Monday, May 8, 2017

What's in My Notebooks?

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I advocate filling a notebook a month as a great way to keep yourself writing—especially if you don’t have immediate deadlines. But even if you do have deadlines, filling the notebook keeps ideas flowing and gives you a place to vent if you are stuck.

          For about 15 years, I filled a notebook a month, but as I wrote more pieces for publication, I filled a notebook only every two or three months. I loved having a place to jot down thoughts, feelings, happenings, etc., but I wasn’t disciplined about it again until this January when I resolved to go back to filling a notebook a month.

          I started with an 80-page notebook in January—because 100 pages was too daunting—and wrote 21,598 words. I had no daily set amount of pages or word count. With a week left to finish, I had 38 pages to fill. I did it, but it wasn’t fun. I also wrote very sloppily in larger handwriting than usual.

Obviously I stayed with the 80-page notebook in February. I wrote almost every day, but still had 19 pages to fill the last week. Again, I filled it, but wasn’t as helpful because I just jammed stuff in it. Total word count was 25,574. Not being as rushed, I wrote less sloppily so more room for words.

In March, I again went with the 80-page notebook, but this time I tried to fill 2-3 pages every day. This was much more helpful to all my writing projects as I had space to think about topics, come up with ideas, and whine when writing wasn’t going well. I wrote 26,203 words.

Feeling more comfortable with my new habit, I switched to a 100-page notebook in April and wrote 35,006 words. My goal was 1,000 words a day, but I ended up averaging 1,167. I looked forward to writing in my notebook. It wasn’t a chore or a resolution anymore.

What do I write about in my notebooks?

I rage or regale about my writing projects. Work on titles for current pieces. Consider new projects. I also work on plots. Copy down quotes I love from books I’m reading. Jot down notes whenever I see an author being interviewed on TV as well as any thoughts I want to ponder—and then I ponder.

I write down observations about people, pets, nature, TV, and books as these often lead to posts for this blog or thoughts for my Editor’s Viewpoint column or my Facebook essays for the magazines or sometimes because they are funny. For example, out to dinner with three writing friends, we simultaneously stopped talking to listen to the conversation at the next table. The foursome was getting into a heated discussion about whether an evening can be enchanted or not. I don’t know how the topic came up, but it was fascinating. They got up to leave so we rushed to pay our bill so we could continue to eavesdrop in the parking lot. They were still going at it as they got in their car and left. We stood in the parking lot and laughed at ourselves for being such writers but how could we resist listening to such passion about a description of a night.

Nature gives great copy on walks or even when I look out my office window. There is a 25-foot tall trumpet vine growing up an evergreen tree. Every summer, several Ruby-throated hummingbirds visit to drink their fill of nectar from the dozens and dozens of bright orange blossoms putting on a colorful show. Then there was a black butterfly that played with our puppy for over five minutes fluttering just out of reach back and forth in the side yard. At first I was worried the puppy would hurt the butterfly, but he/she flew up and around over and over again to the pup’s delight only leaving when the adult dogs arrived to see what the commotion was all about.

I’m also very human in my notebooks. I write about my feelings, whether happy, sad, or angry, putting things into perspective.

If you give yourself space and permission, you will find yourself writing pages and pages. None of it goes to waste. Even if nothing appears in other formats (a rare thing), filling these notebooks increases your writing speed, improves your observation skills, and clarifies your thoughts.

This is why I recommend filling a notebook a month and also reading Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. Her essays about the writing life and her life are engaging and full of wonder. The author of ten writing books and novels, her writing practice is filling up a notebook a month for about forty years. This book made me a much better writer because writing begets writing.

Start filling your own notebooks now!

Word count for week of April 30-May 6 was 11,034.

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