Taking Notes

When I started writing seriously back in the 80s, I used loose-leafed sheets and a pencil (lots of them over the period of writing a complete novel).  I wanted to be able to erase my mistakes and get that first draft properly down before typing it on the typewriter.  I started with an old Olivetti or something like it.  No Selectric typewriter for me.  Then we got our first computer, one with the old changeable 5.25″ floppy disks.  I still kept everything on paper.  And a good thing, too; I got up one morning to find that 8 of the last 11 pages were missing — the middle 8 pages!  No big deal, I just rewrote from my notes.

In the beginning I did it all long hand, with scribbled phrases on the back side of the sheet.  Since then I have bought exercise books, journals, diaries, spiral bound notebooks both large and small, hard-bound or soft, bound notebooks with tear-sheets, and a myriad other configurations.  I have a love of all things notebook.  There is something about opening a fresh book that is stunning with possibilities.

I do try to make each notebook about one novel, but have just realized that didn’t happen with a couple of them; I was on the plane to and from Hawaii when an idea struck, so just used whatever was to hand.  I also have notebook I use for writing prompts and practices.  Still only one subject, but stories are usually short and range from fantasy to romance to science fiction, to speculative.  On the backs of pages, I often have a shopping list, phone numbers, notes for another story, a quote I think I’ll remember for a story in a different book, Christmas lists, a recipe, etc.

Yesterday I took some time to read a book I’ve been wanting to start for some time.  It is called Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks.  Of special interest to Christie fans and writers, it details how she wrote her stories, using her notes in 73 notebooks.  It’s fascinating reading, and I find I’m not the only one who writes random stuff on the back of the pages.  However, many of her book notes are scattered about throughout as many as six notebooks at a time and she will often have notes for as many as five or six books in one notebook.  She just started taking notes on whatever book came most easily to hand and on whatever page she opened to.  Amazing, and it shows the sort of mind she had: prolific, with ideas tumbling over one another, river-like.

These days my notebooks are sparser than they used to be.  I make notes on chapter ideas, something about the characters, maybe a reminder that X has grey eyes not green, and H is married to N and not T so that I can go back and make H married to the right person all the way through.  (Oh yes, here’s that salad recipe I wanted two weeks ago!  Well, I sort of made up a new one and wrote it down in another notebook.  Both were good).  If I’m stuck on a character and need to interview him, I often scribble down a series of interview questions and sometimes the answers.  Once in a while I get a good bit of the chapter down just to makes sure I’m going in the right direction — or I want to explore a different direction.

Do any of you use notebooks? And if so, please describe them. What is your note-taking writing style?


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