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Creating a Writer's Notebook – An Invaluable Tool for Your Writing Life

What's the difference between a journal and a writer's notebook?

By Molly J. Anderson-Childers | Updated September 22, 2018


Welcome, fellow wordaholics and bibliophiles! If you're already journaling about your life, you may harbor dreams of writing professionally one day — I know that's where I started! Or maybe you're an experienced writer, interested in going deeper into your work, further along the writer's path. No matter where you are in your journey, a writer's notebook is an invaluable tool, every step of the way.

What's the difference between a journal and a writer's notebook? They're as different as apples and zebras! It is a matter of scope and subject, function and form…while a journal traditionally focuses on the daily events of one's life, the writer's notebook allows you to look beyond the surface events and delve into the life of the mind.

While you can certainly get creative within the pages of your journal — for some excellent ideas and examples, see my previous articles in this series — a writer's notebook is a different animal entirely.


Ready, Set, SHOP!!!

When shopping for the perfect writer's notebook, consider your needs — and your budget — carefully. Buy the best tools you can afford to buy as often as you need to. In other words, don't wait until you can afford that sweet leather Oberon Journal and a Cross fountain pen — get a cheap steno pad and a ballpoint and get started. If you're broke and want to take your writing to the next level, I've got great news — the tools you need are cheap (notebooks and pens) or free (your imagination, and a library card). Shop the back-to-school sales; get a few sizes and styles to experiment with, and find a pen that feels good in your hand. You'll find what suits you eventually. I love tiny purse-sized notebooks, huge blank sketchbooks full of thirsty, thick paper, handmade books, leather-bound journals, college rule and wide rule and pages with no lines at all.

Above all, be practical in your choice of tools for this trade. If you spend most of your writing time in coffee-shops, outdoors, in bed, or at the kitchen table, like I do, you want a sturdy, spiral-bound notebook that is cheap and virtually indestructible, not a hand-tooled leather journal that's going to be ruined by a coffee-stain or a crumb.


Now What? Prompts and Ideas to Help You Get Started

Once you've selected a notebook, you may want to designate special pages for different types of writing projects: journaling, free-writing, letters, articles/interviews, poetry, and fiction can be intermingled or put into separate sections, as you prefer. I suggest a few pages at the back of your notebook left blank to brainstorm, doodle and dream of new stories, new songs to sing.

I like to collect lists of words — real and made-up ones, interesting words, words I love the sound of, words to whisper, words to shout. Look to the dictionary and thesaurus if you need some new words. Magazine ad copy and junk mail can be filled with fascinating words and images to paste into your journal.

Another page or section of your writer's notebook might be reserved for character names for your next novel or short story, followed by pages for verbal and visual character sketches, interviews with a character, and art based on a character, scene or story.

Include a few pages devoted specifically to settings for your writing — the landscape, real or imagined, in which a work of fiction or poetry takes place. Making a charcoal sketch, map, watercolor painting, poem, or collage about a place can really bring it to life in your work, and in your imagination. Try to see a familiar place with a stranger's eye. It's also fun to collect interesting place names, and to make up imaginary names for places that only exist on the page — for use in the future. Right here in the Four Corners, we have towns, streets, natural features, and even stores whose names are sheer poetry. Quasar Street, Beads and Beyond, Magpie's Newsstand, The Fallen Angel, The Silk Sparrow, Aquarius Place, Hogsback, The Sleeping Ute, Truth or Consequences, and El Rio de Las Animas Perdidas (Translation: The River of Lost Souls) flows right through downtown Durango. The landscape itself is a poem.

Maps and telephone books are an excellent source of fresh names for characters and places. If you get stuck, go surfing amongst the pages and see what you can find. Other types of reference books — atlases, travel guides, books about nature and art are my favorite unexpected source of inspiration. Mark Griffith's wonderful book, "Orchids from the Archives of the Royal Horticultural Society," is a fine example. This lovely find is small enough to fit into my purse, yet contains mouth-watering color illustrations and juicy text peppered with terms like exotic, epiphytes, Laelia Purpurata, and specimen. I'm hooked. History, rumors and stories, and a ton of interesting "common" names for orchids like Disa, maned for a mythical Swedish Queen, the unlikely Saint Helier, Barabel, and Southern Cross. That's portable inspiration, right there. Mine books like these, suck the marrow out, unearth the gems, and make poems and stories from them. Build a castle of dream-rubies. Dance with the page! Write upside-down, sdrawkcab, and sideways. Write with the wrong hand, write with your toes, or with the pen clenched between your teeth. Cha-cha 'til it hurts, the pen your partner in this dance.


Try This!

Write a haiku or short story using as many of the words from your lists as possible. Here's a writing sample I created — the first few lines of a short story, written using some of the words from the lists in this article:

Disa Barabel rode in the bar-car of the Southern Cross all the way to Georgia with an orchid in her arms. Magpies squawked outside her window. They reminded Disa of her sister, Laelia…

Or try a haiku. A haiku is a short, three-line poem of Japanese origin. Typical subjects are images from nature linked with a specific emotion. It does not have to rhyme. An Amercanized version of the haiku usually has five syllables in the first and third lines, and seven syllables in the second line. Here's mine:

Exotic Specimens
Magpies squawked orchids
At Queen Disa on the train
Dreaming of Georgia

Go forth and write bravely about the thing that hurts, that cuts you to the bone, the truth that only you can tell.

Next: The Empty Well: Keys to Staying Juicy

©2008 Molly J. Anderson-Childers. All rights reserved.