Therefore, I wish to reiterate (which is such a redundant word when "iterate" would do just as well) that the number one purpose of your writer's notebook is to remind you of your wonderful ideas.
Other ways to use your writer's notebook include:
- Practice writing. Be adventurous. Try things that are new to you—a different genre, POV or writing style than you usually choose. Remember, in your notebook, your writing doesn't need to be perfect. It's free-flowing. It's spontaneous. It's purposefully not good. If you get hung up on good writing, your notebook will not be the resource it could be.
- Write every day. This is critical. It is a way of training your mind to write on demand. Over time, you'll learn how to get yourself in the writing mood.
- Writing pages. Some people do "morning pages" as suggested by Julia Cameron, who recommends three longhand pages when you first wake up, on whatever comes to your mind. If you're not a morning person, do evening pages, or lunchtime pages, or whatever works for you. Daily freestyle writing is a good idea for everyone.
- Prime the pump. Use your notebook to start your writing session. Whenever you sit down to do your regular writing, spend 5 to 15 minutes notebook writing first. This gets the creativity flowing and can help prevent writers block.
- Create lists. To-do lists are great. It doesn't necessarily need to be writing to-dos, although that certainly works. It can be a list of anything— Christmas ideas, new recipes to try, or your personal bucket list. If you don't like to-dos, then make lists of favorites or do one of those annoying online memes. The simple process of listing moves your brain into creation mode.
- Character sketches. I mentioned people-watching last week and describing people that you see in your notebook. You can take this a step further and create full-blown character sketches. These can be characters for your work in progress, or someone you might use in the future. Make up a secret life for someone at the mall or your alter-ego. Write a complete and detailed character bio.
- Dialogue. Write snippets of dialogue. You don't have to limit yourself to transcribing overheard conversations. You can rewrite a conversation you had last week—writing what you wish you had said.
- Play "what if" to create some basic plot outlines. Get creative with your current plot. Start with where you're at in the story, then throw in some outrageous "what if." You may not use it now, but it could become a springboard for future plots and ideas.
- Writing prompts. Use idea prompts, story-starters or competition themes to generate ideas. There are a zillion books out there with writing prompts in them. Writer's Digest has them online and in their magazine. If you're cheap (like me), Google Gadgets has several daily writing promps that can spark your imagination. I have some of these on my personal iGoogle page. I rarely use them exactly as they are, but sometimes they've helped me get started.
- Read your notebook. Don't just write in it, go back and review it on a weekly or monthly basis. Pull out those ideas that you find are especially good. Create an index page for them, or copy them into a second notebook or a computer file.
Keep your old notebooks in a safe place. When you find yourself with a bad case of writer's block, go back and review your notebooks that are years old. You may find an old nugget has turned into a mother lode of new ideas.
Readers, if you keep a writer's notebook, feel free to share with us how and when you use it.