Writer's Notebook

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

writer's notebook
"Always carry a notebook," says English author WIll Self. "And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever.". (Mat Denney/Getty Images)

 

A writer's notebook is a record of impressions, observations, and ideas that may eventually serve as the basis for more formal writings, such as essays, articles, stories, or poems.

As one of the discovery strategies, a writer's notebook is sometimes called a writer's diary or journal.

See Examples and Observations, below. Also see:

Examples and Observations

  • "Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea forever.”
    (Will Self, quoted by Judy Reeves in A Writer’s Book of Days, 2010)
     
  • "The daybook is a record of my intellectual life, what I'm thinking and what I'm thinking about writing."
    (Donald M. Murray, A Writer Teaches Writing (Houghton Mifflin, 1985)
     
  • A Place to Record Reactions
    "Writers react. And writers need a place to record those reactions.

    "That's what a writer's notebook is for. It gives you a place to write down what makes you angry or sad or amazed, to write down what you noticed and don't want to forget, to record exactly what your grandmother whispered in your ear before she said good-bye for the last time.

    "A writer's notebook gives you a place to live like a writer, not just in school during writing time, but wherever you are, at any time of day."
    (Ralph Fletcher, A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You. HarperCollins, 1996)
     
  • The Essential Writer's Notebook
    "The Essential Writer's Notebook is a place where you keep your hand moving, even if you think you have nothing to say. Stop your daydreaming; put pen to paper. Trust yourself. Write whatever is on your mind. Write what you see, taste, feel. Write about what's in front of your face--the man with a red nose and bushy black hair and a dachshund on a leash; the way he keeps his left hand at his waist and guides the dog with the right. The spruce by the curb, the red Pontiac that drives by. It is a November afternoon and the world is almost dull except that you notice and record it. That single act makes it alive and wakes you up. . . .

    "Pay tribute to all the everyday and extraordinary things. Everything's essential; every thing belongs in the pages of this notebook."
    (Natalie Goldberg, The Essential Writers Notebook: A Step-By-Step Guide to Better Writing. Peter Pauper Press, 2001)
     
  • Diaries vs. Notebooks
    "The writer's notebook is a sourcebook of collected insights and a testing ground for ideas. . . . [I]t's important to know the differences between this sort of notebook and a diary, so that you avoid making entries that will not help you. A diary is a daily record of events. It is for recording everything that happens. A writer's notebook, on the other hand, is for recording only special perceptions that might serve as the core statements of essays. These insights may arise from the particular way in which you view something that occurred during the day, from your response to some book, or simply from an unsummoned idea that pops into your head. To illustrate:
    Diary: Finished reading Norman Mailer's book about Gary Gilmore.
    Writer's Notebook: Mailer ennobles the killer Gary Gilmore in his book. This shows how naif Mailer is.
    The most satisfying part of maintaining a writer's notebook is that it becomes a record of how your perceptions change and grow over time."
    (Adrienne Robins, The Analytical Writer: A College Rhetoric, 2nd ed. Collegiate Press, 1996)
     
  • Revisiting Notebook Entries
    "Writer's notebooks lean toward the chaotic. Unless they're airlifted out, jottings tend to get recorded and forgotten, like last year's holiday cards. In Turning Life Into Fiction, Robin Hemley suggests leafing back through your notebook (he calls his a journal) from time to time. As when panning for gold, you might get nuggets and you might get gravel. But then again, you could be making a driveway, and a few loads of gravel might be just what you need."
    (Judy Reeves, A Writer's Book of Days: A Spirited Companion and Lively Muse for the Writing Life. New World Library, 2010)
     
  • Anton Chekhov's Notebook
    "Like many writers, Chekhov filled his notebook not only with large observations about philosophy and life in general--ideas of the sort that never appear in his stories except in the mind of a character, the pompous, the self-deluded, the disappointed, or the hopeful about to be disappointed--but also with minute trivia of the sort that might have made it into one of his stories or plays: 'A bedroom. The light of the moon shines so brightly through the window that even the buttons on his night shirt are visible' and 'a tiny little schoolboy with the name of Tractenbauer.' His letters stress the importance of the single, well-chosen detail."
    (Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer. Harper, 2006)
     
  • From W. Somerset Maugham's Writer's Notebook
    "'Oh, I should hate to be old. All one's pleasures go.'

    "'But others come.'

    "'What?'

    "'Well, for instance, the contemplation of youth. If I were your age I think it not improbable that I should think you a rather conceited and bumptious man: as it is I consider you a charming and amusing boy.'

    "I can't for the life of me remember who said this to me. Perhaps my Aunt Julia. Anyway I'm glad I thought it worth making a note of."
    (W. Somerset Maugham, A Writer's Notebook. Doubleday, 1949)
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    Nordquist, Richard. "Writer's Notebook." ThoughtCo, Mar. 26, 2017, thoughtco.com/writers-notebook-1692512. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, March 26). Writer's Notebook. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/writers-notebook-1692512 Nordquist, Richard. "Writer's Notebook." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/writers-notebook-1692512 (accessed January 20, 2018).