The Writer’s Magic Notebook

SAMSUNGI’m talking about a real notebook. The physical, paper kind of notebook.

Of course your laptop, iPad, or phone works for taking notes, but the writer’s magic notebook is for so much more than just taking notes.

Writers are a certain strain of artist. Like sculptors and painters, we are creatively tied to our hands. We tend to forget that fact in our brave new world of futuristic technology. But no matter how much we come to rely on computers it is always beneficial for writers to maintain that link between our mind and our hands.

This is the attitude I want you to bring to your writer’s magic notebook. It is not just a place to jot down notes. Think of it instead as an artist’s sketchpad. You’re going to use your notebook as a writing tool to explore environment, record experience, and practice the craft.

Here’s how you do it.

Pay Attention to Physical Fit
Many writers have already discovered their preference in notebooks. Some use Moleskins, some use the old-fashioned black and white composition notebook, some prefer pocket-sized with a flip top. If you’re not yet sure which type works for you, experiment with a few different options. Your notebook should comfortably fit into your schedule and your life. For instance, if you tend to travel light, go with something small and easy to carry. And if you have toddlers running around your house, go with something that can survive the assault of a two-year-old.

Paint a Picture
Choose a public place like a park, a Starbucks, or a subway station, and sit somewhere out of the way with your magic notebook. Observe everything around you and “sketch” the scene out with words. You can practice creating vivid physical descriptions by noting the details of dress, facial expression, and overall appearance of the people, and the weather, lighting, and overall ambiance of the location. Pretend this sketch of yours will be read by a good friend who needs an exact picture of this place and these people.

Indulge in Eavesdropping
If you frequently ride the bus you can get lots of practice dropping in on conversations. You can also do this as part of the exercise above. Listen to the conversations going on around you and write them down. Fragments work too. Note the rhythm of voices and the emotional tone. Pay attention to the way people use slang and abbreviations. This is an excellent way to improve your skills at writing dialogue, and you might even come out of it with some story ideas as well.

Share the Love
I had a couple of writer friends in Seattle who used to keep one notebook together, and pass it back and forth. One person started a storyline, trailed off with a cliffhanger, and then handed it on to the second person to continue the story. They would do this for months and then finally, when the notebook was almost full, they wrote the ending and read the whole thing out loud. It was an amazing narrative every time. Pick one of your best writer friends and experiment with this process. It takes the pressure off and allows the silly, fun part of your writer brain to come out and play.

Always Write It Down
For some reason, I seem to get my best ideas right before I fall asleep. I always think to myself, “I should really get up and write this down. Nah, I’m sure I’ll remember it in the morning.” And you know what? I never remember. Because our writer brains present ideas to us so vibrantly and they seem so alive, it’s hard to believe in the moment that they could ever fade. Until a new, vibrant and alive idea comes along and pushes it out of the way. Our brains only have room for so much to swirl around in the forefront of our consciousness. Always keep your writer’s magic notebook near you, and when you get a brilliant idea, always write it down.

Think of your magic notebook like a doctor’s medical bag, or a CEO’s cell phone. As a writer, you’re always on call and the call could come at any time. Part of being a great artist is being prepared.

Buy a magic notebook. Keep it near you. Write it down.

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