Writers can be very finicky about their notebooks—see Deeplinking‘s Notebook Reviews and Black Cover, a blog dedicated to “The Search for the Perfect Little Black Notebook.” (I would caution new notebookers against getting too precious about their writing material, however, as it may prevent them from actually writing on it—you may find the perfect notebook, but the writing inside it doesn’t have to be.)
And civilians, anecdotal evidence suggests, recognize what writers’ notebooks mean to them. This summer my friend Steve was traveling in Paris and lost his Moleskine on the Metro. It contained all the writing he had done all summer, including three weeks of study at Pembroke College at the University of Cambridge. Devastating, right? Well, that very same day, he got an email from the gentleman who found it—a banker—and Steve retrieved it the very next day. Amazing.
Which reminds me: I need to put my contact information in my writer’s notebooks.
I keep four. No, wait … five. Well, when you count up all the notebooks I’m keeping at any one time, it’s more like eight.
- Morning Pages: I’ve written morning pages for going-on a half-dozen years. These are three pages (more or less) I write first thing in the morning (more or less) every day (more or … well, you get the picture) in 8.5-by-11-inch, five-subject, spiral-bound, college-ruled notebooks. The goal is to write three pages every morning, which I don’t always accomplish (in which case I used to be so obsessive that I would actually leave blank pages where I should have written as a physical reminder of the days I missed; I’m living greener now and relying on the skipped dates alone to chastise me).
This is where I basically keep my personal diary, recording what I did the day before, making a plan for the day ahead, and, probably more than any thing else, complaining. It is incredibly tedious to go back and read these pages, which inevitably say the same thing over and over and over again. I look at the published journals of writers I admire—Virginia Woolf, say—and am mortified that, were I ever to become a novelist whose personal writings become of interest, these might ever be read by anyone else, let alone published.
However, because the morning-pages exercise requires three hand-written pages, sometimes I run out of the daily grind and have to dig deeper into my thoughts and feelings on, for example, God and religion.
- Novel Notebook: I also have a notebook this size in which I work on my novel. Frankly, this wasn’t a choice made consciously but rather to use a stray notebook lying around the apartment. When it’s full, I’ll probably move to a three-ring binder filled with blank pages ripped out of my morning-pages notebooks.
I freewrite here about characters I’m still getting to know or what needs to happen in the chapter on which I am working. Inevitably this work naturally leads to scenes and, eventually, whole chapters. Lately, at least, I’ve been writing the novel long-hand in these pages. The notebook is also stuffed with comments and critiques from my writing group and thesis adviser.
- Writer’s Notebook: I also keep a 5.25-by-8.25-inch lined Moleskine that probably most closely resembles what we mean when we talk about writer’s notebooks.
It started as a poetry notebook that I was required to keep for a class, in which I recorded my reactions to poetry I was reading and poetry readings I attended, brainstormed and drafted poems, and wrote about the writing process. What it has evolved into I’m still working to define. Although there are notes and ideas for future projects, I’m so focused on the novel now that they have really taken a backseat to writing about writing, including material for this blog.
- Pocket Writer’s Notebook: Finally, I also keep a 3.75-by-5.75-inch pocket notebook that serves much the same purpose as the Moleskine, except it can fit in my purse or pocket. The one I carry now is a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired pocket journal manufactured by Pomegranate that was a gift from my mother.
- Other Notebooks: I also keep a soft-cover pocket Moleskine in which I record my running grocery, shopping, and to-do lists. In my bag I carry a reporter’s notebook that I pull out for film screenings. My daily calendar, which also contains more lists (including daily to-dos, birthday wishlists, movies-and-books-I’ve-seen-this-year lists), is in a half-size spiral-bound notebook. And I keep separate notebooks for classes, which, because I study writing, could also be classified as writer’s notebooks.
These are my writer’s notebooks. As with all facets of creativity, however, how a writer keeps a notebook is highly individualized. What kinds of notebooks do you use, and how do you use them?