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How to Start a Writer's Notebook

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Chloe has a Bachelors degree in Creative Writing. Her favorite genre is teen fiction and she hopes to one day write a best-selling novel.

Why You Should Keep a Writer's Notebook

I have a notebook obsession. I love everything from children's diaries with locks all the way to leather-bound journals. The journal department at Barnes and Noble is like my dream. I can't help but touch and look at every single one. I'm also a writer, so my family always buys me notebooks for holidays and birthdays. I'm so lucky.

Face with figuring out how to use all of these notebooks, I decided to turn one into a "writer's notebook." Here's how you can do the same.

A writer's notebook is a great resource to keep track of everything that inspires you

A writer's notebook is a great resource to keep track of everything that inspires you

What Is a Writer's Notebook?

A writer's notebook is a designated place where a writer keeps all of their ideas. It's perfect for inspiration, quotes, research, etc. There is no limit to what you can put in your writer's notebook.

Writer's Notebook Versus Internet Devices

These days, everyone has a smartphone or a computer that is connected to the internet. You would think that using an app that syncs across devices would be the best idea. You want your ideas with you at all times, don't you?

This would be a good idea if the internet wasn't made entirely of distractions. Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest... you name it. Distracting.

Keeping your ideas in a physical notebook allows you to disconnect from those distractions and focus on your work, and you can take it anywhere.

Choosing a Notebook

Do not run out and spent a ton of money on a brand new notebook.

There are several things to consider when choosing your writer's notebook.

First, do you have any notebooks lying around that you can use? Free is best.

Size: Notebooks range in size from pocket-sized to 3-inch-thick monstrosities. You want one that is going to fit your lifestyle. If you're constantly on the go then a smaller notebook may be better. If you work from home and don't want to write anywhere else then go ahead and get a huge one.

Paper Weight: I never thought about this until I bought a notebook with thin pages. My pen bled through so I could only use one side of the page. Live and learn.

Lines, Grid, or Dots: I didn't know these were options until I got into Bullet Journaling. Also really look at the line spacing in the notebook. Most "pretty" journals are wide-ruled which I hate, so make sure you take a look inside before buying.

Price: There's nothing wrong with buying a $1 composition notebook. It's a perfect place to start and play around.

Choosing which notebook to use is the fun part

Choosing which notebook to use is the fun part

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Starting Is the Hardest Part

This part can be intimidating. It's easy to worry about ruining your beautiful new notebook. Don't worry. Here are some ideas for your first pages.

Personal Biography: Write a little bit about yourself and how you got into writing. If you're ever unsure about yourself just read why you started writing.

Notes of Encouragement: Pass the notebook around to people you trust and have them write words of encouragement for you.

Quotes: I love writing advice from famous authors. I find this particularly inspiring when I'm feeling down.

Make a "List of 100"

This is one of my favorite writing exercises. Make a list of 100 things that make you happy. The only catch is that you have to do it all in one sitting. It seems easy but it's a lot harder than it looks. Doing this exercise all in one sitting really forces you to think about the things in your life that make you happy. Even the little things.

Remember, you're not ranking these items, just writing them down as you think of them. You'll see patterns emerge and that's okay. You might repeat things and that's okay too.

I love this exercise because it makes you feel happy when you're doing it.

When you get a little stuck about what to write about just pick something off the list and write about why you like it so much.

Fill Your Notebook With Stuff You Love

  • Lists
  • Ideas
  • Dreams
  • Memories
  • Stories
  • Occurrences
  • Quotes
  • Song Lyrics
  • Poems
  • Inspirations
  • Doodles
  • Pictures
  • Lies
  • Overheard Conversations

More on Lists

Lists are a great way to organize your thoughts and get things out of your head. Here are some great lists to include and work on when you don't feel like working on anything else.

  • Things That Make Me Happy
  • Mental Images From My Childhood
  • Jobs I’ve Had
  • What My Summers Have Consisted Of
  • Sports, Hobbies, Activities, and Clubs
  • Trips, Journeys, and Adventures
  • Secret Places Only I Know About
  • Things I Believe In
  • Lessons I Have Learned
  • Things That Make Me Laugh
  • Things That Make Me Cry
  • Ways I Can Help Others
  • My Accomplishments
  • Places I Would Like to Visit
  • Things I Carry With Me at All Times
  • Things I Would Like to Carry With Me at All Times
  • Expectations I Have For Myself
  • Things I Do Well
  • Things I Love/Hate About My Family
  • Beautiful Things
  • Good Book I have Read
  • Fun Things to Do
  • Special People In My Life
  • My Skills
  • Hopes for the Future
  • Things I’m Afraid Of
  • Things to Do Before I Die

What Are Your Favorite Things to Include in Your Journal?

Let me know in the comments.

Questions & Answers

Question: Do you have any advice for a high school student trying to keep a writing journal?

Answer: Write as much as possible as often as possible. You can use the classic pen and paper, but you can also journal on your phone using an app. Some of these even allow you to add pictures which is even better.

If you are looking to improve your writing abilities, then you should experiment with different writing techniques. Journal an experience in third person point of view, or fully detail a conversation using dialogue and dialogue tags.

If you get stuck, think back to a childhood memory and write about it.

There are also plenty of places to find writing prompts online in whatever genre suits your fancy.

Question: Do you have any advice for a middle schooler with depression, and trying to keep a Writers Notebook?

Answer: Journaling is especially helpful for those with a disease or illness. It really lets you track how you are feeling over time. It is good to journal when you feel you are in a depressive state, even if it feels like you are just writing boring stuff. You should also make sure to write about the really good stuff that happens to you too. Re-reading these entries can help you feel better when you are in a depressive state.

If you can speak to a therapist or even your school counselor you can show them some of your entries to help them understand how you feel.

I created an emotional ranking system for myself to help determine how I was feeling. I used a one to ten scale. So when I journal before bed, I can mark down how I felt that day. This is helpful in the long run to determine if there are certain months or seasons where you feel especially bad.

1. Literally the worst, stayed in bed and cried.

2. Made it out of bed, only cried a little.

3. Everything sucks, but you went to work or class anyway.

4. Anxious, forgot something, spell your lunch, got rained on.

5. Meh, take it or leave it. A day you'll forget by tomorrow.

6. A day you thought was going to be bad turned out okay.

7. Decent day even though you had to go to work or school.

8. Great. Good news and your day went smoothly.

9. Fantastic, ate your favorite foods, went out with your favorite people.

10. Best day ever. Nothing can compare to this day.

Question: What do you do when you get a new notebook?

Answer: I like to make sure that I put my name and phone number on the first page of each new notebook, especially if I'm taking that notebook with me or keeping it in my purse. That way if I lose it, the person who finds it can return it to me.

I don't often read my old journals, so I just keep them in a box labeled "Keep Out." You can keep them on a bookshelf, if you like. To make it easier to locate a specific journal later, you can write the date (or another identifier) on the spine using a permanent marker.

Question: Will I run out of time to journal?

Answer: There are no time limits when it comes to writing in your journal. If you feel as though you don't have enough time to complete an entry, you can always come back to it later. If you find that you are always running out of time, then you should adjust when you write so you don't feel rushed.

Question: Do you find that as you get older, and maybe wiser, your lists grow up with you? And maybe your outlook on daily chores change to make you feel more compassionate towards those around you that don't write?

Answer: My brain is wired in a way that things make the most sense when they are put in writing. It's much easier for me to organize thoughts and ideas in written form. So I often recommend this method to others.

As I get older, I realize that not everyone's brain works in this way. For some, it is not easier to write everything down. They don't like to work through their issues in a daily journal. That's okay. Writing, while important, isn't for everyone.

I encourage people to try many methods to figure out what works for them. That may mean using speech to text for shopping lists and talk therapy to work through issues.

Question: Can I include doodles in a writer's notebook?

Answer: Absolutely. This is your journal, and you can do whatever you want. There is no right or wrong way to journal. You can doodle, add stickers, glue in pictures or magazine cut-outs.


Neyah Oruku on May 29, 2020:

Thanks! Gave me a few ideas, disappointed to find that my notebook loves to seep ink through the pages :(

Alison Crosby on May 13, 2020:

Thanks, Chloe. I don't know if I'll follow this exactly, but its helpful.

Caren Nyigei on March 17, 2020:

I'm Caren from Kenya and I love poetry I tend to write at rare occasions when am touched or when something interesting crosses my mind and words come flowing

Robin Gillett on February 05, 2020:

I need advice about how to organize my notebook. How do I keep track of various entries?

MKDooley on January 01, 2020:

Lety - I can relate! I miss the days of my youth when writing came more easily.

My best advice is to write, anyways. Devote at least a half hour a day to trying to write, and forbid social media, television, reading, etc. I find it easier to journal than to work on something I want to someday publish, so I try to journal 1000 words every day, partly because it's good for my mental health, but also to establish and normalize a writing habit.

I also chart my words-per-day so I can get statistics like average per month, good weeks, bad weeks... December 2019 was a poor month for my writing habit, which means the challenge is on for January 2020.

The more you write, the easier writing oughta be. In theory.

Lety on December 26, 2019:

I am desperate to write again! I get so distracted easily and having chronic nerves doesn’t help me write. But I noticed that I can maybe write the beginning and end of an idea/story. It’s the middle part and connections to form “the sandwich” that totally throws me off. What should I do? Help! :(

Mary Johansen on December 25, 2019:

Great ideas here. Very helpful.

Maureen Dallaire on October 19, 2019:

Thank you great ideas to get you thinking. Would love to write about my bumpy and interesting life. Leave it for my children and gtandchildren for encouragement and to let them know why they do and think some of the things they do. I am a firm beliver in the apple does not fall far from the tree.

Gem Wiliams on August 17, 2019:

Hi, I'm a middle schooler who has a passion for writing. I loved this website post. It is so helpful. Should I carry my notebook around with me? Thx

Alec on July 06, 2019:

This is really helpful, thanks !

Do you have some advices for newbie Lazzy author that procrastinate often and that want to start a journal ?

Jennifer Devine on April 12, 2019:


Thank you for this article. Do you randomly enter these varied things or set up pages or sections for different kinds of entries?

Kim Hodges on January 11, 2019:

I find this is very helpful

Trevin on December 03, 2018:

Cool. Tnx a lot

Chloe (author) from Minnesota on October 08, 2018:

I love NaNoWiMo. Unfortunately I haven't won in years, due to life and excuses.

Jene Kelly from Pacific Northwest on October 07, 2018:

This is an amazing article and idea! I prowl through Staples' journal and notebook section like it's a high class jewelry store. I want them all! I have over 50 journals I've kept off and on since I was 11. I also use a bullet journal; that thing was a revelation!! I recently started a NaNoWriMo journal that deals with writing. If you don't know about National Novel Writing Month, I highly suggest it to anyone who wants to write a novel. Anyway, in my NaNo journal, I already did what you suggested here with writing quotes and encouragement from others. I write fanfiction so I went through and wrote several readers comments that encouraged me. I included several writing lessons that I always struggle with. (Show, don't tell!) I know I will start another writing journal after NaNo season is over, one I can continue to write in year round. I love all your list ideas and can't wait to start them. I have the perfect journal to use too. I actually have another journal in the mail, on its way to me now. I can't help it, I always want more! Thank you for this!

Edwina on August 02, 2018:

I'm going to be 76 yrs old this mon and have completed 2 novels. I've started journaling at least a million times over the past 65 years. Never stayed with it. That is until I read your suggestions today. I think your method is genius! I plan on starting today. Now if I could find the courage to submit a novel.

Kevin on July 20, 2018:

I tend to take my notebook to somewhere public. It can be a coffee house, bar, or restaurant and give two people I see in these venues and give them a backstory. It is entertaining to see what I can come up with while I write.

Keziah on July 14, 2018:

This isn’t a question but I absolutely LOVE this, I’m writing a story myself Andy often struggle to find encouragement Andy inspiration because I’m too private with my story, this helps a lot thanks for making it!

chisha kayumba on May 13, 2018:

Hi chloe....

This article of yours is so great I hope you have other articles for us. I love your article it helped to finally start writing a journal, which I've wanted to do ever since I turned 6 years old. I now can turn my weird/cool/scary/and not so scary dreams including inspirations into great stories all thanx to your great article. I love your ideas they are so cool I think they will be of great use to me now and in the near future.

chisha kayumba on May 13, 2018:

I'm thinking of trying these same steps to try and write a story, it has really inspired me. I love writing so much and I think that writing a journal will not only help me to be happy and keep my emotions under control it can also help me in my story writing.

Chloe (author) from Minnesota on April 14, 2018:

That's so great Belle. Just remember that any writing is better than no writing.

Belle on April 13, 2018:

I'm thinking about starting a journal now! I've been wanting to get more into my writing and motivated in general. This may just be the thing that'll help me get it done!

Kestley Knoble on February 14, 2018:

I love all of your ideas! Oh, and like you, I'm obsessed with journals! I have more than I know what to do with, yet I can't help buying more. I have a couple of my own I'd like to add. I read a lot of books. On average I read a book every two days and I use the kindle app on my Tablet. I use the highlighting feature that includes four different colors - yellow, blue, pink, and orange. As I'm reading, I use yellow to highlight dates in books that jump around in time. I use blue to highlight parts of the book that I want to remember, such as character names, clues to I think lead to 'who dunnit'. I use the color pink to highlight quotes that I like, or especially beautiful prose. I also use pink to highlight scenes and/or descriptions that I relate to, whether it be a feeling I've had or a scenario that describes something similar I went through. Finally, I use orange to highlight words I'm unfamiliar with. Now, here's the part that relates to writing notebooks. After finishing a book, I go back through my highlights and write down everything I've highlighted pink - things that relate to my own life, relationships, etc. I also write down the words I highlighted in orange along with their definitions. I hope this method might help others the way it has helped me.

Chloe (author) from Minnesota on January 17, 2018:

Fatimah: I'm glad you found this article helpful. :)

Chloe (author) from Minnesota on January 17, 2018:

Crystal Phoenix: This is how I started writing fiction. I love having weird dreams. I've fallen out of the habit of writing them down though.

fatimah on January 17, 2018:

Hi Chloe,

My names is fatimah and i'm a 17 years old girl from Babil , Iraq . I really loved your article , it was super beneficial for me.

crystal phoenix on January 16, 2018:

I write any weird/ cool/ interesting dreams i had and then see if i can turn them into stories

Wonita on December 26, 2017:

Great Inspiration!

Sonia on September 22, 2017:

Really good advice here before my TBI traumatic brain injury. I was able to just pick any topic and write about it now I am finding it hard to steady my thought to write.

Josiane duarte on September 15, 2017:

Hi, I am a brazilian writer and loved this post! I intend to do my happy list soon!

Thanks a lot!

Christina on September 13, 2017:

What I am feeling and what made me feel he way I do. I a little little notebook with me because sometimes I have ideas what to write about and if I don't write them down soon as they come to me I will lose the words. Writing has been a passion of mine since I was a child, started off as an anger outlet and became more. I was soon writing poem prayers, that came to short stories. I can also look round me and put into words what I see, heartache, disaster, loved ones that passed away, and a bad marriage. Life throws its punches and its to have something to catch you during thoughts blows, or it can be the happiest times or scary times whatever the reason writing has always been my way f letting it all come out. Love your ideas

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on August 28, 2017:

Stopping by again to add a couple more observations. One of my tiny notebooks is full of quotes I like. Lately, though, I've been using the online utility called "Evetnote." It let's you set up a different notebook for each topic or category. Since I do all of my writing at my desktop computer, it works well for me.

I had to laugh at the "things you scream into the phone when stuck on hold.". My most common one there, is, " Well, maybe if you hired enough people to man the phone lines, you wouldn't have to keep your customers on terminal hold!!". LOL

Sandra on August 28, 2017:

Chloe, love this article. There's something I continue to struggle with and results in my feeling like my information's scattered vs organized. I'm writing a historical romance during the civil war era. I've collected so many snippets, maps of areas covered in storyline and even trifold brochures with great bits of information that I'd like to capture and have on hand in a binder or place where it's categorized and quickly accessible.

I have written at home but am usually mobile. With material of nonstandard size with info I'd like to have with me, what would you recommend as a way to capture what I want vs hauling around brochures, maps, etc.? Copy, retype what info I like or scan and print? Or one of those small portable plastic file bins that is designed for hanging files for times when I'm traveling?




Tom O'Connor on August 16, 2017:

Thanks for the share

Chloe (author) from Minnesota on July 27, 2017:

Yay. I find that the more you use it, the more ideas you'll think of to put in it.

Yara on July 27, 2017:

Love this post !

Thank youu for sharing this, now I have more motivation and inspiration to start one.

Chloe (author) from Minnesota on July 21, 2017:

I do love the feel of those sorts of notebooks. I tend to prefer thin paper. For some reason it just feels fancier to me.

Bex on July 21, 2017:

I have recently fallen in love with the soft covered journals. They almost feel like leather but they're not. I love the feel of the outside, plus at the bottom f each page there's a space for notes/quotes ect. And the paper is a little thicker than the standard notebook, which I love

Chloe (author) from Minnesota on July 10, 2017:

Yay. I'm so happy I was able to motivate you. I'm sure it will get you over your blocks quickly.

carmina on July 10, 2017:

I just found an untouched notebook in my room that I thought of using as a writer's notebook since I've been trying to find my way out of a writing block for a few months now. And not knowing how to start, I left it on my desk hoping that maybe I'll find some inspiration and not ruin everything. And this is when I saw your post on Pinterest. I can only say that I'm in love with it, you did a great job and I feel motivated to start my writer's notebook now more than ever. So thanks a lot, I owe you! All the nice thoughts!

Pamela on June 21, 2017:

I also make inefficient and ineffective use of several journals all at the same time. I'm going to take one of them and start using it like you suggest. Great list by the way!

Dita on June 13, 2017:

I am like you...a journal collecer. I start each with a different idea, one for new words, one for quotation, etc. Y

Diane Ziomek from Alberta, Canada on June 12, 2017:

Wonderful inspiration! I started using a bullet journal in April of this year, and am loving it. I just added this list to two of the pages, and will start a separate Writer's Journal when I get a new notebook. I too have several notebooks with the first few pages filled, but since starting my BuJo I have been keeping most of my things in one. That is, if you don't count the notebook I started with just to see if I liked the BuJo system. I have seen articles on Travel Journals, and may have to expand my system to accommodate a writing journal that goes with me everywhere as well.

You have provided some fabulous tips and subject lines. Thank you for the inspiration.

Qwa Qween on May 01, 2017:

Thank you! I love theese ideas. ^-------^ Will start my own when I' ll have a little break, thank you so much!

With love. ♥

rachel santheep on October 11, 2016:

Thanks,this is a very good article, it helps me a lot

carol stanley from Arizona on October 21, 2012:

This is a lovely idea and way to keep your private thoughts. I find that writing adds to my peace of mind. When you put something down on paper you no longer have to think about it..Lovely journal. Voted UP.

Teresa Coppens from Ontario, Canada on August 22, 2012:

This is a really simple but useful idea for writers of all genres. You have inspired me to start one for myself!

Mohan Kumar from UK on August 11, 2012:

Love the idea ... I 've always kept a notebook full of ideas as inspiration can strike anywhere. Your handy hints like making a list, using 'if I were' scenarios and writing a 'wall of encouragement' are interesting and innovative. Thanks for sharing, no chance - I think there's every chance that your creativity will take you to high places! BW.

LetitiaFT from Paris via California on July 16, 2012:

This is wonderful. I see another Julia Cameron in the making here!

Akarime31 from Las Vegas, NV on June 04, 2012:

Love this hub! I've had a journal since I was in high school but I haven't finished filling it up yet. I like putting poems, quotes, and pictures that inspire me.

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on June 01, 2012:

Some great ideas, here. Inspiration for "what to write next" is found in so many places...overheard conversations...LOL I like that one... I've "filled in the gaps" in my head so many times from snatches I've overheard in the grocery store. ;-) Next time, maybe I should set it to paper.

Oh--a fun thing to do with overheard bits--is to combine several from various sources, and try to make them work as a sentence or a story. ;-) We used to do that as an exercise in the comedy improv troupe I used to belong to.

Another trick I learned years back, for days when you're blocked, depressed, or just feeling uninspired, is to keep a "me" book. (This could easily go in such a journal as you suggest.) In it, are written out all the compliments people have ever paid you, that made you feel "job well done," or just gave you a nice glow. Record the date, who said it, and about what. Read it over when you're bummed out about something.

Loved the ideas! Voted up, interesting, useful and shared.

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