I want to give you, my dear readers, an inside look at my writer's notebook, which will help reveal how I work each day. It has a gray cover and a string clasp to keep it closed. I paid $1 for it at Ikea about 6 weeks ago. It's small, with about 100 blank pages, and I keep it in the same brown satchel I use to carry my laptop. I might write in this notebook with pen or pencil, but I use it every day. Let's look inside at one week of notes.
The first page is filled with notes I took during a telephone call with an assigning editor who described a story she wanted me to write: a 100th birthday party for a dormitory at one of the world's most prestigious academic institutions (it's in Cambridge). I scribbled down the word count she gave me, the deadline, and some ideas she had for how I should approach the story. She promised to email me a list of potential interviewees for the story, which is helpful. After a 15 minute chat, we negotiated the payment and I took the assignment.
The next 3 pages are filled with interview questions for sources on that same "dormitory birthday" story. The pages are covered with cross-outs and changes to the wording of about a dozen questions. I always prepare questions carefully when I write a story. Questions are every writer's best tool.
Let's turn the page. Next are questions for a small business owner about why he selected one of my B2B business clients. These kind of interviews are like client/customer testimonials, but they also need to offer readers information and insights about the challenges small business owners face and how they overcome them (that's where my B2B business client comes in). Again the page is messy, but shows progress in framing the interview questions, which will help me frame the story for my client.
On the next page is a drawing. Yes, I draw in my notebook too . . .The security guard who lets me into my coworking space in downtown Boston is always drawing, and I often talk to him about creativity. He's a very talented artist, and he suggested that I start drawing for fun and to foster my own creativity. I am NOT a talented artist. My drawing, done with a blue pen, is a full-page illustration of a plastic, white electrical socket embedded in a wall. Under the full-page socket, I scribbled the words: "Keep on Plugging!" It took me about 15 minutes to draw this picture, but it was a nice break between writing two difficult articles. Usually, I socialize during breaks, or drink coffee, but I might also draw for 15 minutes once a week.
The next 3 notebook pages are filled with more scribbled questions for a business book author I'll be interviewing by phone in 2 days. She's an HR expert, and so the questions are related to my reading of her new book (about how companies can better engage their employees).
Let's turn those pages to find 3 more pages of questions for another business author and innovation expert (interview in 4 days). I'll be talking to him on behalf of a client who focuses on small business owners, so I frame all the questions from the perspective of a small business owner who wants to innovate and help his or her business grow. Empathy is a huge part of what writers do. We don't just ask questions. We need to ask the questions we imagine our audiences want asked and answered. To do that well requires empathy and insight into your audiences. I've developed that, over time.
The next 2 pages are filled with notes I take as I'm actually writing an article for another B2B client on technology trends that are now impacting the construction industry. Usually, I research online and take notes simultaneously, and these pages illustrate just that. I scribble the words "mobile apps for site safety" and "digital collaboration tools allow site workers to communicate in real-time with architects" and "3D printing can build construction materials remotely -- they can then be delivered to construction sites and then assembled (saves time and money)."
Taking notes as I research and write helps me think better and organize my writing. I'll often scribble a quick outline for an article on a blank page, and then keep the page open as I type up the article. It may sound messy and confused, but it helps my writing look structured and thought-out, which it is. Scribbling questions, outlines, and notes in my handy notebook is an important part of my writing process.
Okay, so you get the general idea. Do you use a notebook to be creative, dear reader? Do you use it the way I typically do? Let us know in the comments.