Monday, 10 December 2012

Notebook, diary, journal - one book? Three? More?

Just a few of my notebooks...

I really need to sort this out. It occurs to me that I usually have at least, I mean at least three different books-that-I-write-in  on the go at any one time: an all-round notebook, a diary, and a journal. According to the Oxford English dictionary, a diary and a journal are one and the same thing, but I tend to use it differently, as I'll explain below. So here's what I'm using at the moment: 

The all-round notebook:  I like to have this with me all the time, therefore there are currently four (yes, four)  versions: a hardcover A5 one that sits on my desk,  another A5 one that stays beside my bed, a cheap exercise book that I carry in my handbag, and a small notebook that fits in my jeans pocket when I walk the dog.  These are where I record ideas, snatches of dialogue or description, and character sketches that are often but not always relevant to the novel I'm currently writing. It may be one line about a character, it may be a particular word that a character might use, or it may be an entire plotline. The all-round notebook is also where, if I'm on a train or if I find myself waiting for an appointment, I occasionally do a bit of 'freewriting', or even start writing a scene or a snippet of dialogue.  The notebooks I keep in my handbag are now almost always very basic exercise books, because then I don't feel any pressure to write beautifully - I can make it beautiful when and if I choose to type it up later.

The diary:  I'm currently using a beautiful little book that was a gift from a friend. The first entry in this one is dated 2003. I've kept a diary on and off since I was nine – sadly, the childhood diaries are lost, but I remember my first ever entry: 'Today, I put my sister's hair in rollers. They got stuck'. Riveting, eh? Despite my early introduction to diary writing, I've never managed to get into the habit on a daily or even weekly basis. This is something I am constantly resolving to change. My diary tends to be fairly personal, containing thoughts and feelings as well as observations. I aim to record important events in my life too, although flicking back, I see that there have been major events in recent years that I haven't written about, some happy, such as my daughter's wedding – I was too busy with food, outfits and  relatives, and some not so happy, like my daughter's life-threatening experience of childbirth earlier this year – I was too immersed in shock, worry and fear. (Thanks to the skilled surgeons, she got through it, and she and the baby are now fine.) I sometimes record trivial things like the weather, or what I ate for dinner, and when I remember, I note what things cost, or what is happening in the world and how people feel about it. How I wish I had done this regularly in the past – it would be such a useful resource!

The journal - a writing companion
The Journal: my journal is a sort of planner and companion to my work-in-progress. It's where I talk to myself about how it's all going, which directions the plot might take, possible structures for the finished novel and but how I'm feeling about the characters. This is also where I write character sketches, lists of possible scenes, things I need to research, revisions I need to make and so on. I might also record discussions I've had about the novel, whether it's with my agent or editor, or whether it's with other writers. The current journal is a nice A4 size, and it has dividers so that I can (theoretically) organise my notes.  I write in this fairly regularly, especially when I get stuck.

What seems obvious now but clearly hasn't been in the past is just how difficult it is to separate these aspects of my writing life. I may record an interesting dream in the all-round notebook, but I see that dreams often feature in my diary as well; if I'm struggling with my WIP, I usually write about it in the journal, but if I'm feeling down about my work, it's emotional and personal and impacts upon my life, so that entry's just as likely to end up in my diary. And if I'm downstairs writing in my journal when something that should go in the diary (which is upstairs) occurs to me, I'll bung it in the journal.

So you see, it's all a bit shambolic, really.  And of course with so many different books, it's hard to get round to reading them all, and there's not a lot of point in making notes and observations about life if you never read them. Maybe I should just keep one book at a time and put everything in it. Or would that be a bad idea? What do you think? What are your notebook habits?


  1. I know exactly what you mean - I, too, work with several notebooks, and I know what they are all for, but there are huge overlaps ... and I don't think I can actually part with any of them. So I guess i'll just potter along shambolicly (if that's a word) - do let us know if you find the secret to sorting them all out!

    1. I will, Jo - but I'm not holding out much hope! I can't bear to part with any of them, either, because they each hold at least one or two little gems.

  2. My kids keep stealing my notebooks, including my a3 sketchpad I have for mind mapping and sketching. I've taken to using my mobile phone or tablet and Evernote.
    It won't be long before I go back to good old handwriting though.
    I think if you write anything even semi-regularly you end up with a stack of notebooks.

    1. That's the trouble with using unlined notebooks (which are perfect for mind mapping) - they're very attractive to kids. And yes, a stack - or several stacks - seem pretty common among writers.