Exercise the Muse: The Merit of the Writer’s Notebook

It never fails. I will be napping in my truck at the school parking lot, waiting to pick up my son, when a perfect story idea will hit my skull with the force of a comic book onomatopoeia (BAM! POW! SPLAT!)  This sudden smack from my muse will be so inspiring that I will sit, in awe of her genius, moved to tears by the truth and beauty of the enlightenment bestowed upon me. I promise myself that this time I will not forget. This idea is too pure. Too perfect. The answer to my prayers. I can’t possibly forget inspiration so divine.

But, the school bell will ring, my son will skip out the double doors, open backpack in hand, spilling lunch bag and permission forms and gym shoes out onto the field. I will chase after his belongings, shove them back into the bag, take him home, make him a snack, clean-up said snack, and by the time I sit down that evening at my designated “writing time”, lap top open, white page beckoning me to re-create that moment I felt three hours earlier and… it is gone. Poof. Evaporated. The magic is lost. The muse moved on. I can almost see her, hand in the air, eyebrows raised, ready for that high five, but as soon as my hand is inches from hers she pulls away and, giggling hysterically calls, “Too slow!”

Cue the writer’s notebook. For the past few months I have managed to outsmart my prankster muse by carrying a writer’s notebook. I have a few, in fact, to be sure that I am never without one. There is one beside my bed (for those late-night bouts of inspiration), one in my vehicle, and one in my purse.

And while this handy little tool started as a way of catching my muse before she runs away, it has proven to be the most effective writing tool I have for more, unexpected reasons.

Flex your Muse’s Muscle

Those who work out know that the more you work a muscle group beyond its comfort zone, the better the muscle will perform. Consider the same to be true of writing. If all the writing you are doing is banging away chapter after chapter of your WIP, maybe it is time to stretch your comfort zone. Working on a single piece is a bit like only doing a bicep curl. You will get a massive bicep, but the supporting muscles won’t be able to hold it up. Having a writer’s notebook on hand helps you to be able to flex those writerly muscles in new and unexpected ways.

For example, let’s say you are at the dentist. You are early, so have ten minutes to kill. You could pick up that four-month old issue of Time they have available, or surf Mythic Scribes on your phone, or, you could take out your trusty Writer’s Notebook. Pen in hand, you survey the office. Who stands out? Take some notes. What are some interesting mannerisms the person has? How do they talk? Extend your imagination. What kind of car do you think that person drives? What do they do for work? Are they married? Educated? Why or why not? It may not feel like exercise, but these notes can help work out your muse by forcing you to pay close attention to real people. When you do this you eventually end up with a notebook full of possible personalities that you could eventually use on the page. Characters that will feel flesh and blood because they come from real life.

Life is a Snowball

One of the biggest challenges to trying to complete a manuscript is the responsibilities of having a career or family, or both. Many new writers simply cannot sit for hours every day working on their craft. With a writer’s notebook, you don’t have to. There are some people who get fit by spending hours in the gym. There are others who get fit by riding their bicycle to work, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and going for family walks after dinner. Breaking up your fitness routine into four fifteen minutes sessions throughout the day has been proven to be as effective as working out for a solid hour. Writing is the same. Don’t have time to sit down for a few hours in the evening? Take your trusty writers notebook with you everywhere you go. Any time you find yourself idly sitting (even for a few minutes) you can whip it out and jot down a brief bit of dialogue or a quick setting description. You may be surprised how those little bursts of writing through the day add up to a lot of words on the page that wouldn’t have been written otherwise.

Free Weights? Or Machines?

So what is the best way to capture these bursts of inspiration? Or flex these creative muscles? Old fashioned pen and paper? Or a notes app on your latest technological device? The answer, really, is up to you. Personally, I would encourage trying the old-fashioned way for one key reason: No distraction from your internal editor.

I find that when I have the ability to press “delete” easily, I spend more time worrying about the quality of my ideas (and writing) than on the practice of simply brainstorming and generating them. When I write with pen and paper I don’t have the ability to delete, and there is a freedom to that. The words can flow without my internal editor judging what I’m writing. I can simply say what I want to say, without it having to be “good.” Like training a muscle, not every training session will be a judged event. Sometimes you have to allow yourself to simply lift some weight and look like a fool. Save the judgments for competition day, not for your notebook.

So, what do you think? If you haven’t already been keeping a Writer’s Notebook, is it something you might try? How do you see it being valuable to you? Share your thoughts!

BA English Lit major, History Minor Ma Teaching English Lit Reading outside. Preferably in a tent in the rain.

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TheKillerBs
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TheKillerBs
kennyc

Well, since you can't remember……….

No, I remember the article just fine. I simply can't find it to link the primary source so people don't have to rely on hearsay.

kennyc
Member
kennyc
TheKillerBs

I have to wonder if that isn't a function of education rather than how the brain is wired. I remember reading a few years ago an article that I can't find at the moment about how people tend to have less reading comprehension on a screen than on paper unless they grew up with computers, in which case it was either the same or a negligible bias towards reading better on screen.

Well, since you can't remember……….

TheKillerBs
Member
TheKillerBs
skip.knox

It's no coincidence that so many (not all!) people say they are more creative on paper than at a computer.

I have to wonder if that isn't a function of education rather than how the brain is wired. I remember reading a few years ago an article that I can't find at the moment about how people tend to have less reading comprehension on a screen than on paper unless they grew up with computers, in which case it was either the same or a negligible bias towards reading better on screen.

E.L. Skip Knox
Member
E.L. Skip Knox

I count it a great loss that handwriting is no longer taught or valued. I recognize that its utility has declined; that's fine; things change. But there are demonstrable mental changes that happen when a person writes by hand versus typing. It's no coincidence that so many (not all!) people say they are more creative on paper than at a computer. But when one's own handwriting is unreadable, there's no point in trying.

CoffeeFlower
Member
CoffeeFlower
TheCrystallineEntity

I can read it, and other people have commented on how beautiful it is. I'm not sure whether to believe them or not.

My hand writting is not so good, well, if you allow me this little step out of my natural personality and speech, my hand writting SUCKS. I love keyboards and smart translators from pen to screen and word processor as well as digital recorders

CoffeeFlower
Member
CoffeeFlower

Yep, I use my cell phone and I sometimes record my own voice. I have my internal editor well trained to keep it shut as I write so most of my notes are just pure brainstorming. I realized I needed to keep track of my thoughts since 2010 in case my muse had something to tell and she has told awesome things since then. Now I have a world in progress and I ove it

Helen H
Guest
Helen H

I’m never without a notepad and pen in my purse. Besides jotting down possible scenes for my works-in-progress, my writer’s journal has been very useful to capture possible character names when I see them scroll by in a television program’s credits or in a story in a magazine as I clean them out.

Ash Slade
Guest
Ash Slade

My notebook is my best pal. I put everything creative on these lines. I draft poems and redraft until I have faith in it. I write letters and journal entry. You can use a computer or tablet, but what happens if it crashes down and all is lost? I don’t understand the urge for technology in writing. Yes, it can be useful, but I find more merit in physically writing stuff down.

kennyc
Member
kennyc

Yea as far as legibility …. mine kinda sucks (even though I PRINT everything). LOL!
I often have a hard time deciphering something later … but I do believe and have had very good
luck with going back through journals (mining the journals I call it) to find things to complete. 😀

TheCrystallineEntity
Member
TheCrystallineEntity
Skybreaker Sin K’al

Question: How neat is your handwriting?

I can read it, and other people have commented on how beautiful it is. I'm not sure whether to believe them or not.

Miles Lacey
Member
Miles Lacey

I saw an image of a mammoth riding through a Moroccan city and decided to change my world to an Ice Age world from a climate and geography point of view. I watched Legend of Korra and decided to give my world the technology of the 1930s. This is often how my muse works. I see an image and things seem to happen from there. The notes tend to be of stuff like names, locations and other stuff that I might forget if it's not written down.

kennyc
Member
kennyc
Heliotrope

That’s how it works for me too, Kenny. I get a line of words I feel like I have to run with. With you, I’ve noticed, it is often very strong imagery. With me, it seems to be people… whenever I go through my notebook some of the lin s I have are…

There is a family in Toronto who never do their dishes, and let the cat eat off the table.

Marcia hadn’t planned on killing her husband.

Iris was born a hundred years to the day after William Blake died. She was proud of that fact.

She came to us the way most babies come. Pink and warm and with the correct number of fingers and toes.

Janet wished she had started this ten years ago. At least that’s what she told me, nestled into the settee, gazing out the window, winding a corkscrew curl around her index finger.

A lot of them stay like that… just introductory phrases about characters.

Yes, nice, some of mine start like that too. 🙂

DragonOfTheAerie
Member
DragonOfTheAerie
Heliotrope

That’s how it works for me too, Kenny. I get a line of words I feel like I have to run with. With you, I’ve noticed, it is often very strong imagery. With me, it seems to be people… whenever I go through my notebook some of the lin s I have are…

There is a family in Toronto who never do their dishes, and let the cat eat off the table.

Marcia hadn’t planned on killing her husband.

Iris was born a hundred years to the day after William Blake died. She was proud of that fact.

She came to us the way most babies come. Pink and warm and with the correct number of fingers and toes.

Janet wished she had started this ten years ago. At least that’s what she told me, nestled into the settee, gazing out the window, winding a corkscrew curl around her index finger.

A lot of them stay like that… just introductory phrases about characters.

I want to know more about the baby.

I write a lot of "opening lines," though. The one I wrote last night is this:

Half of us are dead.

DragonOfTheAerie
Member
DragonOfTheAerie
Skybreaker Sin K’al

Awesome! To be honest, Its great to be on a site with so many people like me, who keep notebooks just scattered around the floor. You guys are great!

Question: How neat is your handwriting?

Difficult to read for anyone but me. Drunk chickenscratch.

kennyc
Member
kennyc

This on just popped into my head:

"Coins on the train tracks, missels in the mind."

Who knows?…

Miles Lacey
Member
Miles Lacey

My muse reveals an image in my head that will not go away until I run with it to the point I have either incorporated it into the narrative playing in my mind or it has no further potential use. Thus, a notebook has never served any purpose for me. Sometimes I have to write stuff down and I use A4 7mm ruled refills of 200 leaves when I have to do that.

kennyc
Member
kennyc
Heliotrope

These ideas are all fantastic! I have found my notebook very useful for free writing, as well. Does anyone else just sit around writing random stuff until you hit on something that actually, sort of, feels like it could be a story? I love that.

Since I write short, very short, micro prose, poetry and prose poetry I do a lot of what I call wordplay. Just messing around with random words, thoughts, things that pop into my mind and try to write them down, sometimes it is an opening sentence or idea that just keeps going for a bit and quite often becomes the first draft of a poem or other piece. So in a word – yes.

Skybreaker Sin K'al
Member
Skybreaker Sin K'al

Awesome! To be honest, Its great to be on a site with so many people like me, who keep notebooks just scattered around the floor. You guys are great!

Question: How neat is your handwriting?

DragonOfTheAerie
Member
DragonOfTheAerie

As for physical notebooks, I have literally like 20 lying around my room, most of them liberally accessorized with sticky notes that say things like "OUTLINE FOR (x story)" or "DRAGONS" or something like that.

DragonOfTheAerie
Member
DragonOfTheAerie
Heliotrope

These ideas are all fantastic! I have found my notebook very useful for free writing, as well. Does anyone else just sit around writing random stuff until you hit on something that actually, sort of, feels like it could be a story? I love that.

Something I've been doing for the past few days is listening to my playlist and writing down whatever I think would be happening to that music. Sometimes I write random whatever. I do a whole lot of puking out random crap until oh, there's a shiny. Keeping that.

DragonOfTheAerie
Member
DragonOfTheAerie
TheCrystallineEntity

A bigfoot with good publicity, maybe?

A bigfoot in high definition?

ApaCisare
Member
ApaCisare

Awesome recommendation. I found myself in that sudden enlightenment situation when driving a little while ago and nearly drove off the road because I was so intent on getting it jotted down before I forgot (I pulled over, so no felonies were committed!).

TheCrystallineEntity
Member
TheCrystallineEntity

A bigfoot with good publicity, maybe?

DragonOfTheAerie
Member
DragonOfTheAerie

I often make notes on my phone since i am prone to losing pencils. Sometimes the ideas are brilliant; sometimes not.

I woke up after 2 am the other day, got on my phone, wrote "reverse bigfoot," and fell back asleep.

What is a reverse bigfoot? I have no idea at all.

Skybreaker Sin K'al
Member
Skybreaker Sin K'al

I carry a notebook everywhere too, but more for sketching purposes and world building than for story notes.

TheCrystallineEntity
Member
TheCrystallineEntity

I carry a notebook everywhere, just in case.

kennyc
Member
kennyc

I carry a journal with me everywhere (nothing fancy – just a spiral college-ruled notebook). That’s where (virtually) everything I write begins….well except this post I guess. 🙂

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