Writer in Progress: The Writer’s Idea Book, Submission Notebook, and You

Much of what we do as writers is onscreen. While Word files, attachments, and screenshots are excellent tools, one of the resources my writing students tell me they appreciate most is as three-dimensional and tactile as they come: the notebook.

In fact, there are two kinds of notebooks I often suggest to writers. The first: an Idea Book, commonly called The Writer’s Notebook. The other: The Submission Notebook. I’ll explain a bit about my process and recommendations for each, but feel free to take these basic guidelines and bend, add to, or evolve them to suit your own personal style and writing practice.

What are the advantages of keeping a Writer’s Idea Book?• You know those random ideas that hit you while in line at the market, in the middle of class, or while cooking dinner—those ideas are precious and fleeting. You think you’ll remember them later, but you won’t. Trust me: 99% of the time, like a comet tail they leave a bright trail of What was it I was going to write earlier when the deli called my number. Which was 17. Why can I remember the little scrap of deli paper and not my fantastic idea? It was something about…um… When you carry the idea book and a pen, those random bursts of great ideas won’t pass you by again.

• You know those random ideas that hit you while in line at the market, in the middle of class, or while cooking dinner—those ideas are precious and fleeting. You think you’ll remember them later, but you won’t. Trust me: 99% of the time, like a comet tail they leave a bright trail of What was it I was going to write earlier when the deli called my number. Which was 17. Why can I remember the little scrap of deli paper and not my fantastic idea? It was something about…um… When you carry the idea book and a pen, those random bursts of great ideas won’t pass you by again.• Here’s the key, though: make sure it travels with you. It’s no good if your notebook is always shoved under the backseat of your car or sitting on your desk while you’re at work, at the park, or elsewhere. A Writer’s Idea Book should be as mobile as you are and connected to you. Pretend it’s your phone; most people have no trouble remembering to haul their devices everywhere.

• Here’s the key, though: make sure it travels with you. It’s no good if your notebook is always shoved under the backseat of your car or sitting on your desk while you’re at work, at the park, or elsewhere. A Writer’s Idea Book should be as mobile as you are and connected to you. Pretend it’s your phone; most people have no trouble remembering to haul their devices everywhere.• Unlike your phone, your Writer’s Idea Book won’t beep, ping, update, or crash. It’s the perfectly-silent, always-available companion to your every literary whim and wish. It’ll also hold you place until you’re next ready to unleash your oddball creative genius.

• Unlike your phone, your Writer’s Idea Book won’t beep, ping, update, or crash. It’s the perfectly-silent, always-available companion to your every literary whim and wish. It’ll also hold you place until you’re next ready to unleash your oddball creative genius.

What kind of notebook works best?
Great question that has about as many answers as there are authors and their personalities. Some general guidelines I’ve found useful in my writing practice:• Make sure it’s small enough and light enough to carry with you. I’ve seen some fantastic notebooks that were 8 x 10, had 300 sheets of

• Make sure it’s small enough and light enough to carry with you. I’ve seen some fantastic notebooks that were 8 x 10, had 300 sheets of paper, and were gorgeously rendered with leatherette covers that made my mouth water. But they had the weight of a brick. I don’t want to cart around a notebook that’ll knock my shoulder out of alignment, and since my writing notebook needs to be with me throughout my day, that’s a no-go. Most of my notebooks are 5 x 7-size with less than 200 sheets of lightweight paper.• I’ve found that wire or spiral-bound notebooks are easier to prop open on a desk while typing later. This might not be a big deal for you, but for me, the fewer times I have to juggle like an octopus without the other six helpful hands, the better and faster I can type.

• I’ve found that wire or spiral-bound notebooks are easier to prop open on a desk while typing later. This might not be a big deal for you, but for me, the fewer times I have to juggle like an octopus without the other six helpful hands, the better and faster I can type.• Pricier does not always mean better. Yes, sometimes the bond of paper in a certain famous name-brand notebook is thicker, but for writing down those quick bursts, I personally don’t care whether the paper is creamy or if the notebook cost me a dollar or ten. Most of the time, in fact, I buy notebooks at the Dollar Tree or, if I’m feeling spendy, a discount department store like Marshalls. Sometimes, friends and family gift

• Pricier does not always mean better. Yes, sometimes the bond of paper in a certain famous name-brand notebook is thicker, but for writing down those quick bursts, I personally don’t care whether the paper is creamy or if the notebook cost me a dollar or ten. Most of the time, in fact, I buy notebooks at the Dollar Tree or, if I’m feeling spendy, a discount department store like Marshalls. Sometimes, friends and family gift me notebooks.

• If you’re a visual learner or have big handwriting, consider unlined notebooks. Some writers like to draw characters sketches or paste visual images beside their idea—if that’s you, or if you have large handwriting as I do—you might consider unlined notebooks, or at least avoid college-ruled ones.

• Some authors like to collage the front covers or to choose notebooks with motivational sayings on them. If that draws you to the notebook, go for it. My current notebook that my five-year-old niece gifted me has a whimsical princess in a purple-and-white forest on the cover. The notebook before this one was a gift from a writing friend relocating abroad and included a Katsushika Hokusai painting called The Great Wave, off Kanagawa that spilled blue beautifully from front to back covers. These notebooks have great personal meaning because of who gave them to me, but when I choose on my own, I pick whatever interests me in the moment. I’ve had geometric notebooks, striped notebooks, animal-themed notebooks, solid-one-hue notebooks, you name it.

How should I organize the inside of my Writer’s Idea Book?

There is no right or wrong way to organize your ideas, but here are a few guidelines that writing students have told me have led to great drafts:• Do a quick outline of your main idea. Include dots or dashes in front of each element in a list. This is an idea, not the Sistine Chapel ceiling. It doesn’t need to be perfect. Chase the gist now, and flesh it out with finer detail (supporting characters, falling

• Do a quick outline of your main idea. Include dots or dashes in front of each element in a list. This is an idea, not the Sistine Chapel ceiling. It doesn’t need to be perfect. Chase the gist now, and flesh it out with finer detail (supporting characters, falling action and denouement, etc.) later.

• Mapping, anyone? Remember fourth or fifth grade where you wrote a word or idea in the center of your paper, circled it, and then made this little spider-web-tentacle-thing coming out in all directions from the circle? Yep, that’s what it is. One thought after another, which you’ll sort through and choose from later.

• Record bits of dialogue between characters as they occur to you. Once those characters start talking, it would be a shame to cut off the flow of their speech. Jot quickly and fill in dialogue tags and/or body language and internal thoughts later, when you have more time. Or, if they occur to you as the dialogue unfurls, go for it now.

• Write ideas on one page and leave the facing page blank, for later. This technique is my jam. Seriously. I like to fill in the right-hand side of each notebook page and leave the left-hand side open for additional details that come to me later. It reminds me that there’s still plenty of room to play as I develop the idea and takes the pressure off of knowing everything at one sitting.

How about a Submission Notebook? How do I organize it?
• I recommend filling the information about your submission on one page and leaving the facing page blank. In my own Submission Notebooks, I fill in a fresh right-hand-side page with information about each submission and leave the left-hand side pristine until it’s time to write any notes about the submission, such as ink an editor gave, a message that the original deadline has been extended, or details about publication from the editor.

What kind of information do I include about my submissions?
I include:

1. The date in the upper right-hand corner (it’s scary how fast time flies and how soon you’ll forget when you submitted).

2. The number of submission (I number mine chronologically, since the first year I started making regular submissions which was—gulp!—2000). Some authors like to start their numerical system at the beginning of each fresh New Year or school year—there’s nothing wrong with that system, it’s just not how my own mind works. Use what you find most appealing.

3. The title of the market and kind of market (online or print, magazine or book publisher or agent, etc.).

4. The name(s) of my submission, including title(s), word count, and genre.

5. Any special information about my submission—if it’s a simultaneous submission, the web address of the guidelines, if I sent it from my email account or an automated online submission service that some literary magazines require, if I used a pen name, that kind of information. I also list if there’s a reply time, which some websites will note and others won’t. Sometimes I also list when and where the piece has been rejected before, especially if it’s a favorite submission that’s been rejected a few time but which I still believe has a shot at publication.

6. I include little boxes at the bottom that I draw in myself. The left one reads: Accepted, and yeah, often includes a smiley face. The right-hand side reads: Not interested. Often, I jot a second or third magazine where I might submit the work if rejected, to motivate me to submit it again quickly.

7. I leave enough room at the bottom to record the dates of acceptance or rejection.

 

Why can’t I just have one notebook for writing ideas and submissions?

• The short answer: that’s a jumble of information with two different purposes—one is creation-minded and the other is marketing-minded.

• Personally, while I have to do both to be a successfully-publishing writer, I like a physical and separate tactile record for creation vs. submission as it helps me to feel more focused on each task at hand when it’s time to do so. Some authors might have no problem thinking of them both on back-to-back pages, but for most of us, I think it’s handier (and more focused) to use separate notebooks. Go with what will make you feel happier.

• It should be noted that I don’t carry my Submission Notebook with me outside of the house—that’s just a desk copy (I think of it as a reference book) that I used as a record of my monthly submissions—of which I make sure there are at least three, if not more, per month. As such, I usually only look at my Submission Notebook four or five times a month, compared to my daily contact with my Idea Book—yet another reason to keep them separate.

Try this prompt! Take yourself notebook shopping for a notebook that appeals to you. You might want to start with a Writers Idea Book first and then pick a Submission Notebook on another day, or perhaps you want to buy both in one fell swoop; totally up to you. You might want to set your ideal price and style before you go/browse online, or leave it up to serendipity and what the store has in stock. Once you’ve purchased your notebook, begin the habit of carrying it with you everywhere—and I mean everywhere—for a week. Then add another week. And another, until it becomes a habit. Watch as idea after idea finds you prepared. Savor as note after note become new pieces.

 

About Melanie Faith

Melanie Faith is an English professor, a tutor at a college-preparatory school, and a freelance writing consultant. Her photography is forthcoming from Fourth and Sycamore. Her historical poetry collection was published by FutureCycle Press (fall 2017)http://futurecycle.org/index.php/en/catalog/by-title/item/437-this-passing-fever and a craft book about writing flash fiction and nonfiction will be published by Vine Leaves Press in spring 2018. She is a 2017 winner of the Brain Mill Press Driftless Unsolicited Cover Art Contest. For more about her writing and photography, check out: https://www.melaniedfaith.com .




WP Twitter Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com