Simplifying the Writing Notebook

I’ve been keeping a writer’s journal/notebook/thing for years now. At first, I used a simple bound notebooks where I’d scribble stories, ideas for stories, freewriting, dialog snippets, and character descriptions. Later, I tracked submissions and notes on stories, freewriting, character descriptions, etc. as well as submission tracking and various odds and ends of my work. A few years ago, I switched to a Circa binding system. Lofty goals of keeping an orderly and organized notebook ran through my head. I had tabs for Submissions, Work in Progress (WIPs), Characters, Settings, and Quotes. I made fancy labels and had a fancy case to set this all in. And guess what? I never used it.

Recently I dusted off that notebook and revisited the idea of keeping a usable writer’s notebook. Having done NaNoWriMo for a decade and relearning how to do scene tracking helped spur this decision as I needed to figure out how to collect all the new data.

The first thing I did was to think about what I wanted to track and how much obsessive organization I wanted to dump into this thing. When I write by hand, I tend to write haphazardly and without rhyme or reason. I write longhand in short bursts of time because of the death grip I grip pens with (I am getting better— big barreled pens help). Therefore, realistically, I need a notebook that’s simple and flexible to manage both fiction and nonfiction works in progress (WIPs). I didn’t want to micromanage sections down to plot, theme, character, dialog, setting, because I’d never use it. So, this incarnation of my writer’s notebook had to follow the Keep It Simple, Stup!d method.

The new notebook, then, contains the following sections:

Submission Tracker. I wanted to keep a written list of current projects and their status of Draft, Revision, or Published. In the past I just listed the names and then a date of publication but I decided that this wasn’t really good book-keeping. So in the new book, I use a Cornell Note sheet and in the open left hand space, I list three boxes: D (for draft), R (for revision), and P (for published). Next to this, in the gridded box, I have the name of the project, and then I list the start date, any info on the publishing place, and when the item got published. I draw an X through each D/R/P box as the piece goes through my writing process.

Work In Progress. This section contains whatever notes and scenes I track on each current fiction or non-fiction piece. It also contains tarot readings done for characters and plot.

Freewriting. Occasionally I enjoy taking time to just write with a pen and see where the Muse takes me. This section contains those bits and pieces that may or may not end up being entered into Scrivener.

Quotes. I collect quotes and wanted a place to write or paste sections of prose that I enjoyed reading. I’ve got quotes from fiction titles, author interviews, and other various locations stored in here for my reading pleasure. Sometimes this reminds me why I’m in the writing biz altogether.

Blank papers. What’s a good notebook without a steady and handy supply of blank papers to jot things down. This section seems pretty self explanatory, really. I hope.

Pocket Folder. Trailing the blank papers, I have a pocket to stuff handouts, biz cards or materials that I’ve printed out and don’t want to manually bind into the circa notebook. I foresee items in the folder rotating in and out depending on what I’m working on and where I am at in my career.

And there you have it. This the new writer’s notebook, and amazingly I do use it and have been since I made it.

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