Of course you need to keep a writer’s notebook. If you’re in the practice of writing regularly, I can’t think of any other simple step–aside from reading and listening–that plants and nourishes writing ideas. I love the disarming guidance that Kate Messner gives in her post about there really being just two rules: 1) write in it, and 2) there are no other rules. All writers need to hear and heed that sage advice.
As for me personally, this was a new concept at one time (more than 20 years ago), because I didn’t have writing mentors in my circle of family or friends (that has changed since high school, as one might expect with a college degree in English). I have enjoyed writing since middle school, but only since my senior year in high school have I been keeping writer’s notebooks. In the intervening 24 years, even throughout my 14-year career in cubicle-land between teaching gigs, I’ve tried many notebook styles (see picture below, which does not include all of them).
I have put just about everything in them: entries while traveling in Europe, Hawaii, and Alaska; song lyrics, to-do lists, reading lists, writing lists, character sketches, back stories, funny moments involving both real and imagined people, boring meeting notes, and responses to sermons, and business plan notes, among other things. There are expressions in some of those volumes that make me cringe to read them now, and quite honestly, there’s a lot of ramblings in the early ones about the ups and downs of finding the love of my life back in high school. (Note to my own kids: if you’re reading this post, don’t bother going to find and read that stuff yet. It’ll be slightly awkward to read until you’re in your 30s, when you can fully appreciate both the abject horror and ridiculous humor of knowing what your dad thought about your mom when they were both in high school.) Although I know what has worked for me in the past, I try to keep an open mind for what may work for me going forward.
Like Kate Messner, I am a multiple-notebook kind of writer. I have a little black Moleskine notebook for capturing ideas when I have to travel lightly. I take it to church and sometimes have it on the shotgun seat of my car or tucked in the center console, because I frequently get good ideas in those places. No, I don’t write while I’m driving, but I have been known to take a longer-than-normal time at gas stations, convenience stores, and in parking spaces everywhere because I have to get something down. It’s home is an easy-access pocket in my black messenger bag. For ideas that require a little more space, I use a Moleskine classic extra large ruled notebook with a soft black leather cover. I like its built-in bookmark and a pocket in the back for collecting loose pieces of paper or small artwork I like or want to build on.
However, as my idea-gathering has begun to include a greater proportion of sources in digital formats, I don’t think it’s any surprise that I also consider my iPhone, iPad, and Macbook Pro as writer’s notebooks for digital sources like e-book text from iBooks, Kindle, and Nook; articles and blog posts, iTunes podcasts, Pinterst Pins, TED talks, iTunes U courses, YouTube videos, Learnist Boards, Twitter tweets, ShowMe tutorials (called “ShowMes”), and interesting posts by friends and family (Facebook), or business colleagues (LinkedIn). I create or collect what I think I might use later in apps like Microsoft Word, Pages (because it integrates well with all of my Apple devices), Google Drive, Evernote, and SkyDrive (for use with any device), and Notability (especially for things I want to markup in front of others). I use Adobe InDesign CS6 (Macbook), Quark DesignPad, Adobe Ideas, Omnigraffle (flowcharts and diagrams), and Paper (by FiftyThree) for more intense graphics and layout projects. For photos, I use iPhoto, SnagIt, Picasa, Apple Photostream, Instagram/Padgram, Google+, and yes. . .even Facebook (depending on whom I want to see the photos). The point is, I think your sources, technology comfort level, and soul will define what a writers notebook is for you. The important thing is that if you want to write, you need to collect sources and write in one.