For Writers

Setting Up A Writing Notebook

Confession time: I go through a lot of notebooks. A lot. I’m talking oodles of doodles, piles of paperwork, sizable, human-crushable stacks of my semi-legible scribblings. I may be single handedly responsible for the destruction of a hectare or more of precious Amazonian rainforest, who’s to tell??

I’ve already introduced you to my Revision Binder, where I keep all my editing notes for my WIPs. In addition to that binder, though, I like to keep a spiral notebook for all my daily scribblings and note-takings. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still fill files and files and folders upon folders on my computer with my brilliant (or belligerent, again, who’s to tell) prose. but there’s something about the tactile experience of putting pen to page that helps me to sort out my thoughts like no other. Sometimes I’ll stop writing a scene on the computer and switch to working it through in a notebook, just because it makes my brain feel better.

Now, when I finish these notebooks, they’re not always in the best of shape. I tend to ink the pages till they’re black and blue, and bend and twist the spine beyond all recognition. But, in the beginning, my notebooks are pristine, adorable, and earnestly organized. What I’m getting at is, it’s almost the start of the month, and so it’s high-time I put together my writing notebook for the month of September — and it’s highly advisable that I take photos of the process now, before I muck it all up with my sloppy handwriting and tendency to leave cold, wet drinks sitting on my open notes. (Oops.)

If you’ve ever been interested in creating a notebook dedicated to your writing, or you’re just curious how I set mine up, settle in! I’ve got pictures and an unhealthy addiction to washi tape to show you.

Step One: Gather Your Supplies

Obviously, you can use whatever bits and bobs your happy heart desires to put your notebook together, but here’s the motley crew of stationary supplies I assembled for my notebook:

  • A brand spankin’ new spiral notebook for all of my lovely, amazing, transcendent, talented writing
  • Print-outs to paste into the pages; I’ve used a productivity tracker, for example, and motivational graphics
  • Scissors
  • Glue stick
  • Highlighters
  • Pens
  • Washi Tape!!!

You don’t have to let your imagination stop here. There are tons of ways to decorate your notebook. Consider:

  • Scrapbook paper to beautify some of the pages
  • Stamps for borders and accents
  • All! The! Stickers!
  • Decorations for the cover. I never decorate my covers (mostly because I choose my notebooks specifically for the color of their covers), but you could decoupage yours with aesthetic pictures that represent your WIP, for example, or snippets of your own writing, or a big honking quote about writing — whatever you want!

Once you’ve got your workspace arranged (and your photos for Instagram snapped, of course), it’s time to put together your notebook.

A caveat: Every writer is going to have a different process, require different features, benefit from different things. I don’t use indexes, for example; another writer might find them helpful. Use this post as a launching pad, and figure out what features you want your notebook to include.

Step Two: The First Page, AKA The Earnest Goal Sheet

I like to start my notebooks with the best of intentions, and that means a checklist on the very first page of all the brilliant writerly things I intend to accomplish over the next thirty days. Do I always get these items accomplished? lol no of course not. But having goals lends your writing time structure and focus, and can make an overwhelming WIP or editing project that much more manageable.

Think of a few goals you’d like to meet over the month, such as:

  • A specific word count you’d like to hit daily, or weekly, or for the whole month.
  • A list of chapters you’d like to write
  • Alternately, a list of scenes or chapters you’d like to edit
  • Other important dates or reminders — Consider this page your launching pad, and put down anything you might like to remember.

Step Three: Add A Productivity Tracker

Okay, I know it’s September and not technically NaNoWriMo, but I love this word count tracker from, and use it in all of my writing notebooks. Some months, I use it to track my word count as it’s intended; other times, I use the tracker to keep an eye on how many words I’ve edited.

You don’t have to use a graph like this; you could make a table, for instance, of the chapters you want to write; or, you could paste in a calendar to help you track your writing time. Whatever you choose, it’s nice to have an overview of your writing process–it keeps you accountable, and it’s especially helpful to have that proof, on low days, that you are making progress, no matter how frustratingly gradual it might seem.


Step Four: Resource Pages

I’m going to be working on the first draft of a new WIP in this month (the forest fantasy from this post, actually!) so I thought it would be handy to keep my Plotting In A Pinch Plot Structure Guide right at the front of my notebook. That way, I can flip back and reference it whenever I’m stuck in my storycraft. You could put all kinds of resources in the beginning of your notebook, though:

  • A synopsis of your plot
  • A breakdown of your characters
  • A diagram plotting your story
  • Anything else you think you might like to reference. Maybe you need a list of the spells cast in your world, or a map of your fictional setting.
  • An Index

On that last point, about an index: like I said, I’ve never been keen on the concept of an index. I’m just not organized enough to keep up with one. But, if you feel like you’d benefit from numbering your notebook’s pages and crafting an index of their contents, save yourself a page or two here in the front of the notebook for that purpose. (You might want to mark columns with a ruler, to save space.)

Step Five: Add Graphics and Washi Tape

Now, we beautify! I like to add washi tape headers to random pages — not every page, mind you, but enough here and there that the notebook looks pleasing to flip through. I also like to print out motivational quotes related to writing and include them on random pages for more little bursts of encouragement.

I’ve even made a Pinterest board of writing-related quotes, so I always have a few to choose from as I paste together a new notebook. If you’re hankering for some motivation, check it out below!


Step Six: Organize Your Pages

Since I’ve chosen not to index, I don’t use page numbers, but I do like putting the date at the top of every page and, once it’s filled, jotting down a brief summary of that page’s contents.

(This insight comes after years of flipping frantically through notebooks trying to find a specific scene with no clue to go on except for “I think I wrote it in blue pen.” At a certian point, you just have to confront yourself and your shortcomings and include a damn summary.)

There are all sorts of pages you could add to your notebook.

  • Maybe you include a page of sentences or paragraphs you’re really proud of writing, to read back over on low motivation days.
  • Or, print out images that remind you of your characters or story, to flip through and inspire you.
  • Brainstorm pages for character or location names
  • A collection of beautiful words you’d love to use.

Make your notebook work for you — but don’t forget, this book is meant to filled up with your brilliant, beautiful prose, so leave yourself plenty of room to pontificate!

Do you decorate your notebooks? Or do you even like to write by hand? Lots of people never do, and only type their stories on computers! Which is your preferred method of plot construction and reader destruction? Leave a comment below, let’s talk! 

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Until next time,

Happy writing. : )

Christina is an aspiring novelist, who wanted to create a safe, fun place to share advice, inspiration, and motivation with other writers!

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