First Draft Issue 6: For the love of notebooks
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been back to work on a novel revision that keeps getting interrupted by other projects. Every time I return to it, I not only have to remind myself where I left off but also get my head back into the world of the novel.
Which is why lately I’ve been extra grateful for my writing notebooks. I do the bulk of my writing on my laptop, but I always turn to my beloved notebooks when I get stuck in a draft or a revision, or when I want to test out an idea or I just want to play. It's probably because I grew up writing in journals — my own private place to unload my feelings and work things out. So writing by hand never carries the same kind of pressure that typing does.
In essence, my computer signals to me that it’s time to work, whereas a notebook signals it’s time to let loose.
As a nice side effect, my notebooks can be a lifesaver when I’ve been away from a project for a while and I’m not ready to dive directly into the manuscript. My notes grant me lower-stakes and quicker access back into my thought process, and they also remind me of my motivations for writing the book to begin with.
I almost never outline because my brain doesn’t work that way, but often I’ll ask myself a series of questions about a work-in-progress that I don’t think I’ve answered yet, or not deeply enough. And sometimes I even make a weird chart to try to better understand the relationships between certain characters as well as their actions.
For the literary murder mystery I’m revising, a few recent pages are devoted to the following questions:
What does Keri KNOW about Greg’s death?
What does she THINK about Greg’s death?
What does she NOT know?
What does she NOT WANT to know?
What does she WANT (in general)?
What does she DO (plot)?
Taking the time to scrawl and revisit these kinds of notes helps me really understand what I’m trying to do with a story. It allows me to deepen the characters and connect the plot points more strategically. And it never fails to spark a good number of new ideas — which is always amazing after who-knows-how-many revisions.
Another thing I’ve been appreciating lately about my notebooks is that even though I’m a bookbinder by hobby and I love a gorgeous handmade journal, the notebooks I use for creative writing are never fancy. In fact, I tend to buy the most basic, but sustainable, notebooks available, because the whole idea is that I don’t want them to feel precious or intimidating. I don’t want to worry about how nice my handwriting looks or what kind of pen to use. (The only important thing about a pen is that it writes smoothly so nothing feels like it's holding me back.)
I need my writing notebooks to be safe little workhorses, strictly utilitarian spaces where I can play and fail freely, where I never feel like I have to beautify or censor my words! My finished works deserve all the beautiful presentation they’ve been given, but I love that so much of my writing — arguably my favorite part — happens behind the scenes, for my own creativity and enjoyment, where it will most likely never be seen by anyone else.
The one exception so far is this incredibly thoughtful platter my sister had made for me when I got my deal for my debut novel — created from a page of notes in one of my notebooks. This, I keep proudly displayed in my dining room.
Whatever you're working on this week, I hope you're finding some playfulness and joy in it, too. And I look forward to next time!
P.S. Coincidentally, last night, after I finished a draft of this issue, my husband gave me a set of three new notebooks he got at a design conference!