What’s in Your Creative Writing Notebook?

writing notebook

This is my favorite writing notebook.

I’ve been collecting writing notebooks and journals since I was a teenager. Most writers I know tend to accumulate a lot of stationery and office supplies: notebooks, pens, paper clips, and other odds and ends that we can use to manage and organize our writing projects.

Over time, these writerly goodies pile up.

I now have a sizable collection of creative writing notebooks and journals. Some are completely filled up. Others are still blank. A few are only partially used.

Good Old-Fashioned Paper

These days, writers use computers for most of their writing. But many of us readily admit there’s still something about good old-fashioned pen and paper that gets creativity flowing. It’s difficult to brainstorm on a computer; jotting down notes and random thoughts is cumbersome; and it’s almost impossible to doodle in the margins.

When you work with paper, more of your senses are engaged. When more of your senses are engaged, creativity flows more freely. You have to use your mind and your hands together. It’s a tactile experience.

I get lost in my writing when I’m composing scenes on my computer, but the real magic happens when I’m working out problems and developing ideas in my writing notebook.

Paper Preferences

Most writers will develop a preference for a particular type of writing notebook. Some of mine are pretty and whimsical. Others are simple and functional. I always go through lots of spiral notebooks for my business writing, but when it comes to creative writing, I prefer either composition notebooks or hardbound journals.

Composition notebooks are cheap, so I feel like I can be free and messy, which is essential when I’m brainstorming and plotting elaborate stories. A lot of my ideas get scratched, and it’s not a big deal when they’ve been scrawled in one of these cheap writing notebooks. Since they’re not precious, it’s easier to dive in and start writing without feeling intimidated by the blank page.

For poetry, I prefer to work in a hardbound sketchbook with unlined pages. I like to doodle and draw when the mood strikes. Occasionally, I write sideways, upside down, or even in circles (a technique for breaking through writer’s block). It takes me a while to fill up a poetry journal, so it has to be tough and able to withstand lots of use. Since most of my poems never get transferred to the computer, the paper must be archival quality; there’s less yellowing and tearing with higher quality paper. I’ve found the Watson-Guptill Sketchbook to be the ideal choice for my poetry journals with Moleskines coming in a close second.

What’s in Your Creative Writing Notebook?

The other day I was going through all my notebooks and journals. I found some good ideas I’d forgotten about along with plenty of ridiculous ideas that I’m glad I abandoned. I also went through the notebooks and journals that I haven’t used yet and found myself wondering about the poems, stories, and ideas that will someday fill their pages.

Do you ever go through your old creative writing notebooks and journals? Once you’re done with them, do you store them somewhere, or do you keep what you want to use and throw away the rest? Do you have a favorite brand or style for your writing notebook, and do you keep a decent supply on hand, or do you run to the store whenever you need a new one? What, exactly, do you write in your notebooks? Do you develop stories, draft poems, or keep a journal about your life? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

Adventures in Writing The Complete Collection

About Melissa Donovan
Melissa Donovan is a website designer and copywriter. She writes fiction and poetry and is the founder and editor of Writing Forward, a blog packed with creative writing tips and ideas.


31 Responses to “What’s in Your Creative Writing Notebook?”

  1. Kelvin Kao says:

    I find that it’s harder to get writer’s block with pen and paper than a computer. I think part of that is because I write slower than I type, so there always seems to be some idea brewing waiting for the pen to catch up, while on a computer it’s easier to use it all up.

    I actually don’t like lines much. I like to brainstorm on loose pieces of totally blank printer paper.

    • That’s true. Using a computer is great for capturing more ideas quickly. On the other hand, with pen and paper, the process slows down so you’re working with each idea a little more deeply. Great observation!

  2. Preity says:

    Hey Melissa, u are absolutely right. I write more freely on paper. there my ideas and words come out more creatively and the rhyming lines ‘nd words of poetry like run amok. I never got in life a writer’s block till the time I was totally on pen & paper. After I came upon typing in computer, I faced this block twice, that too worse ones. Both of those times, I was like hitting my head at wall for some writing idea and moreover a will to write to come up. Finally pen & paper broke that dark spell of writer’s bloc.
    Ideally my creations are drafted on paper. I use less-fair paper book, like the ones used for ancient scriptures. With it I use fountain pen, and then there comes up my most appraised creations.
    So, old is gold 🙂

    • It’s a bit strange, isn’t it? You’d think that we’d feel more free on the computer because it’s so easy to delete and make changes, yet I find that most writers feel freer and more creative with pen and paper.

  3. Sharelle says:

    I don’t write often, but when I do, I never really pay much attention to the style of the book. I pretty much write in whatever; most of the time, that being a partially used school notebook. However, this journal did give me a great idea. Perhaps I can buy whimsical books to influence my creative side, that I’ve denied myself of, for awhile. I too have multiple unfinished notebooks, comps, journals, muti-subject books, you name it, I have it. Some are filled with poems, some are filled with journals or free-writing; others are filled with future plans. But I realize, none of them, or none of them that I can recall, are filled with stories; thus, neglecting my creativity within. Not to mention, writing stories also forces you to write grammatically correct, and follow all writing guidelines. Creating stories were once upon a time the epitome of my love for English class, or writing in general. I have to purchase some whimsical and/or line-free notebooks. It is a must. Just maybe it’ll spark something in me, especially the boundless effect that the line-free paper gives off. Thank you for this entry to new beginnings, for me!

    • Jann Burner says:

      I have a wall of journals (Iiterally) and I notice that ideas began in one journal (written by hand) will often complete themselves months or even years later, as if the writer was viewing the entire process from a higher perch. And the scribbles in the margins along with the isolated stain on the page will serve to bring back the entire memory of the exact moment the specific page was being written.

      If a person can verbalize their experience; their position, front, back, top, bottom all around; if they can get a glimpse of their place in the ongoing process which we call this life, this world, this universe; and if this person can verbalize it at least in their own terms, to their own satisfaction and write it down, then they are like the skipper of a small sailboat in mid ocean armed with the appropriate charts and sextant. They are not merely surviving, lost at sea on a raft awaiting rescue or death. They are on a voyage. They know where they started and they have a past track at hand from which to judge their present speed and position. Life is a cruise, not an ocean rescue. This person is now a cruiser…attitude is everything.

      Over the years of “journaling” I have found that In order to ‘qualify’ as a serious writer, a significant part of the person’s mind and personality must be able to transpose, transmute and transcend. One must be able to transpose events as quickly as a professional musician transposes musical keys; transmute the gross into the ethereal as facially as an alchemist and in the end, transcend and become as centered as a Zen initiate. This is quite aside from being able to write at all.

    • Many writers don’t write stories. However, if storytelling is what you’re drawn to, by all means, you should pursue it!

  4. Teri says:

    My last blog post was bumping around in my brain begging for freedom to play. I was running errands without computer or notebooks. I stopped at a fast food place and scribbled the ideas on paper napkins. Afterwards, I stopped at a drug store and bought a package of small yellow notepads. They fit in my purse and their color makes them easy to spot amid the other necessities I carry. Now when an idea demands attention, I can respond without running the gauntlet of fast food grease and calories. Although, the cheeseburger was tasty.

    • I can relate to that! I’ve been caught without writing instruments before and had to buy them or make do with some substitute. Now I keep notebooks everywhere so there’s always something to write with.

      • Shauna says:

        My problem then becomes: where did I put that?!?!

        • I know what you mean! One thing I’ve done is use the notebooks I’ve stashed in convenient locations to capture an idea that I don’t want to lose. I then tear that sheet out and move it to my regular notebook or journal later. I’ve actually been moving away from this method. Now I tend to make notes on my phone if I’m out and about when I get an idea. Later I can copy and paste it into a Scrivener file. Evernote is a great tool that you can install on all your devices. It syncs, so you can access all your notes from any device or location. Evernote is a digital notebook, so it’s not the old-fashioned paper and pen that some people might prefer.

  5. L.M. Sherwin says:

    What a COOL post! I have lots and lots of writing journals lying around. I’ve always been partial to spirals and composition notebooks for my ideas and scenes. I would love to have a prettier one, but for some reason, the functionality of the others seems to work best for me.

    • I love spirals too. I’ve thought about switching from comp notebooks to spirals for fiction projects, because (for some odd reason) I feel like I’m more creative with spirals.

  6. Mychelle says:

    I love journals as well. The problem for me is the prettier they are, the less likely I am to use them because I don’t want to mess them up. Ha!

    • I have a little collection of pretty journals, and I feel the same way. I prefer the more practical journals and notebooks. I want to get down to writing, not worry about the loveliness of the notebook.

  7. Charlene says:

    I have a bookshelf FULL of spiral notebooks, all filled with stories, notes on stories, or poetry. I’ve found it’s easier to write the first draft that way because the computer screen has a habit of preventing idea creation. I’m trying to hold off on buying more until needed; previously I had five empty notebooks and was trying to collect more.

    I like spirals with pockets and dividers most of all, but a simple 100 page does fine. Turns out I’m a bit too rough for composition notebooks. Not enough flexibility and I end up with pages that fall out.

    I should probably consider better storage options before Time destroys my collection.

    • I had one composition notebook that fell apart, so I stopped using them for years. The last few I’ve had didn’t fall apart, so I’m using them again. I think the reason I started using them for fiction was for simple differentiation. I have a basket of all the notebooks and journals that I’m currently using and I like to be able to quickly identify and grab the notebook for fiction, poetry, blogging, or whatever I need.

  8. De says:

    Hi, Melissa. I’m rather new here and very glad I found your blog. I write mostly in cheap, 4×7 inch spiral-bound lined notebooks that cover a certain period of time. Each one captures a slice of my real-time life complete with grocery and To Do lists, bible study notes, as well as creative project ideas, scribbles and rough drafts. I tried dedicating notebooks to creative writing vs. the everyday brain dump, but that just didn’t work for me. It seems that creative ideas pop up most often in the middle of my routine day-to-day, and they drifted away by the time I caught up with that “creative notebook” that just didn’t happen to be with me at the moment.

    I agree with Kelvin Kao above, writing with pen and paper makes me slow down and form my thoughts compared to writing rough drafts on a computer. Some of my more enjoyable writing experiences take place on paper first. I’ll have to give the no-line paper a try and see what that unlocks.

    • Ah, I have tried the single-notebook method. My problem is that I’m a list fanatic. I write lists all the time, and they cluttered up my creative writing notebooks too much. Also, when I finish a notebook, I usually go through and read it, pulling out pages I don’t need or won’t use. The lists would all get pulled anyway, so I keep those in my business/personal notebooks. I do like the idea of having a single notebook that captures a period of your life. I have a few from years ago that are like that. They are rather nostalgic.

  9. When I was in grade school we used Big Chief tablets. Even now they have a special place in my journaling heart. I love to add other things like leaves, stains, pictures, etc. to mine for inspiration. I don’t mind journaling on my computer but find it’s limiting because you can’t hold your computer at weird angles and scribble in circles like you can on paper.
    I hope you don’t mind but I enjoyed this post so much I linked to it from my blog post. It inspired me to actually post something again after weeks of web silence!

    • Of course I don’t mind if you link to any post on my site. I agree that journaling on the computer is limiting whereas with paper you can explore your creativity more. Thanks for sharing your comment!

  10. Penny Hawkins says:

    I find that I can take a notebook and great writing pen with me anywhere and just open it up and use it. I ‘ll sit in the car sometimes and just write, enclosed in a safe world of glass and steel. I’ve been known to spend $5.00 or more on a good pen,lol. And yes, I’l bulk buy notebooks, the 5 subject kind.
    wiritng on a computer, I lose my train of thought. Somehow I like the idea of writing in longhand like the old masters used to do. It just feels better. Go figure.

    • One of the great things about a pen and notebook is how portable they are. Sometimes people lament about the old tools but I don’t think they’re going the way of the horse and buggy any time soon.

  11. Terry Dassow says:

    When it comes to the future of writing or reading, I can only hope that paper will stay around because there is nothing quite like writing or reading something which exists in physical form. The internet and cyberspace are wonderful and have great potential and purpose, but I also love the good old-fashioned style for writing and reading.

    When it comes to journaling, I have a distinct distaste for spiral notebooks because the wire is too malleable and often becomes some state of mangled. The vital part of a notebook for me has become size. I’d like to be able to carry my journal without needing a large bag at all times. Sometimes it becomes an issue, and I end up having to type myself notes in the app on my cell phone. When I do this, the note becomes lost for some time until I remember to transfer it to my journal or blog.

    This is my weakness when it comes to cyberspace and technology based journaling–I become forgetful and lost. I’m sure it just has to do with how my brain processes and manages information.

    Thanks for writing your article so people could discussing this topic!

    • Thanks for your insight, Terry. As much as I love a spiral-bound notebook, I know many people find them annoying. I can see how the wire gets in the way, and it is frustrating when it gets bent. For me, the one problem with technology is keeping track of everything. Notes on the cell phone, files on the computer, plus all the old notebooks means a bunch of different information systems to maintain!

  12. Kathy says:

    I too have been captivated with journals since I started writing over twenty years ago. I mostly wrote poems and then did entries of my feelings and my ups and downs. I did my poetry on spiral notebooks since I was prone to re-write and then tear out the first edition. The lined journals with the hardbound covers called to me, yet they did not get any spontaneous writing in them. They were too good for my random thoughts and ideas. I finally found the theme books that I used in college could be the best solution and now I have a couple to write my thoughts and ideas for writing. Unfortunately I have numerous scraps of paper with poems, and research scrawled and need to put in a folder or a journal to keep from losing. A great article that makes me realize how important it is to contain our writing in a secure notebook or journal that will be archive my writing life!

  13. Jeana says:

    I cannot tell you how elated I am to have read this today! I started journaling at the age of 8. My first journal was covered in an ecru linen, and adorned with pressed flowers. I wrote in it daily, as it helped me cope with growing pains, moving, changing schools, leaving old friends behind, an facing the daunting task of making new ones. I grew up in the Air Force, so keeping a journal really kept me balanced for the longest time.

    Now, at 40, I can say that writing has become as necessary as breathing. I started collecting journals about 15 years ago. It was then that I really started putting pen to paper, and I found the ideas rolling out of my mind with ease. Paper itself isn’t nearly as important as the pen; after all, without that precious ink, my mind cannot convey itself to a blank sheet of paper. Pens are like magic wands for me, and they have to be fine tip, black or colored inks. I have also been known to use glitter gel pens, or scented gel pens until they run dry.

    You’re so very right when you mentioned the writer’s block that comes of sitting in front of a computer screen. It’s like a brain sucking parasite, and it’s side effects are mindless drooling, procrastination, hypnosis, and mental blockage.

    Now, since paper is the topic of the moment, I prefer 5 Star Notebooks, 3 to 5 subject. They must be college ruled, and have pockets in the dividers. Since I have hundreds of loose scraps of paper floating around bearing story lines, scene ideal, character quotes, etc., I need a place to keep them organized. I’ve also been known to use neon college rule loose leaf paper. I also have a rather extensive collection of three ring binders. These are essential in organizing specific projects, character files, and the like.

    As to my poetry, I keep it all neatly organized in three ring binders. One day, perhaps, I will buy that Dragon Software, and dictate all my poems into my computer.

    Writers are ritualists, much as anyone who observes an art form. Art deserves the time it takes to be born, to be nurtured, and finally to be exposed to the world. sevaS trA

    • Hi Jeana. Thank you for sharing your experiences with journaling and the notebooks you use. I like working in the 5 Star Notebooks too, and I always prefer college ruled paper to the wide ruled sheets. I use those for my business notes and appreciate the pockets throughout the notebook. Keep writing!


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