Writer’s Notebook

Writer’s Notebook

My motivation for beginning a writer's notebook came from reading R. V. Cassill’s article “Notebooks and Lists.”

It should go without saying that fiction writers keep notebooks. Notebooks … ought to be WORKBOOKS where the entries are constantly amended, developed and put in new combinations. They are, for the writer, what sketchbooks are to the painter – a place to begin and continue the labors of composition before one is quite sure what stories may emerge from the compositional process.

Cassill Suggests Gathering The Following For Your Notebook:

  • The concrete data of colors, shapes and names – and the way things work
  • Seize the overheard lines of dialogue that characterize and evoke the sense of a person, situation a time, a place, a moral climate.
  • Sift incidents from the evening ness, from gossip (a la Henry James)
  • Enter the words and phrases that seem to rise of themselves from the stimuli of nature, play, parties, ceremonies and labor.
  • Accumulate a list of phrases – a verbal savings account

He cautions: Only be sure that what you put into your notebooks really has grabbed your imagination.

He Suggests Dual Purposes For A Notebook:

  1. Writers work FROM their notebooks when they begin or when they flesh out their stories.
  2. More importantly, writers also work IN their notebooks, constantly shifting and combining, reviewing and recombining what their observant senses have found.

His Favorite Author Notebooks:

  • Cyril Connolly: The Unquiet Grave
  • W.H. Auden: A Certain World
  • Chekhov
  • Hawthorne
  • Woolf

Creating My Own Notebook

Armed with Cassill’s details and guidelines, I set about creating my own notebook in 2010.

I took his observations, added my own spin, and cracked open a fresh marble composition notebook. (You gotta love the ready supply and low cost of a simple Mead notebook).

That first handwritten notebook was pretty messy but it also had a rather chaotic appeal much like a child’s first finger-painting.

It was an exhibition of the kind of matchless creative free form that comes when the brain is allowed to wander at will and embrace wonder.

As my notebook progressed, two items raised their knobby heads:

  1. I wanted to make the contents searchable
  2. I wanted to transcribe the contents into a digital format

That lead me to create a format that would work equally well on paper and the screen.

I continue to use that format to this day.



Maintaining a writing notebook is the single smartest thing I’ve done as a writer.

It allows me to:

  1. Assess my creative PROCESS
  2. Track my PROGRESS on an ongoing projects
  3. PROVIDE a record of my writing aspirations and accomplishments and my creative psyche

Cassill says of W. H. Auden’s notebook ‘A Certain World’: It contains his gleanings from many years of reading. It is a shining revelation of the poet’s imagination at play – in the play of discovery – and that is what your must try to make of your notebook.

Auden himself described the book as the closest he would ever come to writing an autobiography; it was, he wrote, “a map of my planet.” (source)

May you begin to create maps of your planets that faithfully and lovingly represent your passion for the written word.

Until they strip me of my pen and paper – I remain ardently yours,

Lady Bullish, Rogue Inkslinger