Now Nano is upon us, I thought it might be helpful to share a little on my creative process. No prizes for guessing that it’s all about the notebooks!
Nano, or Nanowrimo to give it its official title, is a month-long novel writing challenge. Sign up, write just over a thousand words for every day in November and by the end of it, you’ll have the best part of a novel. What’s not to love.
How I’ll be using my notebooks this Nano
I stumbled upon Nano around five years ago. In that time, I’ve only won once, but this year, I have a new sense of purpose. Back in September, I made a conscious decision to take my writing more seriously. And Nano, and the notebooks I’ll use to complete it, will be a big part of this.
I always begin my novel projects in long-hand. That’s to plan as well as write. Somehow I just think better in analogue. And since I started using new notebooks in new ways, my work-in-progress has definitely improved.
If you’re taking on Nano this year, or if you write all year round, I hope you find this post useful. And if you have any ways of working that you find especially helpful, please take a moment to share them in the comments.
Now onto the notebooks!
My ‘I’d be lost without it’ notebook
I carry this notebook with me everywhere. It contains my plot lines, scene breakdowns, big themes, even Proust questionnaires for my lead characters. Every so often I catch myself wondering what I’d do if I lost it and it actually makes me feel a little panicky. I’ve also written odds and ends of scenes and things.
Using a single notebook has served me well until now. But recently I’ve realised that separate notebooks can be more conducive to creativity. This is partly for practical reasons. I forgot to create a contents page when I first started out and now I have to flick through tens of pages to find what I need. But also to help clarify my thinking and ensure I’m using the best tool for the job e.g. lined pages if I’m writing lots, blank pages if I’m mind mapping.
I’m also hoping that employing dedicated notebooks for different tasks will help bring a little discipline to my writing practice. I’m not sure how effective this will be as my approach is naturally scattergun, but I want to focus on one writing-related task at a time. Fingers crossed!
My ‘I want freedom to plan stuff out’ notebook
I get the most out of my planning when I use a form of mind map. And for this, blank pages are best. This sketch book has a neon pink cover and is a super handy size. I carry it with me just in case inspiration strikes when I’m out and about.
You may be wondering how I’ll ever read any of these notes back. I admit it. Sometimes even I find it difficult to decipher everything I’ve jotted dwn. But it’s probably a fairly accurate representation of all the various ideas that are bubbling away in my mind when I’m planning a scene or, in this case, an essay.
I didn’t realise my note taking was so note worthy until the people I work with commented on it. I’d love to know if there’s anyone else out there who takes notes in a similar way. I’d appreciate a show of solidarity!
My ‘I’m not 100% sure about my structure’ index cards
Ok, ok. I know these aren’t technically notebooks. But they are an essential part of my writing toolkit, so I couldn’t in all conscience leave them out. I use these when I want to outline. Each plot beat is assigned to a single card and as I write, I can add in additional scenes without too much scribbling or crossing out.
This index card method is also great if you’re not entirely sure of the sequence of events in your story. Simply lay them all out on the floor – or a dining table if you don’t live in a teeny tiny flat like I do! And play around until you have an order that you’re happy with. The ability to physically move them is key – don’t ask me why, it just is.
One of my friends does the same thing but with post its on a wall. I prefer index cards because they’re a touch sturdier and you can carry them around with you. But either works.
I recently learned that Nabokov was famous for writing all his novels using index cards. Check out this great post here, which tells how Nabokov’s publisher actually reproduced the cards Nabokov was working on for Laura, his final (unfinished) novel.
My ‘I need help finding my way round Senate House’ notebook
This Field Notes Utility also doubles up as my everyday carry, but has been particularly handy for noting down the locations of the library books I’m using for background research.
The novel I’m working on is Neo-Victorian, set in 1815, and so I’ve been doing a lot of fact checking and original research to add authenticity to my scenes and settings. Even so, I’m forever finding anachronisms. The next piece I work on will definitely be based in present-day London!
My ‘I want to understand every scene’ notebook
I picked up this Midori beauty a few weeks ago. The pages are silky smooth and just perfect for fountain pen with no show through. The picture doesn’t quite do it justice, but the pages are off-white so they’re easier to read from. It really is a joy to use.
I’ve been using it in a similar way to the index cards – exploiting the grid layout to break down the scenes. How the characters feel, what the reader learns etc. It won’t stay this neat for long, mind!
My ‘I need to know my characters’ notebook
This is actually a standard four-subject notebook, but I’m using it to record all the details of my main characters. I’ve been having trouble differentiating them and my readers have been losing track of who’s is who, so it felt important to develop backstories for all of them. And to be able to keep them distinct.
My ‘Am I acting on all my feedback?’ notebook
This is the notebook I’ve been using at workshops to capture feedback and to summarise the key take-outs and how I can action them. I picked it up from Foyles at Charring Cross Road. I got the Midori ideas book at the same time and a Leuchtturm academic diary so it was the first time I went to a book shop and ended up spending more on stationery than novels. It was all worth it, though.
The design is one of Foyles’ own. The end papers are what first attracted me. And I’ve since learnt that what I thought of as dots are actually representative of full stops – how cool is that. You can read more about the design process here.
And not forgetting the belly wrap it came with, which more or less commands you to write the bestseller you’ve been dreaming of. The perfect inspiration for all the wannabe writers. What’s more it comes in six different designs and colour ways so when this one runs out, I’ll be able to pick up another that’s similar but different. Great for shelf appeal but also recognising what time period it covers.
So there you have it – all the notebooks I’ll be using throughout Nano and beyond. Good luck fellow writers! And here’s to a novel-tastic November.
I’m planning a couple of posts on my progress so do sign up or check back to see how I’m getting on.