Friday, October 13, 2017

The Writer's Armory: In Praise of the Teeny-Tiny Notebook

"Slow and steady wins the race."
The Tortoise is my writing spirit animal.
True confession: I am not a fast writer. Not by any means. Which explains why my blog posts are often few and far between. If I'm working on a major project, since the good Lord has seen fit to only give me 24 hours in my day, I generally choose to spend my writing time slogging forward on the Thing that Needs Doing.

However, in the past four months, I have acquired three new tools in my Writer's Toolbox that have tripled my productivity.


So I felt inspired to share.

Two are small, portable, inexpensive, and indispensable. (One is the subject of this post. The other I'll discuss next week.)

One is large and a bit pricey, but OH MY STARS how it helps ratchet up the productivity. [Patience, Grasshopper... I'll talk about that in two weeks. Promise.]

For the first -- the simplest; the easiest; the least expensive -- I credit Yi Shun Lai.

Earlier this year, when Yi Shun was a featured facilitator at a #Write2TheEnd writer's retreat I helped to produce and sponsor,  she gifted me with a Mini Smiley Diary (MSD, or "Misty," for short). Yi Shun has an affinity for quality paper, while I have a collection of vintage mini-notebooks. (As you may know, for writers, paper obsessions are very, very real.)

The little thing was similar in size to my phone, with an inane little proverb embossed on the cover ("If you laugh tomorrow will be fun"). It featured six sections, some lined, some blank, with different colored paper. It was saddle stitched, so the pages wouldn't fall out with use. It was so cute it bordered on twee. But its adorable appearance couldn't mask its power.

The Mini Smiley Diary costs under $5 on Amazon, and it is an absolute godsend. I bought a gross and started gifting other writers. After some trial and error, I've hit upon a system that makes my notes easy to take and easy to find. It works for me; perhaps it will work for you as well. Here's how I use mine:

In general: Each new project gets its own MSD. When a Work-In-Progress is my top creative priority, I carry its respective MSD with me everywhere. As in *everywhere.* It is as much a part of my personal detritus as my phone, my glasses, and my keys.

Footnote: Perhaps you're wondering why, if I exist in the 21st century and have the cell phone required for daily life, do I not just make my phone my notebook. To be honest, I have tried. I really have. But I haven't found an app that is as satisfyingly simple and userfriendly as Misty. See earlier paragraph re: my affinity for old notebooks. There's something wonderfully creatively energizing about paper.

1.) The first of the six divisions is lined. I use it as my constantly available note pad. It actually has nothing whatsoever to do with my writing project. Here's where I scribble my random notes, to-do lists, grocery needs, etc.

This serves several purposes. It obliterates the blank-book syndrome ("Oh, it's so cute! Much too cute to ever use.") It also allows me do what I'd do anyway -- because I know me. No matter what, if I need something to write on RIGHT NOW, I'm going to use the first thing I grab. If I tried to allot the first section to something critical for my project, I'd be setting myself up for failure the first time I ever needed to remember to buy toilet paper.

2.) The second section consists of blue blank sheets. This is my Big Picture section. On the first page, I write the one sentence "pitch" of my book. On the back of the first page, I list the themes of the work in progress.

At the top of the next blue pages, I write out the general story beats for the whole project. (For fiction, I use a modified Save the Cat story beat approach. I don't outline, but I don't begin a journey without knowing my destination.) As my project progresses, I use these pages to write notes on advancing themes and make sure major events happen when and where they should.

3.) The third section is lined. Here is where I write cool quotes, turns of phrase, snippets of dialogue that come to me, overheard conversations I'd like to revisit, and other things my characters might say.

4.) The fourth section is blank pink sheets. I use these for any illustrations or diagrams I need to draw out. House plans, maps, character descriptions & tics all go here.

5.) The last lined section I use for taking research notes about things that pertain to this project.

6.) And the final section -- green blank pages -- is reserved for the "don't forgets." Here I note the things that will need to be salted in, key connections, and loose ends that need to be paid off before the end.

That's it! Can you use any little notebook? Of course. But, for some reason, this system has helped me keep my notes more organized and be more productive than any I've used before. Thought I'd share.

Next week: the tool that helped me kick my Twitter habit, streamlined my drafting process, AND helps me sleep better...


Yi Shun Lai said...

Wow! Ami, I always wondered how people handle the notebooks with different sections, and you have made this make SO MUCH SENSE to me!! My friends continue to surprise. Thank you, thank you!!

Ami Hendrickson said...

No, thank YOU!
This is the bestest little writing weapon I've encountered in forever.
Plus, it's ridiculously cute. Extra points.

Alyson Peterson said...

I am in LOVE with my mini. I used to write upside down, backward and along the margins to organize my thoughts for stories and now I don't have to!!!