Writing represents your voice and memories that you want to share. Being organized so that you accomplish this goal becomes essential. A dedicated writer’s notebook anchors my writing journey. At this point in my life, I have drawers full of notebooks of different shapes, colors and sizes that represent my various moods and life stages. Besides collecting musings in my notebook, I use it to establish a writing habit. I make a point to write daily to keep the ideas flowing. When I take a break from my daily routine, I learn quickly how challenging it is for me to return to top form. Consider writing a part of your exercise routine: decide how many “reps” you are going to do each day then commit to it. Think back to your contract then create a plan for how to meet this goal.
Regular writing also allows me to play with my writer’s voice. Using the ideas that spring from my writer’s notebook, I try to speak differently yet remain true to myself. For example, I may try to write a serious musing in a silly voice or distance the reader by sticking in a narrator to tell my story. With my notebook as a safe place to play, I can try to write my younger year stories with a bit of a child’s point of view or use different vocabulary or sentence structure to set the level of formality and voice.
Mostly in my writer’s notebook, I take many risks knowing that my notebooks belong to me. There is a hard and fast rule in my home that my notebooks are off limits for casual reading or sneak peeks. Knowing that what I write is for my eyes only, I jot down ideas or even draft little stories that may never see the typed page but may help me develop my writing craft or lead to other stories that I am more willing to tell. This safety allows you to be less than perfect in your writing. Unlike speaking, writing to a private audience of just you allows room for errors and missteps. In writing, that feeling of safety liberates you to take greater chances and soar.
Another option is to create a dedicated notebook binder if you toggle between hand writing and creating on the computer. While larger in size to accommodate standard printer paper, a notebook does provide you with freedom to compile your vignette drafts in a different type of user-friendly format. You can organize this with tabs to categorize your writings or create sections for different eras of your life. A binder does provide you with yet another option for storing your drafts.
Regardless of what type of notebook you use, create a dedicated place to write that provides you with the versatility to accommodate your personal style.
“Worry about the quality of the writing later”. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve said that during writing workshops or in writers’ groups. At this stage of your memoir journey, you are primarily free writing which can best be described as a flowing of ideas or pictures onto the page without concern for grammar or correctness. Writers can be their own worst enemies and shut off their writer’s voices by fixating on spelling and grammar. In these initial steps when you are prewriting, you probably have not even decided whether or not to take a particular story public to a wider audience.
What you write in this early stage can always be revised or even tossed aside with your writing soul remaining protected. Try to remember that writing perfectly during the prewriting phase is simply not important. Capturing ideas, feelings and vignettes matter more than answering the question, “do I use a colon or semicolon in this sentence?” Let those worries go and just write. You want an abundance of words to work with in vignettes; revising to gather the best words comes later. And if you worry about too many words, don’t; wordiness can be eliminated by a stroke of the keyboard. To paraphrase author and writing professor Peter Elbow: create first, criticize later.
Another organizational tip I’ve learned over the years is to write a running title about the piece that follows then highlight it. A running title is just one or two words at the top of the page to remind me what the text is about. For example, I might write a vignette about a particular moment from my wedding day and include a running title of wedding day. Highlighting becomes useful for when you are scanning your notebook quickly seeking a specific musing or for when you begin adding to a vignette and your additional writing consumes margins on all four sides of the paper. The burst of color helps you with organization.
Notebook or Computer?
While hopefully I have begun to convince you that a physical notebook will best support your work as a writer, as the author you have the choice of using a notebook or computer to capture your ideas. Since writing can spring from many forms, I rely on my writer’s notebook for most of the pre-work involved with writing even though my laptop never ventures too far from my side. Prewriting, or generating ideas for your memoirs, springs from many places including text, photos, sketches, mandalas, artifacts or another author’s writings. The possibilities for ideas are endless.
Because your memoir will eventually arise from memories that span beyond typing on a computer, I encourage you to have a dedicated physical writer’s notebook for the start of your memoir. My notebooks typically come from the sale racks of local office supply or dollar stores. I prefer a stitched binding for durability and permanence. Avoid spiral bound notebooks as it can be very tempting to rip out a page of writing you don’t like which could be of use later even if just for doodling. I don’t worry about investing a lot of money into my notebook as it travels with me everywhere I go including the beach, on hikes, to work so by the time the notebook is full, the cover is a bit worse for wear. Tea cup stains inevitably end up on and in my notebooks giving me yet another reason for avoiding the fancier ones. Make it a point to keep your writer’s notebook with you all of the time as you never know when an idea, memory or thought might insist on falling onto the page and you don’t want to lose that writing moment.
My writer’s notebook gives me a place to start collecting writing ideas and playing with words. Having this place allows me flexibility for taping artifacts, or mementoes in, being messy, doodling and prewriting. However, if anyone had to decipher my notebook, there would be puzzled looks and confusion as not too many people can read my handwriting. Here’s where my laptop comes in. When I have an idea for a vignette ready to go and have noodled around with it in my notebook, I take to the computer and begin creating. Having dual mediums (writing and typing) to work with actually forces me to stretch my writing as I have to think twice upon an idea as it takes shape into a vignette.