How I’ve Used Notebooks to Organize My Writing Ideas

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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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Using Journaling as a Writing Tool

open-notebook-on-table

I have written in a journal, diary, notebook – what I call it depends on my mood that day – off and on since I was seven years old, which is when I received my first journal as a Christmas gift. It was one of those simple kids’ diaries with a plastic flowery cover and cheap metal lock that could easily be picked with a bobby pin, but I fell in love with it.

As one of five children, the household was often noisy and I found that writing in my journal was a way of taking some alone time. Throughout the years, I wrote about my classes, my first crushes and best friends, fights with my siblings, anything that was part of my life. When I filled that first journal, I moved through various other ones, which were sometimes elaborate decorated ones, or, as when I went through my Harriet the Spy phase in middle school, plain black and white marbled composition notebooks. I carried my journal with me to school in my backpack, and during my angsty teenage years, snuck it in among my class notebooks so I could even write during math class.

As I have gotten older, technology has popularized other forms of writing, but I still prefer to write with pen and paper when it comes to journaling. Although I like to type when doing other forms of writing, the tactile nature of physically writing in a journal is therapeutic for me. Stepping away from the computer and turning towards a notebook for a while helps me separate my “work” writing from my journaling.

Below are some of the ways I have used my journaling to aid my writing process.

Relieving anxiety

I am a huge supporter of using journaling as a tool to reduce anxiety. Being able to write out my feelings or worries helps me to gain perspective on them, and mental health professionals often recommend people to keep a journal. Sometimes, just putting the words down on paper make me see that things aren’t so bad as I imagined them to be just a few moments earlier. Also, as I have mentioned in a previous post, I personally find it difficult to write in the times where I am overcome with anxiety in my personal life. Journaling can be a way for me to recenter and refocus during those times and allow me to transition into the more structured writing that I may be aiming to accomplish, such as essay or fiction writing.

Story ideas

Although I have typically thought of my journal as a (rather biased) record of my own life, I am often surprised at how often other people’s lives have found their way onto the pages. I have reread journals from years before and found mention of someone who had crossed my life fleetingly at that time, possibly in a college class for instance, and later resurfaced in my life as a co-worker or friend of a friend. I have also written about encounters with strangers or situations that struck me as interesting that day, which I can use in future stories.

Writing practice

Some days I find it hard to sit at the computer and come up with anything to write. On those days, turning to my journal, I seem to rid myself of any filters. I can start off writing about the most mundane events that morning, whether it was pouring a cup of coffee or feeding the cats, and simply writing complete sentences such as these help me to loosen up. More often than not, after a few paragraphs about my day, my mind has started turning over some of those events and those people I met, and I am able to get some ideas flowing.

Perspective

When I flip through my old journals, I am amazed at how I can see my priorities and interests shifting. The things I worried about when I was fourteen compared to those at twenty-two are worlds apart. Seeing my words as I wrote them down at different times in my life help me remember what it was like to be a self-conscious teenager or to be a naive college student. When I am writing stories, these perspectives can help me write more authentically from different characters’ points of view.

At nearly thirty years old, I still turn to a journal when I am feeling overwhelmed or in need of writing inspiration. When I worked in the school setting, I urged students to keep journals as well, and sometimes, when they would share a poem they had written or a writing sample that was especially meaningful for them, I could see how useful journals were for them, as well.

I would love to hear about your experiences with journaling. Leave a comment below, and I will get back to you!