Six notebooks that guarantee you will get some writing done today, probably

As writers, we often find ourselves collecting notebooks in an attempt to fill them. Just as often, the ratio of empty notebooks to full starts to lean heavy on the “empty” side, but our compulsion to surround ourselves with empty pages is real. Curious that, for many of us, the empty page is a source of our anxiety. It’s like we need to live with our demons.

In an effort to help, and hopefully provide a laugh or two, please peruse this list of notebooks, many of which I am the sad owner of.

1. The classic composition notebook

I’ve never seen the pink version in the wild. I may have to get my hands on a few.

Not only will the black marbling on its weak cover give you nostalgia-feels for a school life you never had, but the unyielding binding will have you leaning deep into your stories as you use your full weight to keep the pages from flapping back onto your pencil. Make sure to get the Wide Ruled for all your BIG ideas.

2. The Mole-rhod-tturm Hardcover with Dot-grid technology notebook

I probably should have chosen the image that had the fountain pen, but let’s not get too fancy.

These notebooks in their natural state signal to the world that you’re serious about your writing. They also suggest you have much stronger forearms than the average composition writer (who we all know is probably a serial killer in disguise) as you wrestle to utilize every single dot in your grid. The trick to these notebooks is to make sure you don’t accidentally start bullet journaling.

3. The receipts in the bottom of your backpack

Google Translate said this language was Dutch, though I only looked up “Totaal.”

Probably the least known treasure trove of papery goodness, these tiny scraps of thermal paper, when assembled, can form the next quirky novel representing the voice of a generation – a generation that actually has money to buy stuff, that is. While each slippery slip is perfect for jotting down yet another novel idea, remember to keep a stock of cheap stick pens with you at all time and a soft surface to write on, preferably the cover of a better notebook.

4. The margins of a novel you would have written better

Sir Isaac Newton’s marginalia is beautifully written – see more of what writers do at https://entropymag.org/writers-their-margin-notes/

There’s no better way to shop in this economy than in your own home, reusing the items already at hand. Not only does it make the planet happy, but it’s a big boost of confidence for the fledgling writer when they can mark up a sub-par $8.99 novel with the critiques and marginalia of a much, much better book. The satisfaction of obliterating the text of this published author’s work with the genius that is your own, makes the initial purchase a wise investment.

5. The app-only notebook, but spread across a number of apps, some of which are no longer on your phone

Nothing says “I’m totes digital” than those Wayfarer shades.

Between a note-taking app, a reminder app, a to-do list app, a quick text app, a voice recording app, a grocery list app, a cloud-document app, a cloud-spreadsheet app, a journaling app, a novel-writing app, and a blogging app, there is absolutely no need to carry around reams of small paper in order to capture your thoughts or record bits of prose. You’re already paying out the nose for the small glass rectangle in your pocket, you should absent-mindedly funnel all of your best thoughts into it as well.

6. Dr. Jones’s Grail Diary

The painstaking process of compiling such a notebook should be outsourced to an intern.

Let’s finally admit it. This is what we want. We want the feel of the thick pages, the soft leather, the years of research and work carefully curated, drawn, arranged, and connected in one space. We want a palace of the mind in a traveler’s notebook. We want the result of obsessive work held in the palm of our hand (with heft and texture, not that glass rectangle.) All bullet journals, writing notebooks, story bibles, strive for this – like a grail quest itself. The trouble is it takes a long time to get there, and sometimes, you never do.

A Suggestion That Might Actually Help…

The type of notebook matters little. We all know this, but I would suggest one thing: have a notebook that captures anything, something like a miscellany. Capture bits of prose, stories, overheard dialog, recipes, poems, leaves, sketches. Make this your one-stop shop for your tactile world. You don’t have to just have one – you can have a digital and analog version, catching inspiration on and off line. As I mentioned in my previous post, the key is not collection, but reflection, so take time regularly to look through what you’ve found and see how things connect. Often the fallen leaf and the stray song may pair up into something wonderful.

Writing is Hard: How to Corral All Those Wild Ideas

“Where do you get your ideas from?”
From the land where questions don’t end on a preposition.

What happens when talking about a cliche becomes itself a cliche? One of the boons and curses of being a creative being is the never-ending stream of ideas that you’re forced to maneuver through on a daily basis. I think about how something like “writer’s block” is a fraught idea in our discipline. Some people say it doesn’t exist. Others say it’s very real and something debilitating. My experience has shown that “writer’s block” isn’t a lack of ideas, but an actual blockage, a dam of morsels all trying to flow from your brain into your pen at the same time.

It feels empty because nothing is coming out, but that’s only because it is overfull, not dry. There are already too many metaphors in this post. Or are they similes? I always get those mixed up. Have some more.

When an artists says they’re “out of ideas,” maybe they’re just overwhelmed with snippets and bits and don’t know which one to take hold. They’re not trying to find a needle in a haystack, the haystack is made of needles. Ideas are everywhere and every single one has the shape of “This is THE ONE” at a certain angle. The FOMO (fear of missing out, apparently) is real when it comes to all our little darlings. But what is the best solution for capturing and retaining all that creative gold? Here’s the twist:

1. Stop Looking for “The One”

This is the most important piece of advice I can give you. Stop trying to find a perfect system to categorize your ideas. Stop working with the latest apps and web sites that promise to streamline your life and make you more productive. Productive is seductive but I’m trying to be reductive. I’m making this point so can make that rhyme. Get those ideas down when and where you can. There’s no right way to collect. Instead, work on making a habit of collating your ideas.

2. Collate and Consolidate

Take a few minutes (I do this during an online call, or listening to a podcast) gather your pieces of paper, notebooks, notes on your phone, etc. and put everything into a single document (preferably one that is backed up). Don’t think about what you’ve written down at this point. This is merely rote transcription. Call it “SNIPPETS OF GREATNESS” and look it over once a week. The ritual of cleaning up the physical manifestation of your stray thoughts may have the effect of clearing your mind of detritus as well.

3. Review and Reflect

The last part of your collation routine should be to look over the most recent notes you’ve added in relation to the ones you’ve previously saved. Are there themes? Are there patterns? Do you have a recurring dream of being a small bear in a large bowl of oatmeal? (No? Just me?) Reflect on the ideas you’re having and see if there is something that your mind has been working on in the background. Perhaps that weird snippet has turned into a new novel idea, or the beginning of a piece of flash fiction. Reflection is your friend.

4. Live with Abandon…ment

Give yourself permission to get rid of ideas. Let the old ones that never spur you further than the rhythm of their sentence fall by the wayside. Keep them in the file, but let them live on the last page as forgotten little gems that you come back to in a year and think “wow, what the heck was going on with me when I wrote that?” Think of this file as part of your writing journey, a way to test out language and ideas before fully committing to them with your time.

I think this works best in conjunction with a “Writing Journal” which I will talk more about in my next post. By making this a regular habit (say ten minutes each week) you can not only de-clutter a bit of your surroundings, but de-clutter the creative flow in your mind as well, preventing an idea jam from bringing your work to a screeching halt.

Unless you’re plagued with beavers. Then there’s no hope for any of us.

Using Pinterest as a Mood Board for World building

There are a lot of articles online that discuss world building, whether you’re writing a YA fantasy novel (like me!) or creating your own immersive RPG table-top game. World building is an integral part of developing a realistic world for your readers and/or players to enjoy.

There are plenty of sites and apps to help you discover and catalog all of the elements of your unique realm. However, while I think a lot of writers find these tools helpful, I find them intimidating, at least in the early stages of writing. (They’re probably really helpful when creating a series bible, but I have ideas for that as well.)

I’m a simple girl and I love the simple idea of a screen full of pretty pictures. Enter my Pinterest “Map” Board (clever name, eh?) While at some point in my process I will need an actual map (people tend to travel a lot in fantasies and I need to keep them moving in the right direction) for now, this collage of images from a myriad of artists is all I need to be inspired, especially in the outlining stage.

I like to mix old and new, real and surreal, photography and illustration.

With the actual drafting just around the corner, for now, as I get the story down on paper, I want to get a sense of the visual ambiance of the lands and villages my characters will travel to and through. Where did they come from? What was there home like? What is special about the place they need to be? All of these questions not only help develop the setting for the story, but they are important to develop the character as well. A character that grew up in the mountains is vastly different than one who was raised near the ocean.

So when you’re looking for some geographical inspiration and want to get a bird’s-eye-view of your story’s world, you don’t necessarily have to start with the cartography, but take the tourist route and see the sights. Create a travel log of your character’s journey and see the world as they see it.

Then make your map, chart their course, and send them on their way.

Getting back on track by making writing a habit

Well, I wouldn’t have a blog at all if I couldn’t come here and talk about how unproductive I’ve been. This seems to be the central theme of my writing life up until now and during the dog days of summer, I’m determined to make a change.

I have realized that I like the idea of writing instead of the writing itself. And I’m probably not alone in this. Once I came to that realization, I broke it down.

What is it about the idea of writing that I like?

I like the feeling of accomplishment when I’ve finished a project: the “I love having written” syndrome.

What is it about the practice of writing that’s putting me off?

Finding solid chunks of time when I’m not pulled away by family distractions or even ambient sounds. It’s amazing how distracted I can become.

What can I do to merge the idea and the practice together?

This is the tough one, and it’s answer doesn’t necessarily solve all of my problems. I want to make sure I have that feeling of accomplishment while at the same time making the practice of writing part of my everyday routine. Of the countless articles and blogs I’ve read about being a more productive writer, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are XXX things that resonate throughout all the advice.

1) Guard your writing time ruthlessly

This is a no-brainer, but sometimes hard to put into practice. If free time were completely my own, this wouldn’t be an issue. But I have a family and that means obligations outside of myself and I thought this would be the hardest hurdle to jump. Yet I realized one simple but fatal flaw in my thinking: that I have to fit writing into my free time. Suggesting that writing is something outside of work or family, that it’s still somewhere in the realm of hobby and something that only gets done when there is free time was the nail in the coffin. My writing time has to be carved out of all of my time: my work, family, chores, etc. Writing time is work time and as I am corralled off during work hours, so too shall I be when I’m writing.

2) Find a writing spot (or multiple)

I can’t write well at home. The drive to distraction is short and full of obligation. What I can do is make time each morning to head to a local coffee shop and get a few words down. I enjoy writing longhand so I don’t even need WiFi or a power outlet for my Chromebook. The physical space of the “place I write” has a power all its own. I’ve tested this out a few times over the last couple of weeks and I am so surprised how focused I become. I’ve gotten my YA Fantasy novel almost completely outlined. (This also included a LOT of world building, so outlining the next books in the series should go smoother – I can hear you laughing at me 😉 )

3) Burn it into your muscle memory

Making writing a daily habit is essential for me. I find myself relying on routines, muscle memory, rote actions, whatever, to get most tasks done on a daily basis. In order for me to be productive (and remember, your mileage may vary) I have to take it on everyday. I understand that daily writing is not necessary, not even weekly writing. All writers have to do what suits them best. For myself, it has to be as important and routine as brushing my teeth or walking the dog. It’s has to be done, so it will be done. Granted, creating new habits doesn’t take the 21 days that we’ve been repeatedly told. It could take 90 days, or 10 days, or a year. Hopefully, it won’t take too long.

Well, there you have it, the three things I’ll be working on to get back and stay on track writing. Have you found yourself wavering in your commitment as well? What tricks do you have for staying on track and getting your words out?

Taking the Path

I wasn’t sure if I should start a writing blog or not. I don’t feel that I necessarily have any advice to give, or knowledge to impart to other writers. I’m at the beginning of my journey. What could I possibly say that would be useful to anyone?

Then I remembered how important it has been for me, in other areas, to have someone going through a similar situation as I am. Someone just as unsure of themselves and trying a new adventure. I remembered how nice it was to have a group of travelers, all learning together.

So that’s what I’m hoping to do here. I definitely want to blog how I write the first book in my series, especially now that I have the time to start the first draft. I want to share my success and failures with other writers and be part of a group that encourages each other. It’s fine if I’m talking into the emptiness at first, we all start somewhere.

If you clicked on this from Twitter, thank you. I appreciate you taking the time to read this short post and I hope at the very least you find me entertaining in the future.

-Bronwyn