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 🙂

15 thoughts on “Writers and Their Notebooks

  1. Hi Shari, I hear ya! I’ve been writing on and off for years and I’ve got about 10-15 notebooks of all sizes and shapes filled haphazardly with everything. I have gone searching through them more than once for a lost snippet. My favorite notebooks are the scribbler size that I used in school, except now they come in jazzy colors and are thicker – no more old fashioned Hilroy for me. I have no focus in writing though I’ve tried a lot of styles. Pretty much all of it stays in my notebooks. Now I’ve started blogging which actually keeps me writing regularily in smaller doses. Something that I enjoy doing is name collecting. I work in a place where I see a lot of names go through on cheques and there are some awesome names out there. I started last year putting them in a notebook, but mostly they are on stickee notes slapped into the book! I think I should try your idea of re-sorting my bits of babble in more organized way – who knows what will come out of it!


    1. Isn’t it funny, Leah, how fast those notebooks collect? I, too, love those little ones that I can throw in my purse or pocket. Actually, I love ALL notebooks! And. . . pens! Now, there’s my next posting topic! 🙂 Thanks for visiting my blog and taking time to comment! I LOVE comments!


  2. Great blog post. It really helped understand more about myself. The many journals, notebooks that I have all started and rarely finished scattered all over the house, in closets, night stand and some out of sight. I’ve wondered for a long time what was wrong with me that I had so many and always needed that one more journal or notebook. Your blog post helped me see that this is probably normal for someone who’s a writer. I stated a website 5 months ago and am beginning to write. I guess I never saw myself as a writer until now. These journals I will be able to refer back to for ideas on what to blog about should I run out of ideas. I don’t always have a specific purpose for each my journals, and they are the ones that frustrate me since I like to be somewhat organized. Thank you for sharing. I really appreciated reading it.


    1. Thank you for your thoughts, Suzanne! I have to agree that we writers are kinda nuts with all of our notebooks. And, we keep BUYING them! I have this fear that I’m going to fill all my notebooks and I’m going to need to write and won’t HAVE one handy! Oh my gosh! A writer’s nightmare!!!


  3. The majority of my journaling is done as double entry. Any time I read a book, I use this method to get my brain juices flowing. It’s amazing what I retain and the connections I make from one book to another. In fact, I read three different books whose authors mentioned almost the same things. I swear one of them was plagiarizing the other. I look at through my journals wondering if I could ever turn them into something worthwhile. If nothing else, they help me retain what I’ve read and provide good conversational material.


    1. Shelly,
      I HAVE to read a book with pen in hand as well. I leave tracks right along in the book of all the thinking and ideas I take away from my reading. They are filled up with sticky notes galore.

      I do think you could use those writing about reading journals. Perhaps start a blog series and call it, “Thought about the Books I Read.” :-))

      Thanks for stopping by my blog today, Shelly! 🙂



    1. I have a little turquoise leather notebook I keep in my purse for everything I can catch during the day. :-))

      I have not read THE GOLDEN NOTEBOOK. It looks interesting, so I’m tossing it into my Amazon cart! Thanks for the book referral! Amazon just loves me! 🙂


  4. I find the memo section of my cell phone works for me. People think generally think I’m one of those “Texters” which I am but they don’t realize I may be texting myself regarding my thoughts of what surrounds me.


  5. Love this post, Shari! I have notebooks galore, too. I love them. I love the different sizes + colors. Sometimes I buy super pretty ones and cute pens and feel extra happy when I write in them; sometimes, I think they’re too pretty to write in, though, and organize them in a color scheme on my bookshelf! LOL

    My current writing notebooks are:
    – “work” notebook: I write reviews for a new website in Yangon and am the features editor. This is a “Keep Calm and Carry On” bright red notebook I take everywhere. I have a favorite pen I use with it.

    – “Taking Flight/Inspiration” notebook. I’m using a special turquoise leather notebook my bestie gave me for this. I keep it next to my computer + take notes during class.

    – “Writing Research” notebook. Here I document cool websites or tips about writing. Especially I concentrate on finding/researching kidlit agents + publishers.

    – “Writing” notebook. This is where I’m working out my writing. My work horse. Scratching out poems. Writing lines. Listing story ideas. Character ideas. Anything to do with poetry or a children’s picture book idea gets put in here.

    Love this post!!

    Thank you!


  6. Hi Shari
    I’m a fellow flyer and here I am, checking you out! I love what you write about and feel a connection with how you see the world, I’m happy to have found you. YES! I have stacks of notebooks everywhere! I’m one who fills up one notebook before moving on to the next. I liked your advice that it may not be easy to find my ideas at a later time. You’ve given me something to consider. Thanks!


  7. Shari,
    Great post! I have been keeping a journal religiously since 6th grade. I’m 24 now, and still have each and every one of them. Poetry classes in college showed me how valuable it is to live my life as though poetry isn’t something to “create” but simply nourish and let live as if an already existing entity…as something to find rather than always give birth to. I really enjoy what you have written! 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s