A Writer and Her Notebooks

by Gurpreet Sihat

Since the world first went into lockdown, writers seem to have become split into two groups: those who have been able to be really disciplined with their time and get work done, and those who have slipped into what feels like an endless block.

I, for one, have been firmly in the second category since November. Usually, this would make me feel terrible, but with life being so mad I have implemented a new rule: if I add to my writer’s notebook every week, it doesn’t matter if I’ve managed to write or not because I’m still building.

Physical notebooks are brilliant. Not only do they allow you to disconnect from the distractions of the internet, but you also really have to think before you put pen to paper so not to make mistakes. 

I have two writer’s notebooks: 

The first is a scrapbook. It’s a beautiful 12-by-12-inch square with the night sky on the cover, a Tolkien quote on the front, and black pages with a beautiful texture. It’s the more visual of the two, filled with newspaper cuttings, postcards I picked up while on holiday, and pieces annotated with symbolism, references and reasons why the artist made the decisions they made. 

Using a scrapbook, in itself, is a creative process and really gets the juices flowing. I collect images throughout the month, then spend one weekend looking back through everything. If the images still inspired me the way they did when I first saw them, they get printed and pasted in, annotated with the thoughts I’ve gathered along the way. I have pages filled with characters from various shows paired with notes about what it is that drew me to them all around, newspaper articles about hauntings in the British Museum, photographs of sculptures with the stories of their inception and artistic choices I could perhaps implement myself somewhere one day.

The second is a notebook. A lovely mocha coloured cover with two hundred lined pages and a brown elastic clasp. It’s a gift from a friend; a constant reminder that there are people out there who believe in me and want to hear what I have to say. I recently read a post about a writer who took this one step further. She handed her notebook around trusted friends and had them write words of encouragement on her first page which she could return to when she needed them. What a brilliant idea!

This particular notebook is filled to the brim with dreams that have stayed with me, song lyrics and quotes from books and movies and speeches, snippets of overheard conversations that have piqued my interest, poems whose words have been so visual I can almost touch them, thoughts that have stirred strong emotions in me. 

A writer’s notebook should be filled with things that make you think, make you see something the real world doesn’t give you, makes you want to write. They don’t have to push your current WIP forward, but they need to elicit a reaction from you.

That’s not to say they don’t eventually inspire your words. While listening to Michael Caine speak about first meeting Prince Philip, I made a note that took only a few months before making it into my manuscript. A sculpture I fell in love with in Belgium took seconds before becoming one of my protagonists. But an interview with security at the British museum who heard the Elgin Marbles crying? That’s yet to make it into any of my work, but you can be sure it will one day. 

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