A Writer’s Notebook – part 1

Generally, when writers talk notebook, they focus on the general things that are read, seen, or heard which could influence a current or future story. No way around it, that is one important notebook. There is a second which is equally important – the current story notebook containing all the details of the story under way. I will begin with the writer’s general notebook.

A quick perusal of Pinterest on this topic could become overwhelming, even a distraction. Good-intentioned submitters go so far as to tell you what kind of notebook to purchase and how to decorate it. That is very helpful to further one’s procrastination and not get any writing accomplished.

Many years ago, working as a news reporter, a notebook became essential to record all the factual information – names, dates, times, places, events, interview quotes, releases. All that stuff was recorded in a small, pocket-size book. Unless working, I frequently left home without it. When something presented itself I either had to rely on a decent memory or grab anything to write on (hopefully finding a writing tool as well.) Any note making it home would be entered in a spiral notebook picked up during pre-schoolyear sales for ten-cents.

That was then. Today is so much easier and efficient. We carry all sorts of digital devices. A phone is certainly the handiest, a tablet next. With a couple finger swipes, it is possible to voice record whatever sparks interest which can be sent by eMail for further action back home.

In addition, a writer/author needs to embrace lots of reading. Again, it is possible to tap, highlight, copy, paste, and send whatever snippet you come across.

Where does this information end up? On your computer. No more hand-written notebooks with hard-to-find notes. For instance, on my computer there is a folder within a “Writing” file called “Techniques.” That folder is further subdivided into “General Writing,” “Plot,” “Characters,” “Dialogue,” “Editing,” “Story Development,” and “Forms.” (See earlier posts about forms.)

Within the “Characters” older are all sorts of notes concerning the who, when, where, what, how, and why of creating characters. We are talking physical, personal, and mental attributes. My folder currently contains 170 documents. For instance, age/weight/height charts and descriptions of various body types, character development, and mental challenges such as anxiety attacks. There is a file on voice descriptions, how men and women act. These are not one or two line notes. Some are multi-page in length.

A quick note entered on a hand-held device in the field becomes the basis of further research at home. For instance, while having lunch at a box warehouse and watching people, the idea of saddling my main character with a handicap came to mind – claustrophobia. The foundation had already been set by a childhood incident. Note sent, back in the office I researched this and created a fact page with all the pertinent information to use it correctly (3 pages). Being a form of anxiety attacks, I created a fact page for that, too (9 pages). Research is easy, and then cut and paste. With this understanding, it is possible to manifest the challenge at appropriate times (inappropriate from the character’s point of view) and write them factually.

In the story where I used claustrophobia, the hero had to infiltrate a gang’s hideout. The only way to get in was through a rat-infested tunnel. He had no other choice and it wasn’t easy. At one point he couldn’t help but throw up. His concerned companion/guide asks, “Are you alright?” “I’m just feeding the rats.” (No reason to miss a little humor to ease the mounting tension during a dark part of a story if it fits the character’s personality.)

While it is important to collect all sorts of notes, having them sorted in a way they are easily found is even more important. Below are some of 170+ fact notes in my character file. Creating sub-files makes them easy to find.

Other folders contain writing prompts, a brief document synopsis of what I was thinking at the time. Being a visual person, an idea is often stimulated by a photo, therefore, there is a file containing only photos with a file name consisting of the idea. (For those programs allowing long file names on documents and photos.) In this instance, I am considering a story incorporating this event. (See below) The URL points me to a Google page with photos and documentation from which I can generate a fact sheet for quick reference.

There are so many things a writer can collect which can and should find their way into an organized notebook. Such things as:

  • Names for characters
  • Quotes
  • Lyrics
  • Poems
  • Writing prompts
  • Memories
  • Short stories ideas
  • Novel ideas
  • Conversations
  • Reminders
  • News clips
  • Fortune cookies wisdom
  • Photos
  • Doodles and drawings
  • Words
  • Phrases/descriptions used by other author

Whatever strikes your fancy, log it. What is important is to 1) get it record and 2) file it in such a way it is easily found later. Last but not least, periodically thumb through the notebook before and during the initial stages of developing a story. 

Next is a second notebook – the one which will contain everything important to the story you are writing. We will look at that in the next installment, A Writer’s Notebook – part 2.

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