Writers Take Note

Clockwise from left: “Missy-isms,” etc.; Miss Missy’s School Book I; Miss Missy’s School Days; Aubrey’s Odyssey; Miss Missy’s School’s Out for the Summer!; An American Foursquare; “What would they read?”; Old Books Book Club; a book written for grownups by Mark Twain

I love notebooks and journals! I have one or more for each of the books I’m working on, others for books I’m reading. Naturally, I have a notebook that’s my commonplace book. If you haven’t read about John Bartlett yet in the “Epilogue: Old Things and Ways Explained” to Miss Missy’s School Book I: A Pack of Farm Dogs Starts a School, a commonplace book is simply a notebook where you write down sayings, quotations, Bible passages, titles of books you want to read– random things you want to put down on paper so if you can’t remember them later, you can still easily find them.

I was looking through the four Miss Missy’s School journals the other day. I came across something in the first one (the Rocky-look-alike) that made me chuckle. There is a page where I wrote a list of the characters’ names– Missy and her pack and their people– in one column, and then the same list in another column on the same page. Pairs of names are connected to each other by arrow lines, and on top of each line is written something. For example, Rocky’s name in the left column has a line that points to Bebe’s in the right, and John’s in the right points to Rocky’s in the left.

If you’ve read “Chapter XXI: The Big Day,” you know exactly what all of these names and lines mean! If you haven’t yet, I’ll give you a hint. There is a gift exchange in that chapter. Before I could write the chapter, I had to figure out who each character naturally gives something special to, and what that special something would be.

The “Dog is Love” journal is for Book II: Miss Missy’s School Days. The first pages have questions, such as, “When is each subject taught? What time? What days?” and “What do the youngest students do all morning?” (The youngest students don’t go to classes, and they are dismissed at lunch time.) Unlike the gift exchange question that was specific, these questions are background questions. I had to answer them before I could start writing. It also has pages filled with research notes on armadillos, and the differences between crows and ravens.

I made a new entry in that journal just the other day. I was reading the book by Mark Twain, and out of the blue my brain solved a nagging problem I was having about the ending of Book II. And I thought, I’d better write that down so I don’t forget! So I wrote it in the journal.

Mark Twain’s journals are almost as famous as the books he wrote. People have written books about his notebooks!

Mark Twain in Mark Twain’s Notebooks & Journals (1975)

As a young man, Twain thought he could just remember everything he wanted to, but he couldn’t. So he started taking notes, but they weren’t detailed and didn’t help him remember what his thoughts had been. Finally, he began to make notes with more detail– but not every detail! That’s where his imagination came in.

Another author whose notebooks are very famous is Beatrix Potter. I think we may have to wait for another day to talk about her notebooks because it’s a long story. She wrote in code so that no one else could read them. It wasn’t until after she died that someone decoded them and discovered what she wrote!

Journals for writers are like sketchbooks for artists. You can doodle simple ideas, jot down your impressions of something you saw or something someone said. You can ask questions. For example, if you saw a deer standing right by your patio, and your dog, Spot, barked and barked but the deer just calmly walked a few paces away, you might ask yourself, I wonder what that deer thinks of Spot? The next time you want to write a story, but can’t think of an idea, all you need to do is look back at your journal to the ideas you’ve already had. And then you can use your journal to begin thinking about how you want the story to go.

2 Replies to “Writers Take Note! (Feb. 26)”

  1. I love journals too! And the act of writing longhand. You are right that these entries can sometimes be the equivalent of sketching, because that’s exactly how I look at it. It doesn’t help that I not only like the practice, but the actual stationery as well. Anyway, thanks for this post!

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