Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Is A Writer's Notebook Essential?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer must carry a notebook around with them at all times, preferably a Moleskine notebook as used by Hemingway and Bruce Chatwin.  

Um, no.  At least, not this writer. I have tried carrying around a notebook, and it's jolly useful for jotting down a shopping list.  I've also added brilliant ideas for books and articles, and amazing titles.  I've dutifully written down hilarious snatches of overheard conversation.  And then either I lose the notebook or I forget about it.  

If I do find it, I discover that the snatches of conversation make no sense out of context, or simply aren't funny.  The brilliant titles aren't that brilliant, and nor are the articles and book ideas.  

For me, carting a notebook around is adding yet another bit of stuff to my handbag.  That's not to say you shouldn't do it, because if it works for you then yippee and hooray.  But it doesn't work for me.  

All writing advice should be taken with a hefty dollop of salt.  Try everything, but don't feel you have to stick with it if it doesn't work for you.  Some of us need detailed plots before starting, others write into the blue.  Some of us need silence, others want noise when they write.  Some of us write thousands of words a day, others struggle to complete a few hundred.  

Who cares how you got there and what tools you used?  There isn't a 'right' way to write, there is only your way. All that matters is you get there in the end, notebook or not.


Liz Fielding said...

I'm hopeless about notebooks, too, Sarah, and although I buy pretty ones, don't feel obliged to put anything in them.

What I can't do without is my little page a day Moleskin diary. That I do use everyday for addresses, urls, the occasional note for the wip and shopping. I have already got my 2012 edition filling up with blogging dates.

I do, on the other hand, occasionally write brilliant stuff on the backs of supermarket checkout bills. Mostly I lose them.

Sally Zigmond said...

Sarah: I can't tell you how relieved I am, to read this. I love notebooks as notebooks. I drool in Paperchase. I have a collection of pretty ones that people have given me because they've heard I write. Only they remain in a drawer, pretty and useless. I like to stroke them from time to time but that's all.

Ideas, titles or phrases never come to me when I'm out and about and if they do, as you've found, weeks later they're meaningless or stupid. I have to be in front of a keyboard and screen and feel as if I'm 'at work' to think and write. That doesn't mean I don't notice what goes on around me. I listen a lot and observe but it all goes into my compost heap of my brain to mulch and mature until needed. No notebook required.

Anna Wilson said...

I have to say I am a notebook fiend. I have had to learn to be discreet, though, as friends and family have wised up to me jotting down things they've said. It's not a very nice habit, nicking ideas from other people, even if that's what writing is all about (for me, anyway). But I do agree that snippets that seemed like wonderful material at the time can look like utter bonkers on revisiting them in the cold light of the laptop screen. I just hope that I remember to burn them all before I get old in case my nosy children leaf through them and decide it's time to consign me to a home after all.

Jim Murdoch said...

I have notepads going back some twenty years. I always have one with me. I simply don’t trust my memory. I also find it helpful to work out ideas on the page sometimes because too many times I’ve tried to develop a perfectly good idea in my head, gone off at a tangent, found I was unable to find my way back to where I started and everything was lost. I have been caught short. When I got the idea that eventually became my fourth novel I was walking across Glasgow Green and either had no pad or no pen with me and had to hold a whole paragraph in my head until I got to work and could scribble it down. Now that would have been a terrible loss.

I have a Moleskin notebook at the moment but only because my wife bought me one. I'll write on anything.

Hannah said...

The best things are always written or drawn on the back of receipts or used envelopes.

Helen said...

I must admit, I've never understood all the fuss about moleskine notebooks. When I first started writing, however, I did carry a (non-moleskine) notebook around with me, largely because I kept on reading everywhere it was what every aspiring writer needed to do. Well, after a few months of writing (mainly illegible) notes I barely looked at again, I soon abandoned the idea.

I think what you say is very true. There is no 'right' way to write. Writers should trust their own instincts and work in the way that best suits them.

Charlotte Sannazzaro said...

I need to write ideas down or type them up, otherwise I'll forget. I have a notebook by my bed, and I'll frequently turn the light back on to record a sudden brainwave.

I don't carry a notebook around with me. Instead I use the notes feature on my phone. I frequently sit on the train, tapping away. Whether it's a person dressed in distinctive clothing or a snippet of conversation. It looks like I'm being very social (texting or emailing), but my writer's brain is whirring away, storing up creative nuggets.

Penny said...

Notebooks can be useful. My problem really is being organised enough to remember where it is, and I usually end up leaving myself notes on the kitchen blackboard!
But as with all these helpful, motivational hints, if you're like me, you have to take care that sorting them doesn't lead to the dreaded procrastination...

Sarah Duncan said...

I'm glad that I'm not a lone voice in a sea of notebook fanatics. Some great tips tho - would never have thought of using a phone to make notes, or using a diary in that way. (That sounds dim but I don't usually carry one around with me.)

And glad quite a few of you drool in Paperchase, I thought it was just me.