The Writer’s Life: Keeping a Notebook

Dave Hood


What propels the writer, any person who dreams of publishing their first piece of creative writing or the established writer who desires to publish again, to keep a notebook? Many things. The notebook can provide inspiration, reminding us that writing is important to our lives. It is the notebook that whispers, “write on my pages.” Writers use their notebooks to record the details of their life, making note of what they see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. The serious writer will also document how he/she feels about the particulars. Most writers record small moments, simple pleasures, interesting experiences of being human, such as falling snow, blaring sirens, the plight of a homeless man. Writing down the details of daily existence makes a person a writer. In other words, writers write, not just on occasion, but regularly. The act of writing makes a person a writer. Whether published or not. The notebook is the first step along the path to the writing life.


The marvelous writer, Joan Didion, wrote this about keeping a notebook: “Why did I write it down? In order to remember, of course, but exactly what was it I wanted to remember? How much of it actually happened? Did any of it? Why do I keep a notebook at all? It is easy to deceive oneself on all those scores. The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself. I suppose that it begins or does not begin in the cradle. Although I have felt compelled to write things down since I was five years old, I doubt that my daughter ever will, for she is a singularly blessed and accepting child, delighted with life exactly as life presents itself to her, unafraid to go to sleep and unafraid to wake up. Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant re-arrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.”


Writers write in their notebook to understand the mysteries of their existence. Life is overflowing with countless enigmas, riddles, conundrums. For instance, why do I enjoy the art of Rene Magritte? Why do I read the poetry of Mary Oliver? Attend the cinema each week? Desire to read the wisdom of the sages? What is the emotional truth of my childhood? What happens after death? By writing, the writer is able to understand.


Anyone who takes up the creative pursuit of writing quickly discovers that the act of writing is catharsis, much like visiting a therapist. The serious writer empties conflicts, worries, anger from the psyche into the notebook. It is by writing one discovers epiphany, illumination, emotional truth, much like the person who meditates. This emotional truth answers the question: How does it feel to me?


Writing in a notebook also provides the writer with a private place to experiment with style— word choice, sentence structure, literary devices, such use simile, metaphor, personification, sensory details, as well as learning to show and tell by using scenes. By writing in the notebook, the writer develops the habit of writing, which improves his/her writing style, and develops his/her writing voice. This writing voice embodies everything the writer brings to the experience of writing, whether learned or experienced or imagined.


Writing in a notebook enables a person to rediscover memories buried depths of unconsciousness. These memories often become seeds that grow into a poem, short story, personal essay. These memories are the spark that lights the flame of creativity.


Anyone who writes, especially creative writers of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, has a desire to express their creative spirit. Julia Cameron wrote an entire book called “The Artist’s Way,” which explains how to discover art from writing. The person who makes writing a daily ritual understands that writing is a method, like painting or photography, of creating art. We can experience art in creative writing, such as William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” “T. S Eliot’s poem “Rhapsody on a Windy Night,” by reading an essay in one of countless literary journals or the Best American Essays, which are published each year.


When we are inspired to express our creative selves through writing, the notebook is the first place to begin. The notebook provides a method for escaping the routines, the banality, the ordinary of daily existence, forcing us to become mindful, to use our imagination, to recall a memory. The keyboard or pen is like the artist’s brush, which we use to create art with word choice, sentence structure, alliteration, rhyme, assonance, rhythm, simile, metaphor, sensory details.


What is creativity? Anything new or original. For instance, the simple act of creating a haiku poem is art. The sentence by E. B White, “I love to prowl the dead sidewalks” is an example of creating art with words. Art transcends everything that is ordinary, and the notebook provides us with a place to begin.


The notebook itself can become an object of creativity, much like a collage or scrapbook. Writers can jot down anything that inspires writing, for instance, personal experience, fleeting moments, dreams, images expressed as imagination, stolen work of other artists, such as inspirational quotes, words of wisdom, lines of a poem, lyrics of a song, epiphanies of other writers, a new ten dollar word. Writers can also include things unrelated to writing, such as a to-do list, sketches and doodles, photographs, newspaper clippings, postcards, found objects, anything that motivates them to write.



About Dave Hood

Lover of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction. Professional photographer and writer. Without the arts, life would be rather mundane, like a walk down the same old path on a dull day.
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