The notebook – no matter what size or shape; whether it’ cheap or expensive – holds many promises for any writer.
It can be called a journal or simply a writer’s notebook, but those blank pages can serve a variety of purposes.
A journal need not be a mere diary – actually, a journal should not be a mere diary. Writer James Brown uses his journal as a stepping stone, where he explores his ideas and characters for whatever he’s writing. It is, so to speak his “drawing board.”
When writing non-fiction, he writes short biographical sketches of his characters in his notebook and workouts the scenes in the pages of his journals. “What matters is how journaling can help the writer come up with ideas, kind of a warm-up to a bigger process. The next step is building on those ideas, discarding some and fleshing out others, developing characters and motives, and arranging the scenes in a logical, meaningful sequence with a firm sense of a beginning, middle and end,” Brown explained.
Brown teaches creative writing classes and he says he asks his students to work out their stories in their notebooks: “In my college creative writing classes, I occasionally require the student to keep a journal and use it to sketch scenes and create fictional biographies for the stories they plan to write. Sometimes I ask them to go to the local Starbucks and eavesdrop on a conversations, recording it verbatim, so that they can see the difference between real talk and the polished dialogue in the books I have them read.”
Brown also used his journal as reference for his memoir. Recording memorable snippets from our lives is, he says, important for any writer: “Memory is fallible, however. the powers of recollection fade with age; mental images, sensory details old feelings, and emotions are all too often driven beneath the surface of our consciousness. This is especially true of memories that are painful to recall, and for some maybe that’s a good thing because in forgetting there may follow a necessary peace. Writers, however, can’t afford the same luxury. We need to hang on either by keeping a journal before we begin a project or during its writing, we hope to come to a better understanding of who we are, what we’ve become, and where we’re going. That’s where you’ll find your best stories, the ones that make sense out of the chaos we call our lives.”