A writer’s notebook is STEP ONE of my writing process.
Throughout my college writing career, I was encouraged (forced really) to use a writer’s notebook. I seriously hated the cheap composition notebooks we were supposed to use for the class. They never held up for me. I tend to be a bit heavy handed, a trait I get completely from my dad, and so I quickly found that the seventy-five cent notebooks weren’t lasting the way a good writer’s notebook should. I tried using them but quickly found that I wouldn’t use it if it didn’t feel right, which they never did. The pages were too thin, too large, to standard student for me to feel creative when using it. I needed something that sang to my writer soul. So I did what every good writer does–
I went to Target.
I’m almost certain that I went to the store to buy something completely different, but, as tends to happen in Target, I left with more than I came for. I bought my first every designated writer’s notebook. It was last July and I was about to start a new project. Every time I start a new book I decide on one new thing to focus on about my writing. Description. Characterization. Dialogue. Scene shifts. Writing action. — All of these are things I’ve focused on in the past for certain projects. For this book, Not Enough Soul, I wanted to work on novel planning and teach myself to work on both a deadline and a mapped plot. I started with a notebook and I have never looked back.
In the past my writing professor, Dr. Davis, always had us keep a notebook per writing class. In this notebook, we compiled all of our notes, drafts, and thoughts about whatever it was we were writing. For instance, our poetry notebook contained our ten required poems, as well as drafts and notes on the creative process.
I always struggled with genuinely doing that because I felt like my best work was done electronically, not on the page. I liked the crisp, clean Word Document. I could backspace and quickly fix mistakes without needing to mess up a page or rewrite the work completely.
The downside to this is that you can’t really see the process of getting to the end piece. You can “track your changes” using computer technology, but it still isn’t quite the same as seeing your mistakes and progressively how you fixed them–or learned to avoid them altogether. There is just something nice about being able to see your growth as a writer visually, which is definitely one of the main pros of a writer’s notebook.
It didn’t take me long to realize that I really needed a notebook. Sometimes your don’t realize how much you were missing something until you have it. I wrote seven of my almost ten novels without using a notebook. Five of those books are The Kayla Chronicles. The difference in how I handled writing the last of The Kayla Chronicles books, Throne Over, and how I wrote Not Enough Soul, is ridiculous. It is honestly a little embarrassing how little planning and organization I had for those five books, especially when it is considered that they are fantasy and required quite a bit of world-building (a lot of which I didn’t even bother to do because I just didn’t know how).
Oh man, was I inexperienced and stupid! But, it is okay. Let me help you.
I write everything in my notebook. It goes where I go. I have a small purple bag of pens and pencils and it goes with me everywhere as well. I take notes constantly. The notebook usually starts out with a list of known characters, their ages and perhaps a description. I then work out the relationship between each character on that list. Are there nicknames that only certain characters can call each other? For instance, in
For instance, in Not Enough Soul, one of my characters, Charlie, is the only person who calls his sister by the pet name, Haddie. Everyone else calls her by her actual name, which is Hadley. This is in the notes, which in turn assists me in remaining consistent. It also can help with smaller details such as spelling. In the first Kayla Chronicles book, Astridia, there is a character named, Aiden. I wasn’t using a notebook when I wrote this novel and there are numerous places where I spelled his name “Aidan” or “Aedin” because I couldn’t remember and didn’t have it written down. He was a minor character and I just didn’t think to keep up with it. Things like that go away when it is written down for future reference. Details like who is tallest in a group, what color eyes someone has, and whether or not a side character has siblings is important, even if it doesn’t seem that way.
There is no such thing as an unimportant character otherwise they would not be in the book at all. Every person that is added to a story serves some sort of purpose, even if that purpose is small. Readers want to feel connected to every single character you mention. If they are meant to remember them, give them reasons why they should. If you can’t even remember their hometown then why would anyone else bother to? I’m preaching to the choir here (Listen to yourself, Brianna. You hear this? Pay attention). Every character needs something that makes them real.
I was taught that vague details make for vague stories. Be specific about who your characters are. What do they want? What will happen if they don’t get it? Who do they love most? Why? Who is their best friend? What do they typically eat for breakfast?Breathe air into their paper lungs and turn them into people with lives.
My best friend, Kayleigh, was living her own life before we met and she didn’t stop living it when I showed up. We became friends and our individual lives intertwined and overlapped, but she didn’t story being herself. Everyone is the star of their own story. Side characters don’t realize that they are side-characters. They are really just living their lives alongside your protagonist.
A writer’s notebook makes this possible. It gives a writer the space to create more than just 200 pages worth of story. I treasure the notebooks that I have because they are the deleted scenes of my story. They contain everything that did happen, should have happened, might have happened and perhaps will happen, in the story. It contains all the details that I am far too scattered brained to remember.
So much of my writing journey thus far has been me teaching myself. I watch youtube videos, read self-help books, follow blogs, spend every free second writing and trying to improve my writing. I am constantly learning. I am nowhere near the writer I want to one day be, but I take a step closer to it every time I write.
In general, having a writer’s notebook has taught me that my first seven books are good, but could have been great with a notebook. I could have gotten to my destination faster if I’d been wise enough to bring along a map. This time around I plan to.
I’m currently in the planning process to rewrite the first book in The Kayla Chronicles, Astridia. I intend to blog quite a bit about the process since I’ll be doing things differently and I’ve learned so much about myself as a writer since I wrote that book in 2014.
Hello! My name is Brianna Joy Crump and I am a twenty-two-year-old writer from Raleigh. North Carolina. I am a recent graduate from Gardner-Webb University where I received my BA in English with an emphasis in creative writing. While in college, I wrote nine and a half novels, as well as multiple short stories and a handful of poems. I am currently rewriting one of my novels and hoping to pursue agents and publishing come the fall. For more information, feel free to contact me on social media or check out my website.