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I can clearly remember my very first writing notebook. When I was in fourth grade, at the age of nine years old, my class teacher decided to require that every morning for first period, we would all have a 45-minute freewriting session in our notebooks. At the time, my notebook was simply a classic ruled composition book; the standard Mead black cardboard cover with white blotches and specks all over it. Back in those days, the neon highlighters were now just being released for sale in stores to the general public. I can still remember wasting an entire first period coloring in all the white blotches with a highlighter to make my notebook stand-out from the others in my class.
It was the goal of the teacher to get us to start our own personal writing journals, but all that I ever wrote about were bits and pieces of playground happenings and immature, sophomoric ramblings of my nine-year-old self. Once a week the teacher would collect and grade the entries in our notebooks, As I recall, we were graded according to length, clarity, subject matter, punctuation, and most importantly, neat handwriting. One of my fondest memories of fourth grade was when I received feedback on the previous weeks writing, where I had been given an F for devoting an entire page of writing talking about how my classmate, Tim, had farted on the playground and how much it amused all of us.
Over the years, I kept writing notebooks, sporadically at best, giving up and/or abandoning them once enough time had passed between entries. It wasn’t until I was seventeen that I started to get serious about writing in general, and keeping a writing notebook with almost daily entries. To be a successful writer, regardless of your writing genre, one must keep a writing notebook. I keep my writing notebook with me along with at least one or more pens whenever possible. Ideally, I would prefer to have my notebook nearby all the time, however even with the most obsessive of writers will agree that it is not always possible.
What goes into a typical writing notebook? It all depends on the writer, their needs, and their individual style and tastes. Much of what fills a writing notebook are bits and pieces of stories, quotes, ideas, song lyrics, observations on life, etc. A writer will generally fill their writing notebook with anything that is likely to inspire a piece of writing, or anything that is likely to inspire a piece of writing, or anything that will add value to an already in-progress piece. Most writers keep their notebooks separate from their writing projects; I prefer to keep all of my writing work right along side of my notes. Some writers will draw pictures or paste photographs in their notebooks; mine are simple by comparison, yet perfectly suited to my individual needs and style. Sometimes I will even cross-reference earlier writing pieces within my notebook by writing down the title followed by the date then underling the reference. Adam Pash, author of Lifehacker, Third Edition, has a very unique notebook system you can learn about by reading his book, also a must-read.
A good writer generally keeps their writing notebooks private, and even on very rare occasions, will only share it with a trusted friend, loved one, or with another writer whom they might be collaborating with. Writers are not doing this out of selfishness, or because they have something like secrets written down, or something else they feel as if they need to hide. To a successful writer, their notebooks are their form of private storage for the contents of their brain. Each notebook is unique and individual to the writer that wrote it, and as such, reading it might not make much sense to an outsider. It is the task of a good writer to write a piece that speaks to their readers based upon their notes, not simply copied from them.