Saturday, March 14, 2015

Writer's process & tools: paper notebooks

Writers are obsessed with each other's process. We always want to know how other authors do it, capture lightning in a bottle. Why we're obsessed with it, I'll talk about in another blog post. Today we're going to talk about tools.

For a while, a presentation on online tools for writers was a staple at many writers' conferences. There are still classes on Scrivener, of course. And I once saw a great class taught by mystery writer David Hewson on electronic tools he uses to manage all the reference work and imagery he needs to write his location based books.

Today, however, I'm going to talk about paper journals. Not because I'm anti-electronics but because I grew up in the era before computers, when creativity was mostly paper-based. I took notes by hand in school and college and to this day, my memory is keyed off the act of having written something down. Even though I write all my drafts on the laptop these days, I think through plotting and character on paper.

And anyone who uses paper to capture a creative process knows that it is an unsatisfactory medium, because inspiration doesn't come in a linear manner. Before long you have handfuls of loose scraps of paper with a few words written down on them. Pages of meaty stuff but what you need is to take bits of meaty stuff off this page and that page and put them together, and jettison the rest. I keep scratch Word documents of notes and snatches of dialogue and descriptions on my laptop but then it becomes hard to incorporate them into the paper notes. What is a creative person to do?

I tend to use spiral bound notebooks but then you're stuck with the order in which the pages appear. Three-ring binders seem too clunky to carry around, and then there's the dreaded rings themselves, always threatening to grab your fingers.

For a while, I had my hopes pinned on this little thing, called a Sorta. It's a binder without rings that lets you reorganize pages. You can get different kinds of paper for it: blank, lined, grids. It really looked promising but the company that makes it suspended production, I've been waiting for months and months for the product to go back on sale and, alas, I can't wait no longer. Which led me to this . . .

I read about these notebooks on Design Milk. Designers are know for using journals and notebooks to capture their creative thoughts as well as to plan new products or keep track of things for projects. The Action Method was designed by the Behance design/promotion company. According to Design Milk, "In essence, it’s the process of breaking down a project into three primary components: action steps (specific tasks; “do this”), reference (notes, sketches, research, links), and things on the backburner (“for later, but worth keeping”). It’s a creative procedural and organizational system designed to navigate brainstorm sessions into executable tasks – the equivalent of wrangling a chaotic ant swarm into a focused line." It started out as an online tool for designers but now exists only in the paper form. See the line of notebooks here.

Then there are plain paper journals. There are a lot of lovely options out there: Baron Fig, Leuchtturm (I bought some of these a few years back while in Europe; comes in a lovely assortment of colors); Piccadilly (which are a less expensive alternative to Moleskins, I've heard); Fiorentina (bought one in Italy to give to an artist relation); not to mention Field Notes (cute but a bit skimpy for writers).

Okay, now it's your turn: do you have a favorite notebook?


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