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How to Create and Use a Writer's Notebook

Shaun Connell
June 20, 2023

Keeping a writer's notebook is a great way to generate ideas, explore creatively, jot down observations, and so much more.

Whether you're trying to overcome writing block or you're planning out your next book, creating and using a dedicated notebook for your craft can be a total game changer.

Solution When you set up a writer's notebook for yourself and use it daily, you're practicing the art of what it really means to be a writer. Once you find the right notebook and create a basic organizational structure, all you have to do is fill the notebook with your ideas, observations, doodles, notes, thoughts, and anything else that adds to the practice of your craft!

In this article, we'll explore what a writer's notebook is and what it isn't, how to create one, how to use one, and even look at some famous creatives that were known for their extensive writer's notebooks.

What Is a Writer's Notebook?

A writer's notebook is a dedicated space where writers can take notes, make sketches, jot down observations, record ideas, transcribe quotes, make lists, brainstorm, and so much more.

writer's notebook with pencil camera magnifying glass and other objects

This is basically a place where you can write down just about any creative thought you have, even if that means drawing these creative thoughts.

A writer's notebook is a place to record creative thoughts. This is where all of an author can collect, store, incubate, and grow all of their writing ideas.

While the definition of a writer's notebook might sound very broad and open-ended, you don't really want your notebook to turn into a personal journal where you recount the events of your day. There's nothing wrong with keeping a diary, but it's best to keep these two purposes separate!

Other than that, there are a few limitations to what a writer's notebook can contain. One of the most powerful benefits of a writer's notebook is that it helps you understand that your own ideas are central to your writing. Essentially, this is a way for writers to actually engage in the practice of being a writer in a regular, ongoing way.

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How to Create a Writer's Notebook

Creating a writer's notebook is easy! Here are the steps you'll need to take to get going.

Find the Right Notebook

You have a lot of leeway when it comes to picking a writer's notebook. You can find a huge book or a small book, a linked book or a blank book, an extravagant book or a simple book.

Since this is a place where you're going to be able to jot down all of your inspired ideas and thoughts, you want it to be a book that works for you. At the same time, one word of warning is to watch out for getting a notebook that's too fancy. If you buy something super expensive or are otherwise floored by its aesthetic perfection, it might make you too nervous to really use it.

For this reason, it can be a good idea to go with a sketchbook or notebook that you don't feel is particularly special and instead go with something that fits the size and page style you want. This way, you won't think too much when you go to mark up the pages or make a doodle.

Consider an Organizational Structure

Maybe you want your writer's notebook to be a completely free-form object, and there's nothing wrong with that. At the same time, creating at least a little organizational structure can help you make sure that you're able to access your brilliant ideas again down the road.

At the very least, it's a good idea to save some room at the beginning of the book for a table of contents. As we'll discuss in the next section, you can number all of the pages before you get started writing so that you can easily record entries in the TOC as you go.

When coming up with your organizational structure, it's a good idea not to go too crazy here. You want to make sure that there is some flexibility in your writer's notebook so it can accommodate your needs over time.

Here are some things you might consider writing on the first page or inside cover of your writer's notebook to help give it some structure:

  • The first day you started your writer's notebook
  • An empty space to fill in the day of completion
  • The big-picture goal you're working toward
  • The working title of your current writing project

You can even create a little progress bar for yourself that you can use as you get closer to being finished with your current draft. Another idea is to write down a list of your goals for each month or quarter of the year on this same sheet to help remind you what you're working towards.

Number the Pages

It might sound like a laborious task, but it can be well worth it to number all of the pages in your writer's notebook. This way, you can easily find and reference ideas when you're using your notebook to work on a piece of writing.

Include Space For Collecting

While this isn't absolutely required, it can be nice to include an envelope or a pocket on the inside cover of the notebook. This way, if you end up having any lists, photos, sketches, postcards, holiday mementos, news clippings, or other assorted ephemera that you want to keep with your notebook, you have a neat place to do just that!

Make It Yours!

Remember, this is your book! Whether you want to cover the outside with images that inspire you, institute a totally unique organizational structure, or otherwise go your own way, have at it! Your writer's notebook should be, first and foremost, a tool that helps you as a writer, so whatever structure, methods, or techniques help you reach that end are fair game!

How to Use a Writer's Notebook

How you use your writer's notebook is entirely up to you. That being said, here are some common types of entries you might consider making.

Stream of Consciousness

Stream of consciousness can be used as a narrative technique where a character or narrator's thoughts are written in a way that represents the actual inner workings of their mind.

You can find stream-of-consciousness writing in a number of famous works. This style became particularly popular among writers during the Modernist era.

  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957): In this Beat classic, you can listen to the narrator tell quite the tale in the form of a largely uninterrupted flow of ideas. Though the story is told from the perspective of Sal Paradise, the truth is that the main character is basically an alter ego of Kerouac himself.
  • As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (1930): Stream of consciousness writing appeared in a number of Faulkner's earlier novels, including The Sound and the Fury. That being said, in As I Lay Dying, he conveys the perspective of more than a dozen characters, with each of them narrating in a free-form, stream-of-consciousness manner. The sheer volume of stream-of-consciousness writing in this text makes it stand apart from his earlier novels.
  • Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925): The inner monologues of the characters in Mrs. Dalloway are conveyed using a stream of consciousness.
  • Ulysses by James Joyce (1922): In Ulysses, readers get to learn about the happenings of a single day in the life of Leopold Bloom, an Irishman. There are long passages in this novel that are written in a stream-of-consciousness style. If you love the way that Joyce writes in a way that captures the free-associative capabilities of the brain, you'll want to check out his later works like Finnegan's Wake.
  • Notes From Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1864): Dostoevsky and other Russian writers would use stream-of-consciousness style writing to help portray intimate portraits of their narrators. Even before the term stream of consciousness became known in the literary world, Chekov, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and other Russian novelists were using a similar strategy to help show the inner workings of characters' minds.

In your writer's journal, you can take the opportunity to write the stream-of-consciousness monologue of your mind.

By engaging in stream-of-consciousness journaling, you can enjoy a number of benefits as a writer, including:

  • Bursting through writer's block
  • Avoiding overthinking
  • Learning more about yourself as a person and a writer
  • Exploring your own thought patterns
  • Learning to be more vulnerable as a writer
  • Helping you discover your writing style
  • Discovering new, creative ideas
  • Figuring out how you really feel about complex topics

If you aren't sure what to write in your writer's notebook, start doing some stream-of-consciousness journaling! You might be surprised what ends up coming out.

Write Morning Pages

Though there are some similarities with stream of consciousness journaling to morning pages, this is such a popular method for writers and creatives it's worth mentioning.

man with glasses using writer's notebook

The concept of morning pages can be found in Julia Cameron's famous book The Artist's Way, which has become a classic for creatives of all kinds.

This is how Julia Cameron describes morning pages:

"The bedrock tool of a creative recovery is a daily practice called Morning Pages."

"Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. *There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages– they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page...and then do three more pages tomorrow." -- Julia Cameron

That's right-- all you have to do is write three pages (by hand) in your notebook every morning. When you write, you don't censor yourself in any way. It might sound simple, but there are tons of people who absolutely swear by this technique!

Thought-Provoking Quotes

Another great thing to put down in your writer's notebook is any and all quotes you bump into that strike a cord. Even if you don't quite know why a certain quote seems to impact you, jot it down so you can chew it over later!

If you're looking for some quotes to include in your writer's notebook, you can check out our list of inspirational writing quotes. Heck, you might even write one quote on top of each page to serve as a little prompt.


Whether it's a poem that comes to you when you're sitting at a cafe or a piece of poetry you come across in an old book, your writer's notebook is a great place to record poems!

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Lists can be a great way to get your creative juices flowing and otherwise organize ideas in a new way. You might make a list of topics that interest you, your favorite places, the moments in your life that were life-altering, things you're afraid of, or anything else that crosses your mind.

Snippets of Dialogue

Whether you write down a piece of a conversation you overhear on the subway, or you write your own dialogue from scratch, this can be a great place to record snippets of dialogue. Writing believable exchanges between people can be a very difficult part of the writing process, and practicing in this way can help you come up with new ideas and transition to writing dialogue in a more compelling way.

Burning Questions

As you go through the day, do you find yourself overcome with a number of burning questions about the world and your life?

  • Who are we?
  • Where did we come from?
  • Where are we going?

Perhaps your questions are a bit more zoomed in than that, and there's nothing wrong with that! Whether you're wondering why the line at the DMV is always so long or why your neighbor seems to cut his grass every single day, writing down questions can help open your mind to new creative possibilities and ideas.

Inspirational Stories

Did someone tell you a story that really pulled on your heartstrings? Did you come across an inspirational story online? You can write down any stories that really strike you to help you create a record of ideas and tales that can inspire future writing pieces.

Drawings, Diagrams, or Doodles

Your writer's notebook doesn't just need to be for writing-- you can draw in there, doodle in the margins, or even create diagrams that help to explain ideas. Remember, anything that will help you in your writer's process can go in this notebook!

Newspaper Clippings, Photos, or Other Artifacts

You can either create an envelope or a pocket to store ephemera, or you can paste or tape them right onto the pages of your book. Adding artifacts can be a great way to provide inspiration for you in future writings or even serve as prompts for free-form writing.

Emotions and Feelings

Describing the way that you feel and the emotions you experience can help you tap into the internal world that you'll likely want to use when writing fictional stories. Exploring your own emotions can help you better understand the internal state of your characters, and you might even steal some content from your own life to give to the individuals in your story.


Just as it sounds, you can record any observations you have of your city, your street, your neighborhood, society at large, the man at the bus stop, the woman in the grocery store, and so on. A writer, in many ways, is an observer of the world, so writing down your observations can be a very useful inclusion in your writer's journal.

Excerpts From Books

Did you find something in a book that you feel is particularly meaningful, moving, profound, funny, or interesting? Write it down!

Future Writing Topics

Even if you don't have a project you're currently working on, keeping a list of future writing topics can mean you have a resource to turn to when you're ready to start writing. Let this be an uncensored list-- write down all of your craziest, silliest, most outlandish ideas. You never know what will be useful or inspirational down the road.

Take Notes

This is a particularly good idea for people who are working on nonfiction projects, but any writer can take notes that they feel are useful or meaningful to them. Similarly, if you are, say, developing an idea for a work of historical fiction, you can keep notes about what it was like to live during a certain time and place to help you create a believable and engaging work.

Whether you're taking notes after reading an interesting article or after a particularly riveting conversation, this is a great place to jot down ideas so you can revisit them later.


Your writer's notebook is also a great place to brainstorm ideas. Maybe you're developing a character, coming up with a setting, working out a plot, or something else. Remember, there aren't any stupid ideas in brainstorming!

Respond to Writing Prompts

This is also an excellent place to respond to writing prompts. Creative writing prompts are an awesome tool when facing writer's block or wanting to keep up a daily writing habit.

What Are the Benefits of Keeping a Writer's Notebook?

Are you wondering whether keeping a writer's notebook is worth the trouble?

There really are some incredible benefits of this practice for writers, including:

  • Helping keep track of ideas
  • Providing a creative boost
  • Offering an opportunity to engage in the act of being a writer

They Help You Keep Track of Your Ideas

Have you ever had an incredible idea for your book when you were out on a walk or wandering through the grocery store, only to find that there's no trace of the idea when you get back to your desk?

Inspiration has a funny way of striking at the oddest times, and they aren't always the most convenient times.

A writer's notebook gives you a way to keep track of your ideas all in one place. Rather than jotting down a brilliant concept on a bar napkin that will fall out of your pocket, a writer's notebook lets you see the evolution of your ideas over time and gives you an excellent resource when you're ready to start outlining your next book.

They Serve as a Powerful Creativity Boost

Writer's block can visit even the most established writers, and a writer's notebook can help you overcome this dilemma. One of the things that can really stand in between a writer and their work is a desire for perfectionism. In a writer's notebook, you don't have to worry about making everything perfect and can instead have fun experimenting!

Your brain needs a place to explore new creative ideas, and your notebook is the ideal place to do just that.

They Help You Remember That You're a Writer!

It's common for writers to feel the sting of imposter syndrome, no matter how many books they've published. A writer's notebook helps you remember your craft and your role as a writer.

When you're taking a little time every day to write in your notebook, you'll be a writer engaging in your chosen creative endeavor. You don't have to wonder if you're really a writer-- after all, your practicing being a writer on a daily basis!

Tips For Keeping a Writer's Notebook

Here are some tips and tricks for keeping a writer's notebook. Remember, though. This is your space! Take any advice that's useful and leave the rest at the door.

Keep It With You

You'll want your book to be small enough that you can carry it with you wherever you go but not so small that there isn't really space to engage with your ideas. You'll want your book to be easy to access whenever inspiration hits.

Don't Be Too Neat

This isn't the final draft of a manuscript-- it's your creative space! Don't worry about being neat, and don't be afraid to cross things out.

Personalize Your Notebook

If it suits you, you can decorate the outside of your notebook to make it yours. Whether you collage images on the outside, doodle, or keep it minimalist, make it a reflection of your creative self.

Be Mindful of Size

You probably don't want your book to be smaller than 4" x 6" to make sure that you can capture your best thinking right on the pages. At the same time, if it's too large you'll be less likely to bring it with you wherever you go.

Write Every Day!

Even if it's just a few sentences or notes, make a habit of writing every day. One great strategy is to set a timer for just five or ten minutes and engage in stream-of-consciousness writing when you're feeling blocked.

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Take Care of Your Notebook

Treat your notebook with care! Don't use it as a coaster for your coffee or otherwise disrespect it. This is a sacred book, a special object that houses your most intimate and interesting ideas.

Don't Erase

Rather than erasing ideas or whiting them out, get into the habit of crossing out ideas with a single line. This way, you can see your actual process, which can be valuable info for a writer!

Don't Rip Out Pages

Similarly, don't tear out pages when you're displeased with them. Nor should you rip out pages to use as scrap for other purposes. Keep your notebook intact-- you'll be glad you did when you look back at the completed journal.

Live Like a Writer

To be a writer, you must live like a writer! Keep your book with you at all times, and always be on the lookout for things that move you. Your ideas and inspiration are the seeds of your work, so you should never hesitate to write them down.

Date Your Entries

Adding dates can help you see the evolution of your ideas over time. Adding these to your table of contents can also be useful so it's easy to find entries down the road.

Go Back Through From Time to Time

At a certain point, you'll find that you have many writer's notebooks that are completed and sitting on your shelf. Take the time every once in a while to look back through them. You'll be amazed at how you've grown, and you might find old ideas that are useful now.

Famous Authors (and Creatives) That Maintained Writer's Notebooks

If you're still not convinced that keeping a writer's notebook is for you, you might be swayed by the list of authors and creatives that kept their own journals for recording ideas.

Here are only a few notable examples:

  • Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Virginia Woolf
  • Leonardo da Vinci
  • Ernest Hemingway
  • Jack Kerouac
  • Susan Sontag
  • Joan Didion
  • Samuel Taylor-Coleridge
  • Sylvia Plath

Ready to Turn Your Passion For Writing Into an Income Source?

Keeping a writer's notebook is an excellent practice for anyone that's interested in developing their craft. Not only is it a great creative boost and a wonderful place to collect ideas, but it can also help you realize that you really are a writer! Maintaining a daily practice can really help spur your evolution as a writer, and you'll likely find that writing in your notebook becomes one of the highlights of your days!

If you're serious about writing, you might be surprised and delighted to know that you can use your passion to create an income source. Whether you're looking to make a little cash on the side or you're thinking about quitting your day job, freelance writing is a great way to pay the bills using your skills and interests.

For those of you that are ready to start earning money writing, the best place to find jobs is on our Freelance Writing Jobs board. With fresh posts from high-paying clients every day, this is your go-to location for writing gigs!

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Written By:
Shaun Connell
Shaun Connell has spent his entire career either working as a freelance writer or hiring freelance writers for his many successful publications. Shaun has learned the exact tricks of the trade to hire the perfect writer for almost any niche.

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