Writer’s Notebook in Action

26 Nov

My, but it has been a long time since my last post. I have been reading your blogs and commenting as time permits. The good news is, I have been able to get some writing done on my novel. More on that in the next post.

Over the last year, many blogs have discussed the importance of keeping a writer’s notebook. Something you carry with you to jot down things like: potential plot lines, interesting characters you see, phrases, dialogue, scenes, landscape, tag lines, poetry, pictures, and anything else that fires your imagination. Almost every writer I know of uses some form of ” The Notebook”.

I actually keep three active notebooks, one at home, one at work, and one in my commuter backpack. My home notebook goes with me when I take the CEO of my domicile on shopping excursions and to writer’s group meetings. It may sound disorganized but it seems to work for me. All three are used daily. They are not fancy, just spiral bound notebooks with hard covers

Last week I watched the Michael Jackson “BAD 25” special. Normally not my first choice of entertainment, it turned out to be kind of interesting. It included interviews with his many collaborators and went into some detail on the process of generating and producing songs. During one segment that discussed the song “Man in the Mirror”, we got to see the lyricist’s notebook in action. The album’s producer, Quincy Jones, was looking for a “feel good” anthem song for the album. He contacted songwriter, Siedah Garrett, and asked if she would work one up. She agreed and immediately pulled out her  “Lyric Book” to find a fitting theme. One line she remembered from a conversation months before pinged in her head.

At this point in the interview Ms. Garrett opened her actual “Lyric Book” and opened it to the page with the line that simply read, “Man in the Mirror.” The close-up of the pages was interesting as it showed how Ms. Garrett used her book.There were lines and lines of potential lyrics. Some just a few words and others were several lines long. Notes filled the margins and there seemed to be some color coding used as well.  It looked like any other Writer’s Notebook only tweaked to fit her specific “Genre”, song lyrics.

At the time she wrote the line in her book, she did not know that one day it would become the basis for a number one hit by Michael Jackson. She did not rely on her memory; she wrote it down because it sounded interesting. It could have been used for any number of song ideas. By the way, it would make a great flash inspiration piece, wouldn’t it?

We all use our Notebooks differently and that’s okay. It was interesting to me to see a how a world-renowned song writer used hers.

I recently wrote a scene introducing one of my antagonists. It did not feel right and I wanted to make sure this scene was right before I moved on. So, this weekend, I was killing time in a parking lot at the Domestic CEO’s favorite shopping facility and pulled out my Notebook. I started thinking about the plot and how each of the character’s should be introduced and when the major plot conflict should be inserted. I started by writing down the sequence as I originally worked it out. Then I began playing with the order that the character;s are being introduced and the then jotting down the effect that might have on the plotting. I tried to write down every possible combination. It sounds like story-boarding but, at this point it was more brain storming. After several pages, I reviewed the possibilities. One jumped out at me as the best approach based on the character types involved and overall story arc. However, I could see that given different character traits or slightly different plot line, several of the other sequences might be usable. I just know that I will revisit this list on some later project. Lord knows I won’t remember each possibility without it.

The solution I found is making me rethink the opening scenes. However, I believe the middle will be much easier to write once the characters and plot hooks are introduced properly.

What kind of Notebook do you use and how do you use it?


Posted by on November 26, 2012 in Other Strangeness


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15 responses to “Writer’s Notebook in Action

  1. Michelle Proulx

    November 26, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    I have about a dozen notebooks of varying shapes and sizes scattered throughout my home, car, and assorted bags. I have no idea what’s in any of them, and I constantly write down a story idea, forget which notebook I wrote it in, and then rediscover it a year later. It’s not a particularly effective writing process, but apparently it works for me.

    • Dennis Langley

      November 26, 2012 at 1:26 pm

      I use colored Post-it flags to indicate something of particular interest for a given project. A different color for each project. I will also put a header at the top of a page to indicate the project i was thinking about at the time. Not always useful but it helps most of the time.

  2. ltownsdin

    November 26, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    Great songwriter story. Sometimes when I’m on a walk I’ll try to tap out a thought on my iphone notes and then I’ll forget to look at it until later.

    • Dennis Langley

      November 26, 2012 at 2:31 pm

      Ah. A high-tech solution. Very good. Maybe you could e-mail your note to yourself as a reminder?

  3. robincoyle

    November 26, 2012 at 6:51 pm

    My notebook is a mess . . . scraps of paper, backs of grocery receipts, the inside of my palm, and emails to myself. I love how disorganized, yet organized you are. Three notebooks!

    • Dennis Langley

      November 27, 2012 at 11:44 am

      Inside of your palm? Do you use permanent Ink? 🙂
      I had a PE teacher once who wrote scores down on his thumb nail.

  4. annewoodman

    November 26, 2012 at 8:22 pm

    Great post, Dennis! I haven’t seen that documentary about Michael Jackson, but that sounds interesting… I love to see how other writers, even of other genres, find and remember inspiration.

    I have a tiny notebook in my purse, a notebook right by my computer for tracking characters’ ages, years of action or names (as far as peripheral characters). I have scraps of paper in my car. They sometimes get transcribed into notebooks… and sometimes, they get lost. Bummer.

    • Dennis Langley

      November 27, 2012 at 11:49 am

      I forgot to mention the transcription part. Most of the ideas that go into the work and commuter notebooks end up in the one at home if they are important enough.

      I do think that if an idea is good enough, even if I lose the initial notes on it, the idea will come back at some time.

  5. Matthew Wright

    November 27, 2012 at 5:14 am

    I tend to use random bits of paper, or myiPAQ hand-held (not an Apple product – it’s HP!). Every so often I’ll lose the note, or won’t refer back to it again. But I find that the act of writing it down usually sets me off thinking and that, I guess, is the function of them for me.

    • Dennis Langley

      November 27, 2012 at 11:52 am

      Absolutely, one idea breeds many more. Writing them down also helps to set the ideas in my mind so they’re easier to remember.

  6. 4amWriter

    December 3, 2012 at 5:18 am

    I have fallen out of the habit of using a notebook. What with carrying kids and all their things around, I had to do away with my stuff. At the time, I could justify it because when you’ve got kids 24/7 there isn’t time to write in a notebook. Now, though, I have 15 minutes here and there. I need to bring the notebook back.

    • Dennis Langley

      December 3, 2012 at 8:48 am

      There is almost nothing better than a fifteen minute freewrite to relieve the stress of the day.

  7. S. Thomas Summers

    December 9, 2012 at 10:17 pm

    I have tried to jot ideas down in a notebook, a journal of sorts, but it doesn’t seem to work for me. To write, I need my laptop so I can edit and revise as I go. I do keep another type of journal. A few times each week, I write a letter to my children. It’s several volumes long. When I leave this world, they will be willed it.

    Nice blog. Glad I found out.

    S. Thomas Summers
    Pushcart Nominated Author of Private Hercules McGraw: Poems of the American Civil War

    • Dennis Langley

      December 10, 2012 at 8:31 am

      That is a special gift I hope they will enjoy. Letter writing is becoming a lost art. Thank you for helping to keep it alive.


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