcribed from your notebook into your word processing program - draw a line though the text, so you don't keep running across it and not remembering what you've done and not done.
When I'm stuck in my writing, but I have notebook time, I try to think of this as an opportunity, rather than staring into space.  I can use that time brainstorming.  Play the whatif game with my characters.  I've read that we're more creative when we're writing longhand than solely at the computer (which up until a few years ago was the only way I wrote) so use this time to whip out something unexpected.
I'm interested if you use a notebook or not, and if yes - how do you use it?   

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At 1:51 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Jill--I LOVE this idea! I'm going to get a notebook today (one with a bright cover). And I'm going to use that notebook as an excuse to get out of my chair and out of my house more often. Just because I have the luxury of sitting at the computer most of the day doesn't mean I'm incredibly productive ;-).

At 2:20 PM, Blogger Ladyhawk said...

Definitely. A dear friend gave me a LOTR journal that I use for story ideas. It's a distinctive green leather with a silver tree on the cover. Easy to spot almost anywhere but underneath something bigger. LOL! I use different color pens for different stories. And yes, crossing it out once it's transcribed to the pc is really helpful!
~Judy T

At 2:36 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Betcha I know who that friend was, Judy!

I never use a notebook. I always write on my laptop, which is with me most of the time until my husband starts to yell about it.

I always carry a book with me when I go out, but I never write in a notebook when writing my story.

BUT.... I believe all these ideas are coming my way for a reason, so I'll never say that I'll never use a notebook in just this way!

At 2:51 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

I do think this is a great idea. I need to keep a notebook in my car. That's when I find I have a little free time...while waiting for my daughter at school...or dance...or wherever.

Thanks, Jill!

At 4:37 PM, Blogger Heather Harper said...

I'd never get anything done if I didn't write my first draft longhand in a notebook. And I also have your CP to thank for suggesting that. ;-)

The BIG thing for me about notebook drafting is that my internal editor shuts up. She never shuts up on the computer. But if I grab a pen and paper, she runus and hides. I love that!

At 5:10 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Jill, I can't believe that you, "Author Talk" video queen, can't turn your picture around. For those of you who don't know, Jill films hilarious episodes of her own talk show: "Author Talk, where authors talk to other authors." If you go here:
and then scroll down to "labels" on the right and click on Author talk, they'll all come up. If this is not the case, Jill, then you better get cracking. There's three or four of them.

Notebooks: That's pretty much how I use mine, down to crossing through stuff I've used. I also label in the margins: "good dialogue, ending scene." And if something's really important, I highlight it.

The main difference is that now I mostly use it to brainstorm (any dialogue and scenes are byproducts of that), and I'm not as rigorous about transferring. But my first book was written pretty much exactly as you describe.

And I have to have a cool notebook. I keep my eyes peeled for holographic covers, and then I stick a sticker on them.

And Heather, my editor also shuts up when I write longhand. I had to teach myself to compose on the computer, and it is much faster, but there's still this sense of, "Oh, this writing is much more official."

At 5:20 PM, Blogger Terry Odell said...

If I could write longhand half as fast as I type, and if I could read what I'd written when I was done...
I can barely deal with workshops where instructors say, "write such and so..". Where's the backspace? Where's the cut/copy and paste. Anything I write longhand is so scribbled out, with circles and arrows (and if I say, 'and a paragraph on the back of each one' will anyone here know what I'm talking about?) until it's useless. At least the delete key doesn't let me see all my false starts.

But -- I will use pen and paper (or napkin if that's all that's available) when I'm brainstorming with my critique partners.

At 5:25 PM, Blogger Gena Showalter said...

And just what smart CP was that????

At 9:42 PM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

Love my notebooks. And I need them really plain on the outside, so I'm not distracted. :)

Let's see if blogger finally lets this's kicked me off all day.

At 9:54 PM, Blogger Mo H said...

I use a notebook when I get stuck. Like when I know what I'm supposed to do in a scene thanks to my trusty outline, but the dialogue isn't coming to me as I sit at the computer. So I take out a notebook and write long hand, and it unsticks me. I also use a notebook for ideas. My current notebook is boring black college rule, and you're right Jill, it should be something easy to find. Next time I may go for lime green paisley. The black notebook gets lost a lot.

At 10:17 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

I love how different we all are! From plain to fancy notebooks to how we use or don't use them!

At 11:29 PM, Blogger doglady said...

I never really thought about it before, but writing things out long hand does tend to shut off my infernal editor (not a typo) I do carry a notebook in my purse at all times. Since I cannot carry it in the bakery I use my pocket full of notecards there. But the notebook comes out in all other situations. Then when I sit down at the computer I transcribe the notecards and notebook pages into the manuscript as they come up. I do need to cross through them or do something to indicate that I have used them. They don't necessarily come to me in the order they appear in the story!

At 6:26 AM, Blogger MaryF said...

I am Queen of the Notebook. Worse, I must have GelWriter gel pens. My mom bought me a box of 100 at Sam's. I have Pirates of the Caribbean notebooks that people have bought me, a Happy Bunny, and some really pretty ones from Borders....I LOVE those, almost hate to write in them. But yes, I carry it all the time.

At 6:50 AM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

See, that's it, Mary. I have the "oh my gosh, this is so pretty" thing with gorgeous notebooks and then I feel bad about jotting notes in them and scribbling, scratching out, etc.

So plain janes for me.

At 9:22 AM, Blogger Eden Sharpe said...

Terry Odell,
"If I could write longhand half as fast as I type, and if I could read what I'd written when I was done..."

exactly. my handwriting is so bad that when I "talk" out my book, there's no way I can keep up longhand. Even years of typing won't keep up to my characters when I run off into a scene with them.

As for notebooks, I often lose them, so I try to transcribe them within a day or two, before they get lost in my paper clutter.

Plain janes work best for me too, because I first used to write diaries in the fancy one as a teen. Maybe I should write the characters' diaries in those fancy ones. Maybe I'll come up with some great stuff that way!


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