Writing Tools: Notebooks

Like so many aspiring writers who still have boxes of things they’ve written in their parents’ houses, I filled notebooks with half-finished poems and stories and first paragraphs of novels that never got written.
-Ally Carter

Sure, we writers love to emblazon our writerly merch with typewriters and fountain pens, and in the 21st century, track changes and electronic sticky notes are a blessing for editors. Even so, perhaps no accessory better captures the writer than the notebook. With a blank page comes great responsibility…

There’s a sense of accomplishment that comes with writing in a notebook that no other medium seems to capture. Seeing your own handwriting making lists, outlines, brainstorm sketches, and even rough drafts makes a big difference.

For brainstorming purposes, notebooks are great places to just scribble, doodle, or make lists for inspiration. Writers can be as messy or as organized as they want in a personal notebook, whatever fosters the creative spark best. Journaling, writing poetry or song lyrics, or trying out a writing prompt in a notebook can be good ways to warm up and get into the writing zone, even if you’re transitioning over to the computer for the real work. 

With computers, sure, you can type a lot faster without having your writing hand cramping around a pen—and don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of writing on computers! Most of my work is done in Microsoft Word. Even so, I find that I fall prey to the ease of review with a computer. I’ll go back and reread a page, fix and adjust, and everything looks as clean as if those were the first words to go to paper. So I adjust some more, and then again, and once more for luck. Awesome, I have 160 words that are as polished as they’re going to get until I edit them again. I’m also totally pooped from all the energy exerted on editing (it takes more out of you than you’d think!), and I close my laptop, done with writing for the day.

The strikeouts and scribbles of handwritten revisions look like Hard Work, so even if I end up changing them another six times when I type everything up, I feel satisfied in the moment and can move on to more writing. There is no greater satisfaction to a writer than filling up pages, and the notebook delivers. Generally you get fewer words per page when you hand-write, but filling up more pages for the same amount of writing is a nice little ego boost–it feels great being able to say you wrote 10 pages in one sitting, even if it types up to only about 4. Bonus: the notebook doesn’t offer distractions like the internet or games, so when you sit down to work, you work.

My notebook is a key tool when it comes to writing a first draft, particularly with a slow-moving point in a story. Something about writing by hand makes me move forward and get the draft done. Even if I’m a few drafts in and in a place where I should be typing, I often find myself turning back to a notebook to push myself into progress.

Later drafts are best done on the computer; I stand by that. As I said before, track changes and sticky notes are terrific for making legible comments and corrections. Highlighting tools catch the eye quickly when going back to rework a section. Most importantly, you can revise and revise without having to redo all of the work on a page and create a polished final draft. Agents and editors certainly won’t be reading your handwritten manuscripts. Typing gives the professional edge. For the early stages, though, where would a writer be without her handy dandy notebook?

Do you like using journals, memo pads, full-sized notebooks? Do you have special notebooks just for writing, or certain things you like to write in notebooks? Let me know in the comments!


Happy writing!

xo P


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