Notebooks are fundamental to my life. The first proper notebook I had, which I probably bought myself, would have been when I was 7 or 8, I think – I used it to write (fictional) stories about how towns had got their names.
Later, at school (age 9), we got “jotters”, which we used to take notes during lessons. At grammar school, these were called “rough books” – not jotters; we also had homework notebooks which were notebooks.
Then there were personal notebooks – diaries – books with poems or favourite pieces of writing copied in – occasional scrap books. And letters – I used to write letters – a letter is a notebook-cum-diary of sorts.
At work, I always had a particular type of notebook – A4, bound, hardback with a blue cover.
I stuck to pen and paper to the very, even after it became fashionable to sit in meetings with a laptop in front of you . It doesn’t work – you end up focusing on the laptop, not the person you’re talking to and you can’t draw a quick link between related items or sketch a diagram to explain a point.
These days, I opt for an A5 spiral bound notebook; small enough to slip into a bag and robust enough to sit on your knee in a theatre or cinema. My computer, obviously and camera, less obviously, do duty as supplementary notebooks.
I don’t keep a diary as such – I’m no good at diaries – although I do write diary-like things from time to time – but I write all sorts of things – sometimes just describing whatever’s happening in front of me or whatever’s going through my head.
With the new year looming into view, I’ve been thinking about note-taking strategies, especially in the context of a Writer’s Notebook (which all real writers have). So here’s the plan …
First thing you need is logs. A log is a simple factual record of what happened when – simple to keep and essential for reference. I’ve identified the following log topics: things and places visited, viewed, watched, seen, heard, read. As an experiment, I’ve decided put these online – as observant readers will have noticed (less observant readers should look at the top of this page for the links).
Second thing you need is observations of ordinary things. Going round Blenheim Park the other day, it struck me that knowing what the weather is like at a particular time of year can be fundamental to the craft of writing and this has to be captured as it’s happening.
It’s simply impossible for someone writing in June to remember accurately and truthfully what the weather was like in January. It isn’t just whether it was cold or wet (or both) – it’s what it felt like, what it looked like, what it sounded like, what it smelled like, how it felt, how it affected people’s behaviour. Provisionally, therefore, I’ve also set up a “weather page” as a way of capturing and organizing these observations.
Everything else – notes on exhibitions and events, reflections, observations, thoughts, daydreams, bright ideas, new projects to join the old projects that I haven’t finished yet and, yes, the odd diary entry will go into the paper notebook. In fact, I think I’ll just make a note of that – if I can just find my pen. Now, where did I put it … I’m sure it was here somewhere …