Like a cleverly disposed dead body, my “secret” writing and editing tool hides in plain sight. My absolute favorite writing and editing tool is so simple, you’ll wonder why it’s worth mentioning; it’s a MOLESKINE® notebook. No, MOLESKINE® isn’t paying me to wax poetic on their notebooks (but I’d be fine if they wanted to drop a deposit into my PayPal account or guarantee a lifetime supply of notebooks); I just really love the notebooks because they’re the best tool I’ve found for my writing. Here’s why.
Technology can be so cruel: Pen & paper are all you need
Before there was Microsoft Word, there was some other frustrating word processing program and before computers really hit the mainstream, there were typewriters, and before that, ink and paper. Our literary forefathers wrote some of the most widely read works of all time with simple pens on simple paper.
While one cannot write as fast as one can type and at times, our handwriting is illegible (someone once told me that my handwriting looked like a serial killer’s…takes one to know one?), technology-based writer’s resources have their drawbacks. Here are a few things your beloved notebook won’t do while you’re writing:
Freeze in the middle of an idea jam in a rage-stroke inducing fashion. I cannot tell you how many times Microsoft Word or my entire computer has frozen while I’m writing forcing me to restart and anxiously chew stomach acid for several minutes waiting to see if everything I’ve just written has been lost. If you’ve never been at the mercy of Word’s auto back-up hoping against hope that most of what you’ve written was saved, you’ve never died a little on the inside.
Accidentally get saved somewhere completely arbitrary where you cannot find it no matter how many computer-wide searches you conduct
Become corrupted so that you cannot open it ever again. I hope you didn’t like that idea
Distract you with pesky formatting complications
Nothing kills a creativity boner faster than technology glitches; thus, when I’m writing and have a new idea or am outlining or plotting a new story, I use a notebook, specifically a blank-paged MOLESKINE® notebooks. Likewise, when I’m editing and am writing down page numbers, subjects, characters, plot points, etc. of a client’s work, I use a notebook.
Pro tip 1: Have a notebook for each project
Obviously, a notebook’s simplicity if nullified if you have one notebook for all of your ideas an simply keep a chronological log of everything. Thus, I have multiple MOLESKINE® notebooks working at once (I really should be getting paid for this). This brilliant idea came from the lovely and talented K.M. Weiland (who if you don’t follow and admire from afar, you should).
Have a different notebook for each project
Write the title of the project on the cover of the notebook
Stick to the script; write only related content in the notebook with the corresponding name.
Voila. You’re organized. I have six notebooks in progress right now and one MISC. IDEAS notebook for future projects…things I don’t want to forget but that I know I’ll want to pick back up later.
Pro tip 2: Just don’t get them wet
Notebooks, as you know, are like Gremlins. If you get them wet, terrible things happen. Likewise, if you misplace them or if you have Amy March for a child or a little sister (remember when she burned Jo’s book in Little Women?), notebooks can be rendered as frustrating or useless as a malfunctioning computer file. I have a “safe” place for all of my notebooks (in a stack somewhere nearby). If your organization system is better, then maybe you have space on a bookshelf for your notebooks. Most importantly, you have a place your notebook consistently belongs unless you’re using it or it’s with you.
When I’m ready to translate a notebook’s content into a rough draft or an editorial letter or a manuscript critique, then I turn to my computer. No one wants my handwritten notes other than me because they’re not going anywhere; I can reference them as I please, and if the Word file burns down, it’s not the end of the world. I have a solid foundation on which to rebuild.
Pro tip 3: Use your notebooks to help you self-edit
So, notebooks not only keep my ideas safe from spontaneous assassination by technology, they also help me edit my ideas and my writing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve drafted an editorial letter or an article or a proposal in a Word Doc, read and revised it multiple times for focus, organization, grammar, etc. and then printed it, re-read it and found a ton of stupid mistakes.
When your original words and ideas are written in a completely different medium, you naturally edit your work when you translate it into a Word Document or into a writing program. I can say from experience that if you’re writing a manuscript, the extra self-checks can improve the overall quality of your first draft, which can save you time and resources down the line.
So, notebooks are simple, but they’re effective. They’re not error-proof, but what is? They’re also not the only tool you need; however, when it comes to laying the foundation for your writing, it’s best to keep things simple.
Notebooks safeguard your ideas and help you self-edit your work. While there’s no substitute for a second set of eyes on those later drafts, you can more easily have a salable first draft that’s focused, organized, and developed by using a multi-media approach in your writing process.