Do You Keep A #Writer’s Notebook?

I’ve recently been taking a free online poetry class through the Iowa Writer’s workshop, and it reminded me how useful – essential even – a writer’s notebook is. After all I did name a whole website after it!

What is A Writer’s Notebook?

Any kind of notebook that you jot down ideas, words, stories, poems or drawings if that helps you. You don’t need the classic Moleskine notebook, any notebook will work. Sometimes the more ordinary it is the better. Fancy notebooks can make us feel overly precious about what we write.

 A Writer's Notebook,,A.K. Andrew

A.K. Andrew’s Notebooks

Who Would Benefit from Using A Writer’s Notebook?

Any kind of writer, or anyone who wants to record their thoughts. It’s not important to give yourself a label to use a useful tool.

What Are the Benefits?
1. You won’t forget your ideas

When you overhear a conversation where someone says something memorable, what are the chances of remembering it word for word ?  Nil of course. But beyond whole conversations , even small details, in fact particularly small details, are things that will be lost but have the potential to enrich our work. Red shoes on a subway station. The bird had a pinkish head with a pale underbelly. “I could ‘ave bloody well killed ‘er” I overheard on a cell call on a bus one time in England.

2. Developing Ideas without Pressure

The important thing about a writer’s notebook is that it is totally private – unless of course you want to share it. This in itself lets you write down ideas you might never consider sharing with anyone. Which is liberating, because you can jot down things you might think are stupid but once followed through lead onto to a kernel of something worth running with.

A.K. Andrew,
 3. Brainstorming is productive – one idea leads to another

Whenever I’m thinking of a title of a piece I start with one word, which leads to another, letting them lead on until I have a whole list of words. Inside that list I can usually find a title. The same goes for character traits, or descriptions – words to describe the wind blowing against a pane of glass for example. Lashing, hurl, pebbles, slanting rain, rain heavily, heaving against the glass, pouring, slash, ripples, windswept, sweeping torrents etc. You will likely go through a number of options before you get to something you like.

4. Writing words makes you write more words

When you start writing, something becomes released. Almost as if to put it on a page lets it go and you can move on to the next thing. Often when we have writer’s block all we need to do is write. Jotting something down on a piece of paper, is a very low threat way to get back into the flow of one word following another.

5. Writing down rather than typing makes for a strong connection

Although I don’t find it feasible to write a whole novel by hand, I’m a big believer that writing by hand taps into the subconscious more readily than if you type it. There are studies that have proved that people learn better if the exercise has been written by hand.

English: Moleskine notebook. ??????????: ?????...

English: Moleskine notebook. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6. All your Ideas in one place

I know you have “notes” and “evernote” and a myriad other ways of keeping information on a computer and obviously I do, but there’s nothing like picking up a notebook, flicking through it’s pages and having your information all in one place. If you don’t want to carry a notebook with you, carry a post-it pad or other little pad to jot things down on. You can consolidate it later. Paste it in with Scotch tape if you dont’ want to rewrite it. My particular favorite is a notebook that has a little envelope at the back where I can keep either scraps of notes, or say a ticket stub to remind me of an exhibition or a train ride.

Do you keep a notebook of any kind? How do you like to organise your thoughts, memories or experiences?

Come join the discussion, and please share this post on your favorite social media. 

Many Thanks!

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  1. Wasn’t that a great course! I’m glad it started with the importance of notebooks. I have many notebooks, all different sizes. I try to keep at least one with me, but this means I wind up with ideas strewn across a field of notebooks. I keep a notebook for my knitting and wound up writing down some poetry ideas in that because it was close at hand (I was knitting and knitting has a way of freeing my mind to think). In a pinch, I can use my phone. One night, while in bed, I was agitated. Lines were going through my head and I knew I would forget them if I didn’t write them down. I was too tired to get out of bed, so I grabbed my phone, found the Memo app, and typed in the lines. I fell asleep. The next morning I was startled to find I had written a whole poem, one that I submitted to the course for one of the weekly assignments 🙂

    • It really has been a great course! So glad you enjoyed it too. The multiple notebooks is a problem I find too. But better to have things spread between more notebooks than searching for scraps of paper. I also use my phone, especially if Ive forgotten my book. I’m often shocked at what I’ve written when it’s late a night. I don’t always recall even having the thought, and there is a the beginning of a short story or whatever!! BTW , I’ve also picked up knitting over the last 6 moths and find it a fantastic meditation. Lots of correlations with writing actually. I will do a post about it one week. Thanks so much Marie:-)
      A.K. Andrew recently posted..Do You Keep A #Writer’s Notebook?My Profile

  2. I think I needed your post today A.K. I often TYPE (I know, I’m not connecting!) or SPEAK (is that any better?) ideas into Notes on my iPhone. What I get frustrated about when I do get to them is I don’t remember enough of what I wanted to say about the idea at the time, or find it uninteresting to me by the time I get to it. My intention is to capture more fully those ideas that excite me when they pop into my awareness at the moment. I’d say it’s a 50/50 chance of that happening this current way.

    Maybe, since I picked up a notebook or two at the Pubsense Summit in March I want to rethink actually putting my hand on a pen in the book and see if that works.

    For sure I want to do something different because what I do in it’s current form, isn’t working for me.
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    • it sounds at least as if you’re on the right course Pat. Some people just think they’ll remember and then of course don’t – my hand is up for that one at times. Using the phone is a good second best I think, because you can always transfer it into your notebook afterwards. This might sound like a lot of work, but having things all in one place is ideal. I’d say whip out that strange substance we used to call paper and give it a try:-))
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  3. Hi A.K. I certainly agree that writing down thoughts on paper is a great way to keep my flow of thoughts going, versus typing.
    I always have a small notebook in my purse for ‘fleeting thoughts’ I want to jot down when inspiration strikes at inopportune moments. I find these little notes gives me material to expand on, especially for blog posts.
    I also have 2 spiral notebooks around my home to write fuller length stories either for my blog or for material to use for current and future books.
    Creativity isn’t born in front of a computer for me. 🙂
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    • I love that quote Debby -“creativity isn’t born in front of a computer for me.” Have just tweeted it as one of your quotes! And I like the phrase ‘fleeting thought’ because that’s the problem – they are so fleeting most of the time , so if we don’t record them they are gone:-)
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  4. I don’t have a writer’s notebook but I should. Not just for writing but for ideas in general. Get most of them when I fall asleep or wake up though so I remember them vividly when I get up.
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  5. I carry a little notebook with me in my purse…I’ve been doing ti for years:) I only really get frustrated when I am driving and have an idea that I can’t write down. By the time I fumble around for my phone to make a voice note, I have forgotten some or all of what I wanted to note! LOL Probably a result of my age, I guess. But I value note writing! I’m glad you posted this…for writers who have never experienced the value:)
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  6. A.K. — I don’t have a writer’s notebook, but I should. I always think I’ll remember an idea but then…. I do think writing something down instead of typing it works well. There is something very personal about doing that and I think it helps bring more of you into your writing. Typing can be so impersonal. I’d rather receive a hand-written note than an email, wouldn’t you?
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    • I’d definitely rather receive a handwritten note – they are SO special these days. Typing can work well, but we dont always have access to a computer, tho phones can substitute to a point. But there is a untapped region the phone doesn’t reach I think.
      A.K. Andrew recently posted..Do You Keep A #Writer’s Notebook?My Profile

  7. I’ve always written things down by hand but I find that I seldom go back and look at them. Does that still count for tapping into my subconscious? I do go back and check my notes on my computer but I do continue to write things down too. How’s that for a system that isn’t a system? Pretty pathetic, I guess!
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  8. Notebooks are great for a writer. I’m still working out which system works best for me because I like the larger notebooks at home, but don’t want to carry a large book with me when I am out. And if I don’t write down that great phrase I hear on the bus or in the restaurant right away, there is a good chance I won’t remember it later.
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    • Then in your case Donna perhaps having a smaller book you carry with you on the bus, might be a good compromise. I don’t like carrying big notebooks around with me either. Try it out for size. You might find you keep different notebooks for different things.
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  9. Thank you for your post.

    I do not have a notebook/journal but I have been giving it some thought. I would like to capture thoughts as they arrive – so much more authentic than trying to remember hours or days later.
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  10. I’m a haphazard writer’s notebook keeper, but a tried-and-true journal keeper. Even though I much prefer to type, their really is something to be said for keeping a little notebook just to jot down flashes of inspiration which could be dreams upon waking, conversation snippets, news stories, etc., etc. I’m suddenly feeling the urge to run down to Fred Meyer and pick up a new notebook 😉
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  11. I’ve tried for convenience sake to use my phone in place of a notebook. Just not the same. Totally agree with you about writing down making a strong connection. I also will often using a notebook when I come across something I read that I want to remember.
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  12. Now that I’m retired I carry a small notebook in my pocket. I actually bought a couple of those uniform tops that I wear around the house just so I could always have a notebook and pen handy.
    When I was working I had to drive a lot and then I used a small pen-type recorder to just record anything that popped into my head. Amazing the number of productive thoughts you have when there is no disruption.
    I really like #3 which is one I will start practicing. I can use help with titles and throwing out words to come up with the right one sounds interesting.
    Thanks, AK.
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    • What a brilliant idea of creating a pocket for yourself Lenie. Women’s clothes, unless you wear jeans, rarely have pockets. Lack of disruption is brilliant for inspiration, but even in crowded places, noting observations of people for example work great for a notebook.
      A.K. Andrew recently posted..Do You Keep A #Writer’s Notebook?My Profile
      A.K. Andrew recently posted..Do You Keep A #Writer’s Notebook?My Profile

  13. Great article! I do keep a notebook but it’s digital because I prefer typing to handwriting. I also keep files on various subjects that I write about so I can keep bits of research and ideas for articles. I’ve just finished a new book and was amazed how the process generated so many new ideas for new writing projects!
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  14. I keep notebooks for research primarily when I’m writing. Quite often I get ideas from them but generally I do the actual writing on the computer. However, my poems always get their starts on paper. Feels more organic.
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  15. I completely agree with this whole post, A.K.! Except my version of a writer’s notebook is an unlined sketchbook, because writing and art are so intertwined for me. In fact, recently I decided I should keep mine by my bedside because I often wake up with ideas before my body is willing to get out of bed!
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    • I like that idea Meredith, and before I started writing seriously I always had a little sketchbook by my bedside. I love looking back over those books- like a visual journal. And nighttime is a really special time to record thIngs I think too.
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  16. Hi,
    I have boxes of notebooks from my long life as a writer. I think it’s because I don’t access them enough that I no longer use one, although I never go anywhere without something I can write on. The problem seems to be that I always have a project on the go and rarely feel a need to look for other ideas. That said, I’m probably missing out on some great things I’ve recorded over the years! I’m going to start looking back. Maybe I’ll find something totally off the course I am on right now. It will be so much fun to do something startling and new!

    • Yes, after a while Kathleen there is the issue of what to do with old notebooks. I feel I’d never get rid of them, because old ideas are not necessarily bad ones, and I like to trace my journey too. New projects are always fun, and wherever we get our inspiration is up for grabs as far as I’m concerned. Thanks for stopping by Kathleen:-)
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  17. I carry spiral bound index cards with me at all times. I tried using apps for note taking but it’s just not the same. At the end of the day I flip through the cards and entire my ideas on the computer which I keep in separate folders. One neat thing I track are phrases I hear other people say that strike me as interesting or funny. I often use them as a kick off for a new post, or for character lines when I ‘m recording.

    • WOw- index cards are a great idea Pamela, and in a way they prompt one to do something with them as you are. Plus it makes the carrying take up very little space. People really are very inspiring, even small snippets can get us going on a path that leads to a post or story. Thank so much for stopping by:-)
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  18. Great tips! I use Microsoft OneNote which is an electronic notebook. It’s on all my electronic devices and is on the cloud. I have various notebooks for different client projects as well as, my soon to write newsletters, ebook outlines, and post ideas. It helps to keep it off my desk. I had it in paper form years ago and it was just too hard to manage and very distracting for me. Thanks for sharing this great idea.
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    • Thanks for this Sabrina- I don’t use One Note, but I do have similar apps that I could use in this way- well I do actually with Notes on mac. It’s real useful in lots of ways, and I can see the advantage to e-notes, but I still stand by the written word being more intuitive and memorable by hand. I say whatever works for you is the best tool. We’re all different. Thanks for stopping by and sharing M.One Note:-)
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  19. Hi A.K.

    I have notebooks that I also jot down things in. In all honesty, it’s my spiral notebook that I use for my work and all the tasks that I need to accomplish for the day. As thoughts and ideas come to me I write them down because I’ve never had a great memory and I know I would never remember that later on.

    If it’s something pertaining to a post I want to write then I’ll put a color tab on it so I’ll know I need to go back to that page. I don’t really write a lot though by hand mainly because I’ve been typing for so many years now that my hands easily tire out when I write plus my writing gets sloppier and sloppier.

    I do think this is a good idea and glad you shared this with us. I know this process has definitely saved me many times.

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  20. I have never used a writer’s notebook. After reading this blog, I think I am going to. I travel a lot and I do not have a laptop, so when ideas come to me, I have to remember them. I will start using a notebook, thanks for sharing.

  21. Thank you so much for following my blog and look forward to your writer’s resources..

  22. When I write about a block of Web code, I go through the code line by line and type up in a TextEdit file a list of relevant issues that I want to address. I could do this on paper, I suppose, but doing it on the computer makes it easier to
    (a) minimize desk clutter (some of us are more susceptible to the forces of entropy than others are) and
    (b) incorporate my pre-text into the text if I so choose.
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  23. I use Onenote from Microsoft for all of my note book needs. I carry my tablet pretty much everywhere I go so it makes it easy to take photos as well as write down ideas. The best thing is with the way the note books are set up, it is easy for me to arrange and rearrange the notes to suit what I need at any given time.

    Ya, I don’t know that I could survive without my note books.
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  24. I am not a writer, but when thoughts come into my head, I find if I write it in my journal, it reinforces the thought, This may sound crazy but I visualize how I wrote the thought. When I put it in a word doc on my computer, basically it gets lost.