The Powerful Magic of a Simple Notebook

For the past few years, my writing process has become increasingly digital. I like technology and use software for just about every aspect of writing–from collecting ideas to researching to writing.

But I have a notebook. It’s physical, not digital. It’s not a little palm-sized one to carry in my pocket or purse. (I used to do that years ago, but nowadays, for those kinds of notes I use Evernote or OneNote on my computer and phone.) No, this notebook is standard 8.5 x 11.

I realized just recently this notebook is magical for me–if I open it, thoughts automatically start to come to me. It’s become Pavlovian. I realized it makes me happy to even glimpse, touch, or open this notebook.

I use it in a specific way–for brainstorming about specific scenes, plot, problems, sequences, characters, etc. that I need to think about more deeply, away from the writing and the screen.

My notebook isn’t special; it’s not bound in leather or expensive or handmade. I considered the Levenger Circa or Staples’ Arc binders, which are popular with many writers, but they felt a little restrictive and expensive.

My notebook is ordinary, inexpensive, and practical. It’s a binder made by Five Star Mead.

I have several. I prefer red or purple covers. (One of my favorite is one with a pretty flowered fabric spine that they’ve since stopped making.)

It has plastic binder rings and a flexible plastic cover that’s lightweight, waterproof, attractive, and easy to clean. Most important is that it always opens flat and you can fold it over on itself like a spiral notebook.

The notebook takes standard 8.5 x 11 paper which is cheap and ordinary and encourages me to be profligate with it and freely and fully brainstorm a topic. Just recently I discovered Mead Five Star reinforced filler paper which has bigger holes so it turns better on the rings.

My handwriting is not neat and tiny; it’s purposely messy, but I do like pens with brightly colored ink. The standard dimensions mean I don’t feel cramped and limited by the small size of a palm-sized notebook.

I’m not precious about these notebooks. They aren’t journals. I don’t use an organization scheme for the brainstorming in this notebook. I don’t put in sections or an index, but I could. I might in the future. Currently I don’t usually refer back to notes, or at least not over long periods of time. Usually it’s daily/hourly/weekly problem-solving that I incorporate into current writing within a week or so, though I do occasionally enjoy leafing through the binder’s pages in a sentimental nostalgic way.

Now that I realize how magical this notebook is, I think I might start using it even more systematically–open it at the beginning of every writing session and make some notes before I start writing.

I’ve thought about using an app that would allow handwriting on my ipad or phone, but in the case of brainstorming, I find there’s no substitute for the magic of pen and paper!

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