Tuesday, October 19, 2010
A Writer's Notebooks
Readers often ask if I keep a journal, and my answer is 'not exactly.' Some writers use journaling to expand their thinking, to sketch and explore a character or a place or a plot in words. Since I am working on a story nearly every day, that kind of exploration goes right into the rough draft, not into a journal.
What I keep are notebooks. The difference between these and journals are that most of my notebooks contain random fragments. The notebooks on the above shelf, some of which go back twenty years, contain names and titles I might use one day; titles of books I wanted to read and books I liked; paragraphs from articles; cartoons; quotes--all sorts of random bits that felt worth noting.
What might seem odd is that I rarely open these once they are full. They feel, instead, like 'insurance,' in case I ever run out of ideas!
I choose notebooks with nice paper, usually small:
The one ongoing 'big' notebook (like the 3-ring pink one above) is for the book in progress. I start a new one for each new book; it holds lists of characters, chapter summaries, ongoing questions to myself ("What does this MEAN??"), title possibilities, etc. A few photos are tucked into that binder; these are from a place that appears in the story.
In the 'current' smaller notebooks go stray words, phrases, and titles that don't fit the current book but are probably zinging around for the next one. Also in the current books are bits from dreams, random doodles, cartoons, travel notes.
I might save a favorite cartoon (usually by Harry Bliss) or a note about a camera someone has mentioned:
The drawings usually emerge when I'm on the phone but my mind is still 'in the book,' so maybe I am doodling a scene from it, or just letting colors realign my thoughts:
On the right-hand page above, I was in Switzerland, looking out the window, thinking of the angel in The Unfinished Angel, and what that angel might see from her/his tower. I am not an illustrator, obviously; I am a doodler.
If you were to trawl through all my notebooks, I think you would be puzzled. You might wonder how all those random thoughts and drawings could possibly represent the mind of a writer. But here is how I think of them: they show some of the flotsam that floats in and out of my head, but the books I write are my attempt to shape something meaningful from all of that 'stuff.'
Do you keep a notebook? A journal?