Notebooks are a way to immortalise bad ideas… At least Stephen King thinks so. As writers are notebooks, journals or lists really important to our projects? Just because Stephen King famously despises the idea of using a notebook does not mean his philosophy applies to everyone. Joan Didion and John Steinbeck famously used notebooks in the creative process of their writing. I suppose the fundamentals of the question stretch all the way back to the plotters and pantsers argument. Keeping a notebook really depends on each person’s unique writing process.

Some writers love to jump into what they’re doing, throw caution to the wind and not think for two seconds about any overarching plan or plot. However, there are many who truly value a well structured plan or plot line which has been outlined well in advance, even if it’s just something to refer to. 

Brainstorming 

This is the only reason I’ll ever use a notebook but that’s just me. Before I can sit down to write I need to have ideas, and I discovered the best way of getting them out is brainstorming in a notebook. I’m not alone in that respect J.K. Rowling is someone who develops a rough idea of a novel before embarking on the journey, along with James J. Kilpatrick who suggests a story is not possible without the “germ” of an idea. Writing completely blind is something I’m sure many people do but I’ve found in my own unique experience I need to have a very basic idea of what’s going on, even just a character or situation.

I always have a basic plot outline, but I like to leave some things to be decided while I write.

J. K. Rowling

Recording Inspiration 

Inspiration can come at the strangest times, carrying a notebook round with you could be a way to catch those ideas in the moment before they are forgotten. I’ve done this a few times but usually find if it’s a good idea it sticks with me for some time after it pops into my head. If you find it easier to write these thoughts down you’re definitely not alone. Writers like Ernest Hemingway who famously described the art of writing as architecture and Joyce Carol Oates are writers who outlined extensively. Not just recording inspiration but completing in depth plotlines and structure. Growing an idea from a simple seed of inspiration into a complex maze of story and adventure. 

The first sentence can’t be written until the last sentence is written

Joyce Carole Oates

Journaling the Process

Another interesting way to view notebooks in relation to the writing craft is by simple journaling your process. This is something I myself have never really thought of before, but it does make sense. By recording the process of writing we can look back on what we encountered with our earlier projects and perhaps find the information and solutions necessary to overcome the hurdles we face with current projects. This is genuinely something I might take up with my own use of notebooks because it seems so useful! John Steinbeck famously kept a daily diary when writing of the Grapes of Wrath in order to record his progress and reflect on the self-doubt he faced as a writer. If nerves are something you struggle with then maybe the cathartic process of documenting your project could help.   

Writing the Book! 

Some writers actually write entire novels in notebooks! As a child who was born in the late 1990’s I find this sort of behaviour extremely questionable and uncivilised! Of course I’m joking but I know that this would never work for me. Neil Gaimen, author of Coraline and American Gods, does just this. He writes his entire novel’s first draft in a notebook before making the transition to computer, I’m pretty sure James Patterson also does this too, preferring the medium of old fashioned pen on paper than fingers on keyboards.  

What do you Think? 

The whole idea of keeping a notebook should be to improve your craft, none of us should be keeping notebooks for the sake of it. Finding a unique process to express our ideas is the real takeaway here. Whether you like to brainstorm, diligently plot or simply go into your projects blind, we all have the same goal: getting words onto paper. 

What do you guys think about keeping a notebook as a writer or blogger? Do you collect moments of inspiration like there your Grandad’s stamp collection or are you more of a wing it and see kind of writer? Let me know in the comments!