The Writing Practice : Journalism by Marcus Niski



On Keeping a Writer's Notebook

"...the point of my keeping a notebook has never been, nor is it now, to have an accurate factual record of what I have been doing or thinking."

Joan Didion in Slouching Towards Bethlehem

    For many years now I have been keeping as series of notebooks that I often refer to at different times and for different purposes.

  These steadily accumulating archives with their pure white acid-free pages contain a number of amusing, intriguing and sometimes mundane treasures. From lists of books and research references, to exotic insights drawn from the ancients, my notebooks provide the perfect device for accumulating so much useable material for both fiction and non fiction writing projects alike.

  In spite of their obvious lack of technological sophistication, the humble writers' notebook provides one of the most simple and reliable devices for recording a vast range of potential literary treasures. Quotations and other fragments from the works of Henry Miller, Jean Genet, Blaise Cendrars, Albert Camus and Antoine de Saint-Exupery as well as poems, scribbled notes, reflections, postcards and other objets d'art are but a few examples of the sorts of literary flotsam and jetsam that adorn my much treasured notebooks.

  The beauty and importance of the notebook undoubtedly lies not so much in what is recorded, but in the very fact that we are attuned that there is so much that can be recorded. Unlike the journal, notebooks are by their very nature random and spontaneous: the golden rule is that there are no firm rules about form or structure. Record what you like where and whenever you like. Notebooks are the ideal way of recording overheard conversations, observations, random thoughts and streams of consciousness- all of which may provide some inspiring and intriguing material to use either as a departure point for writing or as material in an existing writing project.

  One my most favorite aspects of keeping a series of notebooks over the years has been the collecting of quotations. From Marcus Aurelius and Euripides, to Goethe and Shakespeare, my humble notebooks have become an important aide memoir to some of the world's great literature. Whenever I read I am always with a notebook at hand waiting for some charming or captivating morsel to transcribe into to my collection.

  Part of the challenge in keeping a writers' notebook undoubtedly lies in utilising your powers of insight and imagination. Learning to see more acutely, read more critically and recording detail more effectively are undoubtedly important skills in any writers armoury. Use you notebook as a means of recording whenever and wherever possible.

  Your local bookshop probably keeps any number of notebooks. Choose one that has just the right form and feel for you and one that you will feel that you will use rather than leave on the shelf. Keep your notebook with you as often as practical and use it in particular when you are reading and/or doing research.

  In keeping a writers' notebook you'll be in the company of some of the world's great writers. Indeed they have served as an important departure point for some of the most important works by George Orwell, Virginia Woolf, Bruce Chatwin, Bertolt Brecht, Albert Camus, Paul Auster to name but a few...

[1] Originally published in The Australian Writer,  No.313 Feb/March 1999, reprinted in Irina Dunn, The Writer's Guide, Allen & Unwin, 1999.


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© Marcus Niski 1999-2005