Writing in Notebooks


Well-Known Member
Jan 14, 2017
Staffordshire, UK
This makes me think I should write in nice notebooks instead of in scrappy pads, on scraps of paper or on my phone:

Lots of people sharing photos of their lovely notebooks:

I enjoy reading bothy books, full of writing and drawings from a range of people, sometimes over decades. I kept the exercise book I used for my Geography GCSE revision notes, as I liked my drawings of volcanoes and other geographical things. :D

Do you have special notebooks or are they more of a functional thing?
I used to carry a notebook around with me all the time. I used it to scribble down ideas, character studies and snippets of dialogue I had heard. I was so upset when I lost it.
I ran a short session on this topic at the Writers' Lab in Shrewsbury Library a few months ago - it was really interesting to hear all the responses. Most people do have a strong relationship with their notebooks. I certainly do! Many of mine are re-purposed. And every single one is kept.

Interesting... So did John Doe in the movie Se7en :confused:


I make sure I get a notepad monthly and bring it with me almost wherever I go. I use it for flash fiction, story ideas, esoteric ideas facts, lesser-known words and their definitions, and lists.
Lots of people sharing photos of their lovely notebooks:

Wow, gorgeous Twitter thread!

I used to journal way back in my 20s, then I stopped. I've never done any writing notebooks - tend to go the scrap paper route - but one of the teens from the writing group I lead at the library showed me hers last month and I've been getting the itch to start one. Thanks for sharing Alex!
I write memos on my phone when I'm on the skite and keep a mass of folders and files on my laptop (all backed up regularly). Ten years ago, I would've sworn I'd always be a pen 'n' paper kind of guy. How the world changes!
Big fan of notebooks here. I've been using them all my life. Choosing a notebook, buying it, opening a new one, these are activities that are a kind of writerly bon-bon.

On a more practical level, I do a great deal of early writing--this includes writing snippets of scenes, character sketches, outlines, dialogue, world-building notes, journaling, and so on. All of it goes in no particular order.

I do two important things. One, I date the notebook itself on the outside, so I can easily see where it belongs with the other hundred or two notebooks (didn't do this with the early ones), and I date every entry, regardless of type. I'm not entirely sure why I date each entry except to say I'm a historian and it just feels better that way.

The other important thing is that I type up what is in the notebook--sometimes every day, sometimes once a week or even less. But the longer I go, the more there's this itch that won't go away until I type it up. I don't enter material verbatim. Rather, I take what's there and do an initial edit, cleaning up, tidying up. I don't edit for content much, but I'll remove an idea I wrote only to decide after writing it that it wouldn't work. That sort of thing. In short, what goes into my Scrivener files is clearer and more useful than what's in the raw notebooks. So losing a notebook is a misfortune, but not a catastrophe.

Oh, and one other thing: one notebook at a time. I've gone years where I've had multiple notebooks, grabbing whatever was to hand. Making sense out of those is a mess.
I like to write on the train on the way to work. Doing so in a notebook is easier than starting my laptop. After I've written around ten pages I transfer the story to my computer. This acts as a first round of editing and makes the editing I have to do at the end feel easier.
Hemmingway loved his moleskin. Tolkien started Lord of the Rings seeder ideas in his notebook while in the trenches of World War 1.
W. Somerset Maugham, Mark Twain, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Joan Didion, and John Steinbeck as well.
Sometimes when I’m just falling asleep an idea, especially for the writing challenges, will occur to me. I always think ‘you’ll remember that in the morning’. I never, ever do. I should keep a notebook next to the bed.
My notebook is everything at the moment. It lives by my bed as I do a lot of free thinking before bed and then tend to dream on it and write more in the morning. The second I try to do that on a computer it loses the magic. Its nothing but chicken scratch with sketches and lots of things crossed out as I've edited and honed things in. I'm actually nearing the final pages of this one and shall soon have to purchase another. It gives me a sense of accomplishment to fill an entire journal with my thoughts.
I used to like them, but I find it hard to start them now. It's that empty page that does me in.

About the only thing I use them for now is scribbling notes while I'm doing other things, very little creativity involved.
I have spiral notebooks full of ideas, and scraps of scenes, and phrases that I like. Not everything gets used in the end, but I like it better that way than losing something wonderful I could have used if I could just have remembered it.

I used to have steno-pads in which I would write down all of the above, as well as long scenes, plots for novels, etc. but I eventually advanced to the larger-sized spiral bound notebook, which moreover came in different colors so that I could identify them later. (Presuming I remembered which color notebook I had written that bit I sort of remembered and wanted to find, by the time I wanted to find it. And even if I could remember if it was in a blue notebook instead of a red, green, or black, by that time I had several blue notebooks anyway.)

But I also have dedicated files in my computer where I type in the same sort of thing. These tend to get printed up and put in three ring binders. Or when I feel a whole scene coming on out of order, I'll type it into the computer, print it up on paper, and pop it into a color-coded file folder so that I can easily find it (ha! as if that always works—but I do find it eventually) when the time comes to use it in the story.

It's not wonderfully organized, but it is better than the old days when I would just scribble things down on loose pieces of paper, with no system for finding them again at all. I've got a box or so of those, and that's not counting all the pieces of paper with brilliant thoughts and ideas that were probably lost because I didn't have the sense in those days to store them in binders or folders. Why didn't I have the sense? Nobody knows to this day. Then one summer I went to visit a husband and wife pair of writers, and she showed me all the binders in which she kept her ideas. And I said to myself, "Binders! What a clever idea. How did I fail to think of that for myself?"

The binders are even organized with labeled tabs, But they get full and I have to start another one, and so when it comes time to find something I have to remember which binder I put it in. Sometimes, though, I use photo albums to keep things in. The have the three rings, but they also have cloth covers in patterns that help me remember what is inside. Like the ones with stars and moons, that obviously contain notes on magic.

I love going to office supply stores to stock up on all these things. It makes me feel like I am buying organization. Forget about developing a system, just buy some lovely folders in those brand new colors and all will be well . . .
I have q bullet journal, but don't use it for writing. I have a writing notebook I use in different ways, at the moment I spend a lot of time staring at blank pages of story. When this happens I writ lists and short bits of worldbuilding in my notebook to rev my brain up
It's strange to me that people speak of staring at a blank page. The moment I have pen in hand, I start writing. It might be what happened yesterday, might be speculation on a plot point, or it might be whining about how stuck I am. It might even be doodles. But something always starts happening, more or less right away.

I'm more likely to stare at an empty page on a computer screen. IMO, it's the severely linear nature of typing that causes me to stop dead, trying to find the next words. With paper, I just start doodling until the next words come. Or I scribble out a phrase. I interlineate (try *that* on a computer). At the computer, I just sit there, mere moments away from checking email or, er, posting on ... well, you know ... forums.

Gotta go!