Monday, July 22, 2013

The Infinite Importance of Keeping a Notebook

I have so much to say about the importance of keeping a daily notebook that I don't know where to start. If I had to choose one thing that has contributed the most to my current state as a writer -- taking into account school, parental encouragement, and even my computer -- I'd choose my notebook.

(For ideas on how to effectively use a notebook, scroll down.)

It all started when I watched the movie PHENOMENON with John Travolta. That movie changed my life. Up to that point I had kept journals: records of my life experiences. Such journals are important, but the main character in this movie did something different. He was bursting with so many ideas that to keep from going crazy, he wrote them all down in notebooks.

My eyes opened to new possibilities. What if instead of keeping a book solely for recording my experiences, I kept a book meant for every thought I have? It wouldn't be weird for me to write a poem, an idea for a recipe, or a knitting pattern in the same notebook. There would be no limits. 

My experience with notebooks continued when I took a Think Like da Vinci class in school. The teacher had us keep a notebook of such thoughts and ideas. (We were of course encouraged to write in it backwards, just like da Vinci.) There were no requirements except one: every day, we had to write down a question. It had to be a question no one could answer, such as how big is the universe, how do animals express sorrow, why is 42 the meaning of life, etc.

That class helped me use my notebook to stretch my mind, to train myself to think abstractly and constructively. It became not just a receptacle for thoughts, but a way to create thoughts that might be useful later on.

My third experience with notebooks happened only a few months ago. I had stopped keeping a notebook when I went to college and for some reason never picked it up again. As I struggled through my most recent bout of writer's block, a friend recommended I read THE ARTIST'S WAY by Julia Cameron. 

In THE ARTIST'S WAY, Julia Cameron suggested writing "Morning Pages" every day before doing anything else. This applies to everyone, not just writers. Your morning pages can be anything you want. They can be profound, or crappy. It doesn't matter. The point is to use them as a focal point before starting your day.

I can't begin to tell you how helpful my Morning Pages have been for me! Since I write from home, it's very easy to get distracted. When I write in my Morning Pages, my entire day becomes much more focused and productive. It's something you have to see to believe, so rather than try and convince you, I highly suggest you give it a try and see how it can effect your life.

Perhaps you see the value of keeping a notebook, but you don't know how to start. Here's a list of things you can write in a notebook:

  1. Goals. Include your plan for reaching those goals, your progress, and any challenges you encounter.
  2. Observations, about your surroundings, people, life in general, or yourself.
  3. Ideas. They can be career-related, but they can also be ways to improve your hobbies, your surroundings, or even economics and politics.
  4. Questions. Try stretching your mind by asking thought-provoking questions that aren't easy to answer.
  5. Thoughts. Your journal isn't the only place to write about yourself and your life.
  6. Intense Emotions. Sometimes I need to dump how I feel onto a piece of paper, but I don't want the emotions to clutter up my journal. A notebook is a great way to clear my head.
  7. Opinions. Whenever you get fired up about something, whether it be political, social, economical, religious, or whatever you feel passionate about, you can make your argument in your notebook.
  8. Lists. I love keeping lists of all sorts of stuff: things I'm grateful for, songs I'm going to sing to my kids, places in the world I want to go, my favorite books, pet peeves, etc. 
  9. Plan for the day, including how you feel about that plan (excited, overwhelmed, anxious). This is a great way to focus before starting the day.
  10. Poems, snippets from your novel, plot outlines, or anything writing related that's too raw to go into the computer just yet.
  11. Quotes you hear or read that inspire you.
  12. Writing exercises. 
  13. Garbage. You don't have to create anything worthwhile in your notebook; you just have to create.
Do you keep a notebook? What do you write in it? How has it helped you?


  1. I, too, believe in notebooks, but maybe not to the extent you keep them. When starting a new novel, I always start a new notebook for that novel. It has just about everything in it that I need for that book -- character ideas, research, plot summary, etc. I also keep a word notebook, which can be very helpful when I'm struggling to find the right verb or noun to use. If I hear anything (phrases included) that really clicks for me and I can see myself using later on, I jot it down.

    Thanks for a great list on ways to store ideas!

  2. Thank you for this post! I love notebooks, and have many, but I just don't know how to organise them. I don't even know if I really need to?
    I always start a notebook with great intentions, thinking I'll stick to 'it's purpose'. But then I get frustrated because I want to do something else with it. I either tear out the pages I've already written, or leave the rest of it completely untouched.

    (BTW, I don't throw away anything I tear out, I have a folder for all of those ;-))

    You make it so simple though, my notebook can be for anything whatever I fancy at the time. Thanks for the direction!

    Right, where is my notebook ...

  3. I keep a little spiral notepad in my purse and pull it out sometimes. I also use the notepad app on my phone a lot. I have a page for my daily, weekly, and monthly writing goals. I also have a document that I write in when I'm angry or frustrated, as a sort of release. And I write down ideas for stories or things I think I should remember. It's very helpful!

  4. I love all your ideas for notebooks! I keep a notebook, as well as a personal journal, and I love it.

  5. I find that most of my creative ideas and thoughts come to me when I'm in bed or at work so I often take them down in my phone or type it out in an email to myself, especially if I find something online that inspires me, and more often then not they get lost as my ideas seem to be scattered across a wide range of devices - computer, phone, notebook etc. It would be nice if I could have a handbag sized notebook to take with me everywhere so I can jot down pieces of inspiration with me wherever I go.

    Rowdy Fairy


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