The Writer’s Notebook

When I was in my undergraduate program at The College of St. Catherine, my writer professor, Jonis Agee, recommended keep a writer’s notebook. This was a simple take-it-with-you pad to record items. In the days before Pinterest, this was a way to collect things to enrich a current or future creative writing project.

  • Place names
  • Unusual people names
  • Description of things that grow: wildflowers, names and types of trees, crops, weeds, deadly poisonous things
  • Odd news items that might become a story. News of the Weird snippets are so bizarre they are great for story prompts.
  • Song lyrics
  • Poems
  • Dreams
  • Mannerisms
  • Science facts
  • Jokes
  • Smells
  • Textures
  • Sounds
  • Photographs that inspire a story
  • Photographs of people that look like your characters
  • Quotes
  • Bumper stickers
  • Words I’d like to incorporate into my vocabulary

The idea is to train yourself to be an observer and an explorer in the world. More importantly, it’s a memory aid. How often do you see something and think, I’m going to use this in my story, only to find later out you can’t remember it?

Once I found myself in a bar on Madeline Island on Lake Superior. A guy at the bar stool next to me told me his first job as a teenager was at a meatpacking plant. One of the older workers instructed him how to correctly caress a woman’s breast, demonstrating his technique on the livers they had extracted as part of the meat rendering process. I said to him, “Do you mind if I write this down?”

What’s in my latest notebook?
I have a whole page of teeth: peg, baby, yellowed, chipped, straightened, rabbit, gopher, capped, chicklet, bulldog, crowded.

I have a page devoted to man smells: campfire smoke, leather, motor oil, coffee, freshly turned dirt, baseball glove, machine grease, bay run shaving soap, aqua velvet, newsprint, shoe polish, saw dust, pipe smoke, old spice, gun cleaning solvent.

Search out the perfect notebook that inspires you. I love the moleskin covers and avoid spiral notebooks. Or update your process and get an app to record all of your collectables. The important part is that it is with you at critical moments.

Make sure to check out my novel here.