Owning My Notebook Habit …

So a few weeks ago, the lovely Shveta Thakrar asked me about the piles of notebooks I have in my office.

What The Author Sees.
What The Author Sees.

I don’t have piles. I have a couple notebooks, maybe. Piles would make me a tree killer. That’s what I thought.

What the world sees. (part of it. There's also a shelf. And no.)
What the world sees. (part of it. There’s also a shelf of them. No you can’t see that.)

Piles. STACKS. One for each completed story, sometimes several each for various novels. A couple for ideas and snapshots and silly sentences.

I’ve mentioned them in my writing process post, and at last year’s Boskone, when I talked about revision. Sometimes I post pictures of them. At Rainforest Writers’ Retreat last year, friends might have enquired a little into the weight allowance for my luggage, as I was carrying a rather big one with me. Like an idiot. Or a notebook addict.

The current precious.
The current precious.
On the road.
On the road.

So. It’s time for me to own my habit and talk a little about how/why it helps me write. This is being filed under YMMV more than Tools, because I know I’m weird.

Notebooks, for the purpose of this post are defined especially as the kind that let you pull out pages then return them, reorganize, add in new pages, punch holes in things, and put stickers and notes all over stuff.

The system I use is a combination of Levenger’s Circa (spendy, but they have some good starter packs, and the paper is better. I don’t mess with the covers. I hack my own.), Staples Arc, and my own hacks.

When I start a story, I often print a draft out at some point. Sometimes I brainstorm or outline. I start with those, either in an individual book for a planned project, or in an omnibus book. Then I add versions as I work, until the notebook gets too thick. At that point, I swap out smaller rings for larger ones. That’s how I wind up with a 5-lb notebook in my carryon.

Hacks include:

A notebook for 'Moon'
A notebook for ‘Moon’

colorful things. I make covers for each WIP. I picked up this habit from Gregory Frost (who introduced me to these particular notebooks). I use a card or note or photo someone’s sent me, usually. Often they arrive at exactly the time I need a new notebook cover. (this is never procrastination. Nope. maybe a little.)

state changes. when the computer screen stops making sense, I print out a section or a story and hand edit, using that WIP’s notebook.  I keep a separate notebook handy for ideas and story starts. When the story grows, it gets its own notebook.

fiddly things. stickers and pens. I do a lot of hand editing on drafts. It helps me shift perspective. And laying down markers, then picking them up as I work through the changes lets me know I’m making progress, even if the weeds are thick.


sketching (this is ultimately a different post) I draw when I need to think.

very sketchy.

And then there’s revisions – the big notebooks are for editing the full draft. Part of the reason I love the disk system is it lets me insert pages or small notes on tabs at the place where I need to expand a section; I can also shift chapters around and see how they read pretty easily.

For novels, when it comes time to revise/edit with my editor? I shift to Word (and yell a lot when it crashes. That’s a separate post too. Oh Word. You jerk.).

For short stories, I’ll print out the galleys and also put the contract info in the notebook, once its sold.

Layered drafts, first through galley.
Layered drafts, first through galley.

So that’s the notebook confessional. My name is Fran. I kill trees and put stickers on them.

How about you? How do you get your work done?


  1. I occasionally buy pretty notebooks with the intention of using them for this purpose, then they end up sitting untouched on a bookshelf or in a wobbly pile somewhere. I kill trees for no good reason!

  2. I think rather than giving up notebooks – we should all embrace and celebrate our office/school supply habit. Be Notebook Positive!

  3. Great post! I love the idea of personalizing your notebooks with photos/postcards on the covers. I tend to go very lo-fi– .99 spiral notebooks that you’d find in the stationery section of a drug store, but am intrigued by the possibility of removing/replacing pages at will.

  4. Storage?? Do you store them still bound in the discs or another way? I’m just starting in this enthusiasm (habit!) and think storing in discs would take more space than a regular bound notebook/journal (such as Moleskine). I do like the ability to punch and add ephemera and move pages. I only buy the discs and otherwise hack my own.

    • Personally, I leave them on the discs and file the notebook as a whole. While I use bound journals for some things, when I’m writing I really really need to be able to move stuff around.

      • I don’t, lol, but I’ve bought their ‘starter kit’ that has the gift certificate in it several times. This gave me multiple sets of rings that work for just about one manuscript’s worth of notes. Barring historical research, which is always a set of 3″ gigantic rings!

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