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Writing Notebooks: Are You Keeping One?

by Marylee MacDonald in For Beginning Writers

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Writing notebooks are an integral part of a writer’s daily practice. If you keep a writing notebook, you’ll have an infinite source of fresh material to generate stories or to help you recall details of a place you visited.

Here’s a visual example of how I use my notebooks.

I had scheduled a writing getaway for myself. I wanted to go somewhere that wasn’t touristy and chose Bruges, Belgium in the off-season. One freezing winter night in January, I walked past a tavern that reminded me of Edward Hopper’s painting, “Nighthawks.” In my small notebook I wrote “freezing night in Bruges; Hopper painting.”

Below the Hopper painting is the photo I took, but the important thing is that I didn’t rely on the photo to jog my memory. Like most people, I take a lot of pictures that I never look at a second time. The writing notebook, however, is another matter. Because of the notebook, I have just started a new story. The brief mention in the notebook prompted me to go back to the photo and look for additional details.


Nighthawks by Edward Hopper 1942“. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Tavern in Bruges

Without a reminder in my writing notebook, I never would have thought about going back to this photograph for details about a bar in Bruges.

 

A Writing Notebook Can Evoke A Forgotten Emotion

Sadness leaks out of both images. Are the people inside lonely? Perhaps, or possibly they do not want to sit at home with their regrets. Bartenders have the gift of knowing when to allow a customer to nurse his drink in silence. When you look at these pictures, you can begin to imagine the lives of people who are not yourself. You can speculate and create.

Books, art, and travel have one thing in common: They provide windows into other lives. Sometimes, we see our own reflections. Other times, we meet strangers with amazing journeys of their own. A writer’s powers of observation are heightened by an unfamiliar place. Take advantage and make notes before that feeling of freshness dissipates. Keeping a writing notebook is the #1 habit an aspiring writer should strive to establish. If you don’t do anything else–if you’re stalled in making progress toward becoming a writer–keep a notebook.

In fact, keep two. The small notebook is for daily ephemera (snippets of conversation; party gossip; daily news; books to read). The larger notebook gives you space to write longer entries. Keep this journal for short scenes and extended descriptions of places that are unfamiliar to you. The above is an example from my small notebooks. To see how I use my larger journals, go here.


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