From the Mailbag: Do you use a writer’s notebook?

Aug 13, 2019 | Better Writing

John writes with a question I’ve heard before. The short version is, “Do you use a writer’s notebook?” The questions behind the question are, “Should I have a writer’s notebook? How should I use it?”

The romance around the writer’s notebook goes back to poets such as Dylan Thomas. Thomas mined his notebooks for years. They contained snatches of poetry, ideas for poems, and observations about poetry, life, and the world.

If you’re a reader of this blog, you’re probably a part-time writer and you’re interested in writing a business book. You don’t want to BE a writer. You want to write your book. If that’s true, a writer’s notebook is a good idea.

Use your notebook as the place to gather your thoughts and reflections about the book you want to write. Keeping them all in one place makes it easy to review your ideas. Reflecting on your notes will make you a better writer and make the book a better book.

If you want to write more than a single book, you’ve got a different problem. You need to keep coming up with ideas for blog posts and articles and more books. You can keep those ideas in a separate place and call them your writer’s notebook if you want to.

Here’s the system I’ve iterated to over almost half a century.

I keep a journal where I reflect on my life and on my writing. There’s one journal. Volumes are leather-bound. I write in them in longhand with a pen. Some writing ideas find their way into the journal.  But the journal is where I reflect on everything: writing, life, getting better, a way to

I also have a collection of computer files labeled with the date and “Notes and ideas.” They contain ideas that are specific to my various writing projects. Every file contains ideas for many projects. All my writing files are in a single folder on my computer and backed up in the cloud.

When I wrote fiction and poetry, as a young man, I would go back to my writer’s notebook for ideas. I don’t do that much anymore. Mostly, I go with the idea that’s inspiring me right then. I find that the good ideas keep resurfacing. My brain does a better job of keeping track of them than any discipline of mining my notes.

Bottom Line

Like just about everything else about writing, there are many ways to create and use a writer’s notebook. There’s no right way. There’s no way that’s best for everyone. Your way will change over time.

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