The Writer’s Notebook – Don't Leave Home Without It

by Randy Murray on January 25, 2010

This week I’ll be publishing five short posts on the craft of writing.

Today: The Writer’s Notebook

My Writer's Notebook

Novelist, blogger, marketing or business scribe, poet. It doesn’t matter what kind of writer you are or aspire to be, once you begin to think like a one you’ll find that ideas, phrases, and whole pieces can come to you at any moment. And one of the most frustrating things is to have that great idea, only later to discover that you can’t remember what it was.

Don’t let that happen to you. You need two things: the habit of capturing EVERYTHING and a place to capture it.

I find the best way for me is the writer’s notebook. I like the Moleskine large squared version. I don’t carry it with me absolutely everywhere, but I ALWAYS have a folded 3×5 card or a Picopad in my wallet and at least two pens somewhere on my person (the picopad has one with it; I also carry a Wallet Pen as well. And I most like carry either my Fischer Space Pen or my Montblanc Meisterstuck Black Ballpoint). The trick is to recognize when you have an idea and jot enough down to remember what it is. Sometimes it will be just a phrase. Often you’ll need to record a long section. But you must record it.

Use your phone to send yourself a message, use a tape recorder, write it on your hand. It doesn’t matter, but you must capture your idea before it gets away. Later you can drop the captured idea into your inbox and when there’s time, process it into that single place where you can find all of your ideas. For me, that place is my writer’s notebook, but you might use a plain text file on your computer, a white board, Google Doc, etc. Whatever works for you.

Here’s why I like a physical notebook. As time passes, you can review your ideas by flipping thru the pages. Unlike a computer file, your handwriting will help convey the energy and excitement of the idea. And if you’re like me, the mere act of transcribing to a computer file causes you to edit and cool down the excitement.  Your ideas need to be raw, energetic, and alive. In a notebook, you can also include doodles, drawings, clippings, anything that helps you recapture your thought process and preserve it for that future you who might make something of it.

Most ideas will go nowhere, but sometimes an idea you had years ago will suddenly leap out at you. Now is the time. Your notebook has kept it for you.

From time to time as you add new material to your notebook, you’ll leaf through the pages and things will leap out at you. It works for me. The story kernel for the novel I’m working on now came in 1994. If I didn’t have it captured I might never have remembered what I had been thinking then.

And find a safe place where you can store your journals and notebooks. I’ve got a stack that’s knee high, tracking back thru college.

The The Writer’s Notebook – Don't Leave Home Without It by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

chastiser January 25, 2010 at 9:44 am

I totally agree with you. I never leave home without a notebook, I even have a habit of always carrying around a copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to remind myself why I want to write.

The notepad has saved me so many times, with writing down ideas and just emptying my mind of all the thoughts.


Randy Murray January 25, 2010 at 10:31 am

Thanks for commenting.

I keep a copy of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare in my car for similar reasons.



Mari January 25, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Being prepared is a survival primer for the creation of an idea.

It only takes one “ugh, I can’t remember that great idea” to recognize the benefit of preparedness. You’re right: whether written or recorded, getting those ideas down when they occur is the key.


Randy Murray January 25, 2010 at 3:08 pm

I like that - your notebook is a matter of survival. For a writer there’s nothing worse than losing an idea. The thought of losing a whole notebook full makes me shudder.

Each of my notebooks has my name and contact info inside the front cover AND the offer of a reward if found. Please don’t use this as an excuse to steal my notebooks to sell back to me. I’m onto you!



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