How I’ve Used Notebooks to Organize My Writing Ideas

Photo by Mike Tinnion on Unsplash

At any given time, I probably have half a dozen notebooks stashed around my desk, in my purse, or on my bookshelf. I have used various styles of notebooks for practically every form of writing.

When I was a kid, I would make my own “books” by putting loose leaf paper in a simple two-pocket folder with brass fasteners (complete with poorly drawn illustrations, in case you were wondering). More recently, I have kept my writing in composition notebooks, notebooks with no lines, cheap spiral notebooks, fancy expensive Barnes and Noble leather bound books, and the list goes on and on.

Over time, I have learned that I am unable to go back to using a notebook (i.e, pen and paper) to write full drafts of pretty much anything. I am a fast typist (my one and only superpower – rather lame, admittedly), and I am able to get sentences out faster and smoother by using a computer. I can edit much quicker on the computer as well, so I don’t get as hung up on structuring my writing.

With that said, however, I still prefer to start my ideas and organize them on paper. In the past, this took the form of compiling every bit of writing into one notebook. A journal entry might be followed by a piece of dialogue I overheard and thought was interesting, followed by an inspirational writing quote I read, then a character sketch for a sci-fi story, etc. It was too much chaos for me to sift through and make sense of, and so I now multiple notebooks with distinct purposes. I typically use three main ones. That seems like a lot, but I don’t necessarily use each one each day.

Notebook 1: Personal Journal

I have a particular notebook strictly for journaling. Sometimes I need to get a whirlwind of emotions out on paper, and that’s all that particular writing is used for. Keeping that personal, unstructured writing away from my fiction projects is helpful to keep me focused so that I am not distracted by the events of the day.

That doesn’t mean that my journal doesn’t sometimes lead to inspiration for a story or poem, but I find it is easier to have my journal entries all in one place. Otherwise I spend too much time flipping through the pages of my personal life when I should be finishing a project.

Notebook 2: A “Catch All” Notebook

I also keep a notebook that I use to collect information that I may want to incorporate into a story one day. I have it sectioned off into different categories including tabs for Characters, Settings, Dialogue, Outlines, and Miscellaneous. Any time I overhear an interesting piece of dialogue, I write it in that corresponding section. Or if I meet someone that strikes me as inspiration for a character, I describe them in the Character section. Same idea for settings. I use the Outlines section to brainstorm story outlines which I refer to when typing up the first draft of a story on the computer.

I’ve sectioned off my notebook by using small Post-It notes (3″ x 1.5″) and writing on the edges of them, which then stick out from the notebook and are visible like tabs. You can get fancy of course and use actual dividers, so I would experiment with what works best for you. Sometimes when I am stuck for ideas, scanning the pages of the Catch All notebook will inspire me.

Notebook 3: Daily Writing Book

This notebook is a little less defined for me. I have a plain bullet journal (a notebook with all dotted pages) which I use to keep track of how long I write each day. If you’re into tracking your writing habit and are feeling somewhat artsy, you can go here for ideas on how to begin tracking using a bullet journal.

I also use my Daily Writing Book for planning out my writing tasks for each day. For example, I might begin an entry under January 31 and include a list of blog post ideas for the day, some poem ideas, or even start scribbling out the first couple paragraphs of a story or essay. I basically use this book as a daily writing journal for rough, rough drafts of what I am working on that day.

Photo by Simson Petrol on Unsplash

In terms of actual types of notebooks, I prefer keeping cost to a minimum without sacrificing quality. Moleskine products are much too expensive for my budget due to the amount of notebooks I go through (but if you can afford them in multitudes, I envy you). The cheapest notebooks out there all seem to have flimsy covers and thin pages that let ink bleed through.

I have found a few brands that I like (and no, I’m not paid to link to products. I am just a huge nerd for writing supplies!).

Bullet Journal

The bullet journal I use is this one, and it has worked well for me since it lies flat (a must for me). No pages have fallen out, and it seems it is a popular choice as it was the only one left in the store.

Personal Journal & Catch All Notebook

For both of these, I have used two different products from the Greenroom company (sold at Target). I don’t believe you can purchase them online, only at certain stores, but my personal journal is just a plain blue, faux leather cover with sewn pages that again, don’t fall out and lie flat no matter how far along you are in it.

My Catch All book is also from Greenroom and is hardcover with a bungee band on the edge to keep it closed. I love the quality of the paper (nothing bleeds through), but the first couple pages did start to get loose as I used it over time. I just taped them in and didn’t have any more problems after that.

Pens

I’ve known people to get into near boxing matches while debating the pros and cons of particular brands of pens, but I will go ahead and put it out there that I am in love with the Pilot G2 0.7. I like these gel pens since they don’t bleed through, although I know I might be in the minority with this one. This pen also doesn’t smear (important for a Lefty like myself) and isn’t too expensive. I also use highlighters, Post-It notes, and colorful gel pens to organize sections of my writing.

Do you have tips for organizing your writing? Or suggestions for writing products? I would love to hear them in the comment section below!

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4 thoughts on “How I’ve Used Notebooks to Organize My Writing Ideas”

  1. I am impressed you have named them. I try to keep my notebooks separated but then they end up being a mish mash…but somehow I know where certain notes are…that I may or not be able to find! haha I have started using electronic notes with some success as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s great that your system works for you! My memory is so poor that my only hope is to keep things separated. I have tried note-taking via computer and phone, but I have a habit of forgetting about electronic notes once I have typed them. Maybe one day I will find success with those as well, though, as your electronic system seems much more convenient in terms of accessibility and saving paper.

      Like

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