The other day, when I stopped to think about it, I realized I have a bit of an office supply fetish. It’s not that I’m compulsively well organized; it’s more that, to me, file folders and new pens and notebooks–especially notebooks– symbolize the potential that exists within the articles, columns and other writing projects that I might use those very office supplies to create.
I often claim my root profession to be documentarian, so my profusion of notebooks, journals, blogs and other recording tools seems appropriate. I recently did an inventory of my notebooks/journaling tools, both past and present. Here are the varieties of notebooks, if I may use that term loosely, that I’ve found to be indispensable over the years…
My Notebook Inventory
Reporter’s Notebook—Distinguished by being bound at the top edge and (for the most part) being slim enough to fit in a shirt pocket. I use reporter’s notebooks (or memo pads, if nothing else is available) for all my interviews and never mix interview notes with notes unrelated to a specific story assignment. That makes locating notes from an interview years after the fact much easier, as does my habit of listing the article topics covered and the date range for the interviews on the cover of the notebook.
Writer’s Daybook—This notebook is for all writing-related notes that are NOT interviews, including story outlines, to-do lists, handwritten rough drafts, snippets of dialog overheard on the light rail, and (most importantly) the ideas that often come completely unannounced when I am focusing on something other than writing. I prefer hardbound notebooks with illustrated covers for my daybooks. My mind must be going places when I write, because I’m always drawn to notebooks decorated with map, postcard/letter or travel themes.
Food/Exercise journals—Many years before my current relationship with the food/exercise recording site SparkPeople.com, I kept richly detailed running logs as a teenager. I gave my regular running routes names and wrote evocative descriptions of the weather, my thoughts during the run, and the friends and neighbors I often saw along the way. In late 2006, as I was preparing for a move, I found my old running logs and cracked open a few. It was if I popped open a vintage bottle of wine—decades later, the content was still moving and took me back to a time when I viewed burning calories as an almost spiritual experience.
When I reviewed Julia Cameron’s book The Writing Diet last year, I learned that this type of notebook writing, whether done online or on paper, serves another purpose—keeping a food journal can help one lose or maintain weight.
Blogs—I’ve kept several blogs over the past 4 years—this blog on writing and editing nonfiction; my blog on the creative process, Creative Liberty; a short-lived personal blog and two private blogs that I set up to chart progress on various writing projects I’ve got going.
Using blogs as diaries or notebooks is pretty well documented (since the word blog was originally short for the term “web log”). While my two current blogs are more commercially/communally focused than the preceding ones, I like the digital capture possibilities of blogs for writing research and may start using WordPress as a content management system to corral notes for projects that will end up online in one format or another anyway.
Social media updates—A lot of people pooh-pooh the idea of one’s personal Twitter tweets or Facebook/LinkedIn status updates being anything more than narcissistic over-sharing, but I disagree. While I’m not ready to do full-on lifestreaming myself, I do find that dipping into the journal-like commentary of my friends and contacts has positive research value for me as a writer. When I upload personal observations via social media, I do feel as if I’m sharing some sort of “open notebook” with my social circle—much like a blog, only more limited in its distribution. Some of my non-blogging Facebook friends share their activities and observations through posting notes and links, and a few (I’m thinking of Rod and Bill K. in particular here) friends share their blog posts as notes on Facebook, bringing their content to friends who don’t typically visit blogs.
I’m cautious about my use of social media as an open notebook for now, but I am tantalized by the possibilities.
The questions to you…
- How many notebooks or notebook-like online tools do you use on a regular basis?
- Do you prefer to have your note-taking in some all-in-one sort of solution (one big notebook) or use task-specific tools (lots of little notebooks)?
- Do you purchase/select your notebooks or journaling tools primarily based on functionality, aesthetics, or both?