How Do I Make the Most Out of a Writer’s Notebook?

The writer’s notebook.

It’s in every writer’s advice book. Until about two years ago, I thought it seemed nerdy and even a bit self-indulgent.

How Do I Make the Most Out of a Writer’s Notebook?

I could never see myself carrying around this spiral of ideas and randomly busting it out mid-conversation. But, when agents rejected my novel because I wasn’t successful enough, I decided to develop habits for greater success.

It’s in every writer’s advice book.

I knew this would have to be a nice notebook—one where I wouldn’t be tempted to jot down phone numbers, grocery lists, and random reminders.

But also not so expensive I’d be intimidated to write in it. I settled on a sturdy hardback journal from a discount bookstore. I carried it around in my purse, laptop bag, and brought it to my desk each writing day.

What I discovered—was writer’s gold.

To start out, follow these rules.

1. No Piece Should Start On the Computer

If I thought I had an idea for a piece, I’d play with it in my notebook.

If it gained momentum, I’d move to the computer. If the piece went nowhere, that was fine. It just stayed in my notebook.

Maybe I would come back to it, maybe not. This rule helped me give credence to every single idea without feeling like I had to see it to completion.

Because with all the text files a writer manages, no one wants to navigate around fifty draft files with three sentences each. But, in the notebook, an idea can sit quietly for months or years, waiting for its “time.”

2. Use the Notebook a Little Each Day

Some days I would just doodle and scribble nonsensical ramblings.

Other days, the rule forced me to capture an idea that I had floating around.

Every writer has those moments where they say, “One day I should write an article on…” Well, there’s no time like the present.

Getting it down on paper almost forced the idea into fruition. Even if all that came out of it was a paragraph or five rambling pages, that was better than it staying in my head.

The rule forced me to capture an idea that I had floating around.

Many times I would put the notebook away, having accomplished nothing.

Other days, I would start out totally uninspired with a bout of writer’s block, and then an hour later, have a great piece underway. But often, I would find an old entry and with fresh eyes turn it into something I could sell.

3. Nothing is Too Dumb or Too Small For the Notebook

If I was in the grocery store and amused by my affinity for the school supply aisle, I’d jot it down for possible use in a character.

If I thought of a great phrase, or even word – in the notebook it went. If I was at work and thought of an idea for a blog post, I’d steal a minute, fish the notebook out of my purse, and scrawl down as much as I could for later.

In one book, I hastily scribbled, “Poetry book?” It might have just been a passing idea. But, seeing that question every day when I opened my notebook, the idea grew.

4. Write Whenever You Can

If I had ten minutes to kill, I’d pull out my notebook. I’d write on my lunch break or sitting in waiting rooms and lobbies.

I’d write in the middle of the night, or instead of watching TV. I’d write waiting in lines or to replace my nervous habit of checking my phone when bored.

I’d write in the middle of the night, or instead of watching TV.

One day I was waiting in the lobby at a job interview. To quell my jitters, I pulled out my notebook and described the room. The description ended up inspiring a piece on employment agencies that I sold to a magazine.

5. Read the Notebook

All of this jotting down, starting and stopping had a point–to create a bank of ideas.

Now, whenever I need an idea, I can flip through my notebook.

I’ll find all sorts of material. Two half-started articles I could approach with new energy, a blog post idea, five failed poetry attempts that could be strung together to create a piece of prose, and all sorts of phrases that could be used anywhere.

One day recently, I flipped through an old notebook and found the phrase, “coffee and dreams.” About a year ago, the phrase came to me, and I thought it sounded poetic.

I wrote it down, but I couldn’t go anywhere else with it that day. When I ran back across it, I realized the phrase was an excellent description of my writing life that year.

In fact, it would be a great title for the poetry book I have now been working on. And a new project was born…entirely out of my writer’s notebook.

Do you use a writer’s notebook? Let us know in the comment section what rules you follow to make the most out of your writer’s notebook.

About The Author

Layla Velasquez is a freelance writer with an address in Texas. But she currently resides on Cloud Nine, in a state of constant euphoria as she gets to write full-time. She has written pieces for CCM Magazine, Woodlands Lifestyle and Homes, and USA Today Online. You can read her blog at The Vagrant Writer.

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Hi Layla, I know this is post is almost a year old but it’s such an evergreen topic. I absolutely love using notebooks and you described the way I use mine exactly. Thought I was the only one that wrote random, half-crazy ideas for later use. Sometimes I feel like I’m wasting paper. But you’re right, fabulous ideas for a story or blog post will pop into your head at the most random times on an idle day or at the grocery store checkout line. I really love this post. Thanks for sharing!Reply to Christine
This is a great idea. I’m developing a post now about how I get ideas for freelance writing, and I do have that idea in there. Having a place to register your ideas in, and then going back to that place to piece them together really helps when you’re writing.Reply to Mickey
This is great advice. Sometimes I run out of motivation at my day job, so I find myself wishing I could jot down ideas for scenes in my WIP or side stories about my other characters. I think I’ll be trying this – I have enough notebooks so that part’s already done!Reply to Samantha
Layla Velasquez Yeah, Samantha it’s really helpful for WIP’s. You get a more rounded piece, because you’re constantly drawing from life. I didn’t use one when I was doing my book, but now that my eyes and ears are more open, I’m find all sorts of ways to make my characters fuller, and more intricate, and my scenes rounder.Reply to Layla
Layla Velasquez Thanks, Elna!Reply to Layla
Layla, What a great tip! I’ve never used a writer’s notebook like that! I have many journals but not one for everything. I’ll have to give it a try! ThanksReply to Elna