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.

Seriously.

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.)

*poetry

*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 🙂

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5 Powerful Reasons You Need Morning Pages in Your Life

Morning Pages image

I have done morning pages most of my life, way before Julie Cameron wrote about them in her book The Artist’s Way back in 1992.  When I first read The Artist’s Way for the first time in 2006, I smiled.  What I was doing now had a  name.

I have at least 50 notebooks filled with writing.  Probably more.  They are everywhere. Somedays I write 10-15 pages, others my mandatory 3.  Whatever it may be, I have to write.

I stopped doing morning pages when I started my blogs. 

Why?  How can someone who has done something for a life time stop doing something that is so engrained in their being?  What could possibly cause this?

I started using my blog AS my morning pages.  

Instead of going to the notebook and pen in the mornings, I was now going to my computer attempting to compose a writing for an audience.  I fretted over the frustration of topic choice, choosing a catchy title, crafting that first lead sentence that hooks and then always trying to keep a focus and stick to some pain points.

A  blog has a distinct structure that you try to attain.  This is not morning pages.  I was at a creative standstill.  A block.  Some days I just sat at my computer and pondered.

I didn’t write.  I wasn’t writing.

Julie Cameron’s book Walking in This World arrived on by doorstep yesterday.  As I leafed through the first pages, she reviews the “Basic Tools” for any creative soul.  Morning pages were right there, on the page, as the first, most powerful tool.

I love it when you know something so deep in your core and your veer from it for some reason or another and then, all of a sudden, the Universe sends you a little reminder that you need to remember to do what you know.  Gives me chills.

So, I’m back to my morning pages again. 🙂

Why are morning pages so powerful, you ask?

Well, I’ll give you 5 really big reasons.

1.  There is no wrong way to do morning pages.

Morning pages are at least 3 pages of long hand writing (no computer) in a notebook that is free-flowing stream of conscious writing.  They are not meant to be art or even any good.  Not that they might be.  They could.  They are only meant for your eyes.  No audience.

2.  The drama gets put on the page.

Julie Cameron says, “All that angry, whiny, petty stuff that you write down in your morning pages is the stuff that stands between you and your creativity.”

It might be worry over bills.  It might be anger at your husband.  It might be you beating yourself up because you drank too much last night.

Whatever this is, it’s drama.  If you get it on paper, it’s leaked out of you.  You did something with it.  So, you can move on.

If I can get my drama on the page, I have less drama in my life.  My head is clearer and I can focus my thinking on the things I want to focus on.

3.  Morning pages teach us to get beyond our critic in our heads.

Because there is no wrong way to do the morning pages and we can write whatever we feel and not care what it says or how it looks, we have the right to ignore the critic in our brain telling us that our writing (or anything else for that matter) is crap.

“We have a logic brain.  This is our Censor that gives us our second, third and fourth thoughts whenever faced with our own original thoughts,”  writes Julia.  Quite often, it spits at us words like, “You can’t write that!” or “Who are you kidding?”

And we have our artist brain.  This artist brain is our creative being.  It has glorious thoughts of “what-if’s” and sees a beautiful leaf and thinks, “I’m going to press leaves and string a bunch of them together to make a leaf garland and hang it above my kitchen window!”  Artist brain is random, free and idealistic.

Julie proclaims that “morning pages teach logic brain to stand aside and let artist brain play.”  Why is this important?  I don’t know about you, but my logic brain is dominant in my brain 24/7.  I know I need to train it better.

4.  Morning pages are a form of meditation.

If we write enough so that it feels like breathing, we begin to see new insights in our writing.  We see the same issues, read over the continued whining and we realize that we need to make changes.

In my own life, the answers to my questions magically appear in my writing.  Many times I have stopped in my own tracks and looked at what came out and cried.  God speaks to us through our writing.

We meditate to discover who we are.  To listen to the whispers from God.  Writing is a form of meditation and the great power in it, more so than meditating without writing, is that the writing that ends up on page helps us to map our pathways.

It is almost impossible to write your morning pages morning after morning without feeling a divine unexpected inner guidance.

I consider it a gift.

5.  Morning pages are not just for writers.

Morning pages are for everyone.  If you know how to hold a pencil and scribble some letters, you can do morning pages.  We all have inner work to do.  Every soul is searching for something.  We all are praying for answers.

Everyone can find them in our pages.

If you haven’t written for a while, go buy a cheap composition notebook and find your favorite pen.  Set your alarm for a half hour to an hour early and start your pages.

Write anything. Write about how you don’t know what to write.

Just get it on the page.

Shari 🙂