On keeping a notebook

A writer’s notebook is often seen to be a thing of mystery and – possibly depending on the writer – a thing of wisdom. I’m here to dispel both theories.

People often ask me about my notebook as if it is somehow a secret worth uncovering. And, I have to say that,  when I begin to write, I like the idea of having a pritine and beautiful notebook in which I will record all of my wonderful story ideas and pieces of writing. In fact, I even go out and buy a notebook before I begin writing a new book, perhaps hoping that the newness of the notebook will cause me to be more inspired and my writing to be more inspiring.

The reality is that, while I do use the new notebook, it is by no means the only place in which my thoughts are jotted. I actually have a slew of notebooks hidden in various places because I have a terrible memory and I know, from long experience of chasing forgotten ideas that, if I don’t write it down, I’ll never remember it. And of course, the pristine, new notebook is rarely on hand when the ideas come, because it is usually sitting in all its pristine newness on my desk in my study.

So, I also have a notebook – a small spiral bound thing that someone gave me as a present years ago – in the drawer of my bedside table. This is because my ideas have an annoying habit of arriving just as I’m about to go to sleep and I hate getting out of bed for anything other than a crying baby once I’m all tucked up. The problem is, the baby has decided that, of all the things in the house, the notebook in my bedside table drawer is his favourite toy. He is often to be found sitting on my bedroom floor with a pen in hand and the notebook on the floor in front of him, scribbling away, shouting ‘book!’, ‘book!’, at the top of his voice. As a consequence, all my wonderful pre-sleep ideas have to be deciphered from between layers of scribble.

I also keep a notebook in my handbag because, when I’m sitting down supposedly watching one of my daughters’ ballet classes, I will start having ideas for my book. This notebook looks the part – it is a Moleskine, the black leather bound notebooks favoured by writers such as Ernest Hemingway. Again, mine was given to me many years ago and has found its way into my handbag simply on account of its size rather than its pedegree – it’s small and light and, given how much space in my handbag is taken up by kids’ water bottles, food, stickers, textas and other necessities, the smallness and lightness are its best attributes. Of course the baby likes this notebook too and usually starts grabbing it out of my hands for scribbling paractice the instant I begin to write in it.

I’ve also been known to write ideas on the back of shoppping receipts, on those free notepads that real estate agents have a habit of leaving in my letterbox, and many other equally unglamourous places. So no, I don’t have a set of matching notebooks in which I write everything, my notebooks are not numbered and dated and nicely ordered, and they are certainly not legible to anyone other than me as, for someone who dares call themself a writer, I have the most terrible handwriting. But I keep them all. I can’t bear to part with them and sometimes, when I really need to, I like to go back and look through them and marvel at how, a few words scrawled on the back of a parking ticket, can turn into a character or a chapter or the plot twist that you’ve been searching for for months.

Where do you write? Are you a notebook keeper or do you have some other secret stash of ideas? Please share …


  1. Oh dear, I can relate to the toddler scribblings well! The other place I have a notebook is (warning, terribly writer-geek-like moment ahead) in the shower … a waterproof notebook. The shower has always been one of the places ideas hit me most often (as well as the swimming pool, but that’s a bit trickier to accessorise with a notebook and not look like a total idiot) and my mother once gave me the perfect gift of some waterproof notebooks. Confession over 😉

    • I would love a waterproof shower notebook – I always get ideas there too, which I imagine is because it’s the one time of day when everything is quiet and I have no kids asking me for things. I wonder if you could tie a notebook to your swimming goggles or stash it in your swimming cap for the pool!!!

  2. I have to say that I have similar habits to you! I have a stash of notebooks, with ideas jotted down, rarely filled all the way before I grab fresh pages in a new notebook for “inspiration.” I have receipts, envelopes, scrap papers and index cards with sentences and lines scribbled.
    Sometimes, my notebooks are just as mysterious to me as they are to my friends and family – I will pick up a notebook from years ago and start rereading, having absolutely forgotten what I wrote inside. It’s always seemingly new inspiration for my next writing jaunt!

    • There’s nothing better than finding something lurking in an old notebook that makes you think: that’s not bad, I could do something with that. I guess that ‘s why we keep all our scribbles, regardless of how ridiculous they might seem at the time.

  3. Sheldon Ang

    I can be the most disorganised person – messy, chaotic, and careless with my paperwork. And to the naked eye, my handwriting (more like gibberish) resembles somewhere in between Hieroglyphics and Arabic, and maybe a touch of Hiragana. It would make a GP’s handwriting looking more like a calligraphist’s penmanship – therefore, a notebook is out of the question for me.

    So I’ve embraced the new era by using my mobile phone (yeah right, “new era” – I hear you say), and I text to myself on any thoughts and ideas (well, I save them as draft) that come about. After all, my six year old nephew uses his I-pad to record everything, so I guess I’m ingratiating myself with “the times”, although I feel I’ve taken away the romance of traditional note taking, don’t you think?

    • I use my phone too – I use the recording function and I record ideas if I have them when I’m driving because I feel that’s less dangerous than scribbing a note. I’m sure the police still wouldn’t accept writerly inspiration as an excuse though if I ever get caught!

  4. Yep, have to agree with the hand writing, sorry Tash =D
    I’ve got an A4 notebook that I do all my serious writing in (then I transcribe it to the PC, adding and embelishing), I’ve got A5 notebook that sleeps in my uni bag and then I’ve got a little 3×6″ memo book that lives in my back pocket
    However, sometimes I can’t work out what the HELL I was on to when I go back and re-read previous notes, hehe, the words are legible, I just forget to write down a context or a setting or something key like that =S

    • Yes, handwriting is not one of my skills – imagine how bad I feel now that I’m having to teach my daughter how to write letters and words. It is one area in which I’m definitely not setting a good example!

  5. No artist should be without a notebook.

  6. I have a drawer full of beautiful but empty notebooks, waiting for the plotline of a best-selling novel, gifts from well-meaning friends…

    The one I regularly use is one of those pocket-size spiral bound thingies that fits in the inside pocket of my handbag with my phone and pen. I use it for blog post ideas, funny things my kids say, things I overhear, story ideas and things to go on the shopping list.

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