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This Writing Life: A Look in my Notebook

27 May, 2011

Over on the Dead Robots’ Society forum, I’ve recently been discussing my writing methods, and particularly how I organise my notes. For me, this usually takes the form of buying a new notebook for each novel, which will then be filled with research, planning and plotting in no particular order. As long as everything’s in one place, I can usually find it again, no matter how messy it may be (although it’s always the case that I have other, preliminary, notes scattered in half a dozen different places, which I don’t discover again until it’s too late to use them).

Today, I thought it might be fun to show you a few shots of my current notebook, for the novel I’m planning. They encompass both the first notes I made, the research I’ve been doing and the little snippets of planning that have fallen in between.

This first photo shows the very first page. These were notes transferred from elsewhere and included everything I thought it important to remember. It’s basically a list of my first ideas and things that I might like to include in the novel. Since I wrote this page sometime last year, my plan for the novel has changed enormously (shooting forward in time by about 500 years, for one thing), but some of the old characters and settings are still relevant. And, even if they weren’t, I wouldn’t tear this out: I find it’s best to never throw notes away, because you never know when you’ll want to go back to them.

Next we have pages and pages of research, in this case from a particular book on Anglo-Norman life that I was reading at the time. This page contains all sorts of little gems of detail that might make it into a novel one day, including a couple of lines that my partner thought particularly funny: ‘Hats were often worn indoors’ but ‘Nothing was worn in bed’. I still retain the habit, from being at uni, of noting down anything that might be even vaguely relevant and making far more notes than I really need.

I’m still deep in the research process, so these particular notes go on for pages and pages. However, sometimes I feel the need to stop and think about what I’ve already learnt. Here, you can see research on the left and a page of plot notes on the right (just about, anyway – apologies for the fuzziness of this one). There are always lots of lines in my early plotting, as I try to work out how everything fits together, and you can see some of that here.

So, there are my notes – frequently untidy, disorganised and sometimes entirely irrelevant, but these will all form the basis of what will eventually be a novel. From little acorns, oak trees grow!

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