7 Ways A Notebook Can Help You Write Your Novel

As a writer, there is nothing I like more than a good notebook. As it is National Notebook Day on May 18th (Yes, that is a thing), I thought I’d share how I use notebooks to help me as I write my stories and novels.

I am, admittedly, a somewhat disorganised writer. Or, to be more accurate, I am a pantser, otherwise known as a discovery writer. This means I don’t outline my stories beforehand – I jump straight in with both feet and figure it out from there. The way I like to describe it is that discovery writing is where the planning stage and the drafting stage happen at the same time. That’s the way I do it, anyway. It’s not really disorganised, it’s more of an organised chaos. As such, the ‘methods’ I’m sharing will be pantser-friendly.

First, let’s get the really important bit down. If you take nothing else from this post, at least take away this.

Hey, you. Yes, you. Your note-taking is fine the way it is.

I’ll admit, I get a little insecure about my scrappy notes when I see beautiful Pinterest boards with lovely handwriting and pretty sketches, while mine are full of scribbles and messes.

But a notebook is supposed to be messy! Regardless of how they look on Instagram, a notebook is supposed to have a splash of ideas, disjointed paragraphs, and single-word prompts that make no sense out of context. A notebook is for you. No one else has to see it. Embrace that.

Ideas For Using Your Notebook To Support Your Fiction Writing

I’ve decided to take a little inspiration from indie author and fellow pantser, Julian Greystroke, and use my notebooks more effectively by assigning a project or two to a specific notebook. This keeps all my notes together and makes them easier to find.

Julian Greystoke, Indie Author and YouTuber

A notebook can include pretty much anything you want in it! It honestly depends on the purpose/project, but here are some ideas that might be useful:

1. Write A Prop Inventory

My biggest weakness as a writer is keeping track of props. It’s something I really have to focus on when it comes to revision. Which characters have props? Where are the props? Are they still holding the props? What are the props for?

I tend to write a lot of action, so I’ll give my character a weapon and then forget they have it two or three paragraphs down.

Now, I use my notebook to write down what possessions characters have on them so I can refer back to it.

2. Include Maps

You might think this is just for sci-fi and fantasy authors, but keeping a map of your setting handy can benefit a writer of any genre.

For one of my stories, I based my fictional town on the very real town of Killarney in Ireland, so I added some maps of the town in my notebook so I could look at journey times quickly without needing to bring them up on Google Maps. Google Maps is great for telling you journey times, if you need to track how long it takes for a character to get from one place to another.

I also like to draw my own maps and mark down certain locations of people or props. This helps me keep track of where my characters are in a scene.

3. Make Notes On Your Characters

Keeping track of props and locations is important, but the fundamental aspect to any story is character. As I write, I note down little details about my characters, their histories, their likes and dislikes, and their body language. By the end of a scene, I have a bank of information about my character to help me maintain consistent characterisation.

If you like to outline your stories before you write them, you can make all your character notes in your notebook and keep it with you whenever you work on your novel.

6. Note Down Quick Ideas & First Drafts

Sometimes an idea sparks and quickly ignites, growing bigger and bigger, until that small whisper of dialogue becomes a whole scene! At these times, it’s great to have a notebook handy so you can scribble these bits down. These fires might fuel a whole manuscript!

7. Cure Your Writer’s Block

I’ve mentioned this in my post Best Remedy For Writer’s Block, but it’s worth repeating. In general, a switch in routine is good for getting your brain working again.

If you frequently write on your laptop or home computer and you’ve hit a creative block, the best way to undo that is by taking yourself away from the screen.

Notebooks can’t be edited. Once you’ve scribbled something in ink, it’s there to stay. This removes some of that perfectionist editor pressure. Without that pressure, you can scribble to your heart’s content and unclog that pesky writer’s block.

On National Notebook Day, I encourage you to take a moment to appreciate the humble notebook. Notebooks are an essential tool for capturing ideas and thoughts. If these ideas helped you with your novel writing process, be sure to like and share.


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