A Peek Into My Writers Notebook

I’m reading through writers notebooks today, my holdalls of seeds that might grow into something big, or to just be taken as the perfect word choice in exchange for my blah ones.  I’m giving you a peek.  Because I know you’re curious. . .

I’ve used this line in even my talk.  You know this face.  What a perfect use of words to describe it.

Time magazine has such amazing writers.  I copy down sentences and word phrases that get stuck in my head and practice using them with my own words.  And, I’ll bet we all know a “glory hopper” or two. . .

I keep my notebook with me at all times.  It’s a reminder that I’m a writer and it helps me to think and see differently when I’m out there in my normal every day world.  With a pen in hand, I observe, listen and think with a writer’s eye.  .  . and get it down.

What gems lie in your notebook?  Or is there something you have heard or seen lately that needs to GO into a notebook?  I’d love to hear what you consider that “notebook worthy”.

Shari 🙂

Writers and Their Notebooks

I have at least 30 or 40 notebooks and journals filled with my writing.  They are all over the place.  This is a photo of some of the notebooks that would show up for a portrait.  Others are in boxes, shelves or drawers, or just in hiding.

If you are an avid writer, you know how fast notebooks can fill.

I’ve always struggled with the next step.  A filled notebook.  This treasure. . . where should I put it?

Put it on a shelf. . . or in a box. . . or a drawer. . .

I have been doing some reading lately in a couple of new books on writing.  One book, A Writer’s Book of Days, by Judy Reeves has shifted some thinking in my mind about organizing all these notebooks for actual productivity.

First and most importantly, a writer has to be clear on the kind of writing that the notebook contains.  It could be any of the following:

1.  Journaling

We need to clarify this term.  A journal is a noun, which defines it as a notebook, book or a log.  To journal is a verb, which is defined as to personally record occurrences, experiences, and reflections  on a regular basis.  This is writing that is for self-exploration, self expression and is probably private.  I usually do this kind of writing when I am in deep despair, wrestling with a deeper issue or problem, a catharsis of sorts.  Much of my writing is this.  I start with an issue and answers appear in my writing magically.  No one gets to see this stuff.  I really should burn these notebooks when done purging.  Therapy on a dime.

Journals can also be used as a record keeping device.  My father-in-law has kept journals for years.  He documents daily weather, visits with others, trips, and events of the day.  It amazes me how well the journals can help him remember details from his life.

2.  Morning Pages

I attempt to write every day.  I start where I am and try to fill three pages. I usually do not know where I will start or end up.  I sometimes start with how I have nothing to write about.  The muse almost always shows up and gives me a topic.  Many a day, this writing is blah, blah, blah, just to get writing flowing on a regular practice.  It also helps to diffuse the inner critic.  I don’t care what I write here.  I tell the critic to take a break.  It teaches me to not listen to this gremlin.  I write what I want and see what appears.  Any topic is meat for morning pages.  And, sometimes, morning pages ends up being journaling, although, I try to keep that in separate notebooks now.  Most of my really good ideas come from morning pages.

3.  Writing Practice

This is writing where one tries out a craft or a focused creative writing on a topic.  For me, I love to make captive a powerful sentence and then make it work in my own language with a variety of topics.  Love Love Love mentor sentences.  I think I need to start a menu item of just this.

Writing practice would also include those that like to respond to a prompt and creatively write.  Personally, these feel like fingernails against a chalkboard, but some writers flourish from these.  I’m forcing myself to try them.  All in all, it’s work on craft.

Again, a separate notebook for this.

4.  Project Writing

I typically start a journal just for the collection and writing of a single topic.  All my quotes, thoughts and new understandings about his writing project go into this notebook.  Once I determine a focus for an article, book or idea, I will dump everything to this one place.

5.  And this. . . is the biggie.  Writers notebooks entries.  Beginning writers tend to use the same notebook for everything:   journaling, project writings, writing practice, morning pages – all of it.  That’s okay, at first.  Just getting started writing is a feat in itself.  Applaud yourself if you are writing every day!

However, here is the rub, once you begin focusing on a project or a blog entry later on, and intend on revising and working on craft,  you can never find any snippet of writing that you know you wrote at some previous point in time that would have added that little pizzaz to the writing that you are craving!   I enter this dilemma constantly!

If you have over 25 something notebooks filled with random stuff, including moving quotes, phrases and words to describe a moment, scene or person, you might as well call it a night.  I’m banking that MOST writers don’t magically have this continuous flow of words that stream out of their consciousness like Hemmingway.  Real writers steal.


Read, notice, be astonished, save it for later use.  But tweak it to make it your own.

What to do?

I have decided that I need to have one notebook as my collect-all notebook.   I can capture conversations overheard, like today. . .

I was sitting in the clinic and listening to others sitting in the waiting room.  (I love waiting rooms for this reason.  So much writing material for free.)  This rough looking guy walks by with his jeans all ripped up like has intentions of wearing them that way.  An elderly man sitting next to me, leans over to his wife and says, “Now, what would make a person want to dress like that?” (My dad would say this.)

His wife replies softly, “I don’t know what they’re thinking.” (My mother would say this back.)

I don’t know what I will do with the conversation, but I know that I need to safe-keep it somewhere that is easy to access when I want it.

I stored that tidbit in my main writers notebook.  The “stealth” notebook as Howard Junker, editor of the literary journal ZYZZYVA, calls it.  This notebook will go everywhere with me, so I can capture all those secret bits of ideas, language and noticings and house them for safekeeping.

Later this month, I will do some re-sorting.  I’ll pull out the snatches of words from this main notebook and catagorize them into different notebooks.   I might have  notebook for these catagories:

*ideas for writing (books, articles, blog entries, etc.)


*character development (this would include the dialogue snippets and character descriptions)

*five senses notebook organized by the senses (I would capture vivid descriptions here)

*quotes (not sure how I would organize these)

*sentence study (I love to collect cool sentences just because I love how they sound.  Then I try to replicate them using my own content and language.  Way fun. I know, I’m weird.)

I’m not sure what other categories will evolve. This will be a constant work in progress, but my hope is to be able to actually FIND some of the stuff I tuck into my notebooks. Yes, I’ll have notebooks galore, but I do anyway!  At least now, I’m a little more organized and focused on more purposeful writing

I’ll let you know how it goes.  Maybe I’m just dreaming.

So, I’m curious.  What kind of writing do you do?  What kind of notebooks do you use? I’d love to hear! 🙂

Shari 🙂

Why Aren’t I Writing? I Have Some Issues. . .

The first winter storm of the season has arrived to northern Minnesota with a welcoming sense of relief.  The blazing fires just north of us  subsided just yesterday, and the war zone-ish land along with charred buildings and trees can at least be hidden by snow, if only for a brief time, till some of the pain subsides.

School is cancelled.  Inner joy day for me.  This means I have a day to “catch up” at home.  Laundry piled high, dirty bathrooms and a good day for baking. . . but deep down in my core, I’m mostly being called to write.

I have not written on my blog for almost a month.  School started.  Whether a teacher or a literacy coach, the profession is all-consuming.  I vowed not to let this happen, yet I did.

But, today, I have to write.  I’m being given this day.

I’m going to write, I tell myself.

The house quiet, the snow falling.  My notebooks overflowing with some nuggets of gold in there, each screaming to be chosen by me to write about today.

Being given the perfect conditions for a writing day, I am still not writing.

Why, I wonder,  aren’t I writing?  What’s holding me back?

What really IS my problem???

As I ponder this, I’m recognizing the issues.  Several blockades are getting in my way.  The most prominent of these is being a highly sensitive person, not just in an emotional sense, but in all my senses.

First and foremost, a  prerequisite to all of my happiness. . . is heat.  This nosedive to 34 degrees (from 84, just 4 days ago) is a shock to my poptarts.  I gather my belongings (notebooks, books, laptop, tea)  and decide to climb into my warm bed.  I’ll do my writing here.  Getting snuggled in so that napping does not seem more pleasurable than writing is tricky here.  However, I’ve spent many a day writing in bed before, I know it can be done.  A nap later on will probably be necessary from all the hard writing I’m going to be doing.

Set up takes some time. Pillows need to be positioned appropriately.  Is the flat pillow best under my laptop, or none?  If my wrists get sore because they are up too high, I’ll get cranky and stop writing.  I debate. I pull the pillow out.

I need a softer blanket.  This one that covers myself, to keep warm, is stiff and kinda scratchy.  I get up to search for the log cabin quilt that my mother and I made.  The flannel strips, cut from work shirts of my dad’s and my husband’s bring me warmth, comfort and safeness as I cover my lap.  I smile.  K, I’m ready.

Type away, baby!

Let ‘er rip!

Tell that story!

Geez, what IS that smell?

My hyper sensitive nose is a gift, but also a curse.  It can always sense what’s been going on while I’ve been away (gun cleaning on the dining room table, fish cleaning in the kitchen) or not been done (dirty dish rag buried under mountains of dirty dishes, a toilet that needs unplugging).  But, usually, it distracts me from getting things done as when my nose knows there is an issue, it must be solved before I am able to move on to my task at hand.

I decide to get a candle from way upstairs above the garage in my studio.  Citron Basil.  I search for matches and once lit, I gently arrange a spot for it on my night stand.  (First, I am distraught by the newly piled clutter on my nightstand, so I have to clean this off.)  I grab the lavender linen spray and pump a couple of squirts over my bedding.  Both of these, a band-aid approach to the smell, I know.  But, I’m hoping it will detour my nose until my writing is done.

There, now let’s write.  I’m thinking about topic choice today and had planned on writing about the transition from fall to a sudden winter.  Let’s go with that.

It’s really blowing out there now. . . the wind is just a howlin. . .

My stomach growls.  Geez, I just ate a couple of hours ago, and I’m already hungry. This is a problem with being at home.  You can satisfy these callings quite easily with a kitchen at hand.  I climb out of bed, hike off to scrounge up some food and settle on a couple of slices of toast with some sensuous farmer’s market orange rhubarb jam.  Mmm. . . better get some more tea, too, while I’m here.  Save time.  I can’t be wasting time, you know.

I settle back into bed and am a little perturbed that this annoying scent is back.  It smells of someone who hasn’t taken a bath for quite some time.  It’s gotta be my sheets.  I get up and strip the bed.  Take all the pillow cases off the pillows (all 7 of them, yes, I sleep with 4, husband with 3, that’s another story).  I dig for new sheets and cases and make the bed so all is fresh.  Quilts back on.  Perfect.  Gotta love fresh bedding.

Now, where the heck was I?  For Pete’s Sake.  It’s already 9:30.

The front door slams out front.  My 19-year-old daughter enters from her 5:30 shift as a waitress.  She is giddy with glee because of the snow.  She allows Sandy in and they are both gallivanting throughout the house like a houseful of children at a birthday party.  After a small tornado in the kitchen, from her breakfast creations, she barrels into my bedroom to voice that she is NOT happy because the college has decided NOT to cancel classes and my school has.

“I can’t help that, hon,” I say.

“Well, it’s not fair!”

She packs up her backpack and hikes off to her politics class.

I shoo Sandy back outside.

All I can think is, “Thank the Universe for not canceling college today.”

Back to writing.  Now, you’d think I’d be giving up by now, but no.  I have all day.  I carry on.  I’m just not a quitter, you know.

It’s still quite chilly in my bedroom and my fingers begin that numbing whine of, “I can’t do this anymore until you get me some heat.”  Ughh.  I check the thermostat and notice it was turned down to 67.  67!  Now, this can only be the work of my husband who is highly conservative when it comes to heat.  I decide to crank it up.  Just for a while.

Up in my studio above the garage is also a little space heater.  I decide this is a necessary device for my bedroom this morning just to give it a little head start since the heat will take a little while to kick in.  I also change my socks.  I figured that it’s time to dig out my Smart wool.  My ankles were a little frosty.

It’s toasty now.  My fingers will be happy.  I won’t be, though, if they don’t produce something here.

I carry on, but more of the same ensues.

The front door slams again and Gracie barges back into my bedroom.

“Class was cancelled!”

“Haha.” I chuckle.

“There was a sign on the classroom door.  I don’t know why she couldn’t have emailed us!  Oh well, I’m gonna clean my room today, and Sandy’s gonna help and then I’m gonna make Pumpkin Spice cookies and decorate them with orange cream cheese frosting!”

Off she skips.

Oh my.  Expect kitchen clean up later.

And on it continues. . .

A large oak tree branch from a dead tree falls on the roof with a crash.  I have to get up and seek out the damage.  Squirrels outside my window are digging ferociously for acorns now buried under the new blanket of snow.  I watch this for a while and wonder when they will have enough stored up.  Music is now blaring from Gracie’s room.

I really need to get some decent writing done.

My fingers are just weeping at what is coming out.

Maybe it will quiet down around here later on.

Maybe I should do laundry.

Then. . . the power goes out.

I take a nap.  It’s a good day for a nap.

Maybe I’m not supposed to write today.

Ann Cameron calls this procrastination.  Steven Pressfield says it’s resistance.  Nancy Slonim Aronic:  lack of discipline.  I say it’s all of the above, with a touch of ADD.

All I know is that I had most of my day to write, and I didn’t write much.

Well, I did write this post.  I guess that’s something.

Again, my fingers weep at what comes out.