Friday, April 15, 2011

Solving the Mystery of Writer's Notebooks

The first time I kept a writer's notebook was as part of a language arts class. I had my doubts at first but I ended up having a blast with it mainly because my professor refused to give any directions about how to go about keeping a writer's notebook. At the time this forced me to jump in feet first and just do whatever, which worked at the time.

It's been almost a year since I first started, and the more I write in my notebook the more I've started wondering if I'm doing it "right." Finally sick of wondering I downloaded a book on the subject. The moral of the story is, according to Ralph Fletcher the author of A Writer's Notebook, I was doing it right since there is actually no wrong way to keep a writer's notebook. However, I did learn a lot about where to get ideas that can go into a writer's notebook, which was actually what I was really having a problem with.

It turns out that just about anything can be fuel for a writer's notebook.

  • Ideas for stories- Last summer I was standing in the shower when I thought of a great idea for a story, and since I didn’t do anything to preserve the idea I forgot it, until yesterday that is. If I had taken the time to get out of the shower and write it down I wouldn’t have almost lost it forever.

  • I wonders- I wonder… what would happen if cars could fly… what the Hanging Gardens of Babble looked like… who makes the world’s best ice cream. Everyone has questions they want to know the answer to, and those answers could lead to an amazing story.

  • Images in your mind- Day dreams, nightmares, the perfect bedroom. Interesting images pop into our minds when they wonder, but sometimes they’re not as random as they seem. When you’re struggling to get come up with a story idea you may regret not writing down all the details of that perfectly sizzling dream you had two weeks ago on a Thursday.

  • Overheard conversations- People say the darndest things when they think no one is listening. I always bring my writer’s notebook with me to class because of the funny things my students say.

  • Lists- I used to wonder what sorts of things a person (say a 23 year old young woman with snakes for hair and a truly nasty attitude) would need to survive on her own (say in a post nuclear war U.S.). Then I did a little research, and now I have a list of about twenty different provisions, ranging from a tent to a filtered water bottle, that I can either choose from or discard.

  • Memories- For me one of the hardest things to get right in a story is the emotions a character is experiencing, so I whenever I’ve had a particularly vivid experience I jot down what it felt like so when I’m writing a scene with a similar feel to it I can reference my own experiences. It’s like having your own encyclopedia of emotions.

  • Letters- If you could write a letter to anyone who would it be? A long lost love, an enemy, a celebrity, a fictional character? This is a serious question since you really can write to anyone because nowhere in the rules of life, the universe, and everything does it say that you have to send every letter you write. So go ahead let it all out, and then stick it in your notebook for later.

  • Pictures- My favorite thing to put in my writer’s journal is pictures. Sometimes it’s hard to verbally describe a scene or character, but having a picture close on hand that you can look at can make a world of difference. Plus, it’s lots of fun to search out just the right picture.

I don’t know if you got any good ideas for things to try in your writer’s notebook, but I certainly did. So now if you’ll excuse me I have some shiny new ideas to try out in my big black writer’s notebook.


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