Ideas can be sparked by anything, but as many writers experience, if you don’t get that idea written down while it’s fresh in your mind, it has often taken wing by the time you reach for it later. Today many of us use electronic devices of one kind or another for writing, but an important tool which shouldn’t be neglected is the humble notebook.
With notebooks, size doesn’t matter, although one small enough to carry around in a pocket or bag is a practical idea. I have half a dozen books of various sizes because I keep leaving mine at home and buying another to jot down an idea I don't want to forget. Some writers enjoy indulging in the luxury end of the market, and there is a certain gratification in opening a book whose cover is an ornately designed piece of art, but a 50p exercise book suits me fine. Whenever I go out, I always check I have my trusty notebook and at least a couple of pens with me. In this matter, never rely on one pen, because you can guarantee it will run out when you need it most.
Developing the habit of jotting down impressions, observations, descriptions of people and places is worthwhile cultivating. A good exercise when you’re out and about is to spend ten minutes noting what you see, hear, and smell. Notice any actions taking place and the different shades and shapes of objects. Are there clouds in the sky? What does the air feel like on your skin? (Although the latter may be easier in seasons when the weather is not too inclement.) Try to create a written snapshot of what is around you. Don’t worry over grammar or punctuation; think like an impressionist painter, it’s all about the moment.
A notebook can also function as a diary or for journaling. Diaries can be used to explore your emotions and develop a deeper awareness of your internal monologue. Virginia Woolf and Somerset Maugham kept notebooks which they found invaluable for different reasons. Maugham because he intended to use what he wrote as a resource, and Woolf often recorded observations on her own creative process. Writers naturally take a lot from their life experiences.
Notebooks are excellent for morning writing, another practice advocated for tapping into your inspiration. The theory is that by writing as soon as you wake, you’re still in contact with your subconscious, and access ideas and your imagination more readily. Morning writing is freewriting without clustering or a prompt. A warning—this needs discipline as groping for a notepad on a dark winter’s morning and trying to perform without coffee didn’t work for me. But I still do my best work early in the day when I’ve made it downstairs to the warm kitchen, and after I’ve drunk my coffee!
The news, wherever you get it from, radio, tv, twitter, newspapers, is an endless source of inspiration. A story needs tension and conflict and you’ll find plenty in any newscast. These little books are ideal for noting outlines for later development. Even if you never expand or utilize much of what you’ve written, the act of observing and recording items which interest you feeds your creativity.
Use your notebook in whatever fashion you wish: freewriting, diary, morning writing, character sketches, beginnings and expansions of ideas, planning the chain of events for your novel – anything and everything. I know that for me, a notebook has become an invaluable tool in my writer’s journey.
(This post is an updated version of a previous post, but as it's still relevant, I've given it another airing.)
a sea of silky
green wheat ripples in the warm
gentle summer breeze
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