Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Keep a Notebook

A notebook is an indispensable tool for a writer. It serves for me at least three purposes, what I call my three R’s: recording, reflection, and reflex.

The most obvious of these purposes is recording. Realizing that the human mind can remember only so much, many writers keep a notebook simply to document events they attend, conversations they overhear, sentences they read, foods and drinks they taste, street scenes they see, and other sensory stimuli they experience. Those notes might very well become key pieces to a puzzle creative writers are trying to solve in a poem or story they’re crafting, but they help corporate writers just as much for white papers and proposals they’re composing.

As for reflection, I’ll let novelist and essayist Joan Didion do the talking. In her essay “On Keeping a Notebook,” she writes that she uses her notebook not to write literally, as if she were taking a photograph. “The point of my keeping a notebook has never been, nor is it now, to have an accurate factual record of what I have been doing or thinking.” Rather, she is concerned with “How it felt to me: that is getting closer to the truth about a notebook.”

Finally, reflex is all about making writing as natural as possible. The more we write, the better we get at it, so by journaling or keeping a notebook, writers make their task more automatic, more habitual, like breathing.