It seems like everyone today has a laptop and a smartphone. They are incredibly helpful tools and make writing thousands of words at a time result in fewer cramps compared to old paper and pencil. How about regular ol’ notebooks? How many writers still have them? How many new screenwriters think about having a physical notebook to store ideas and notes instead of using their handy phone?
I’ve been using a plain black notebook since high school and I’m currently on my third one. It was hard to get into the habit of using it, but it is my favorite writing tool. To me, a good notebook has many uses; it’s not just bound scrap paper for your whims when you can’t find your phone.
Have you ever gone onto your computer to do some writing or open your phone to jot something down and find yourself on autopilot checking social media? We’ve all been there. One of the benefits of a physical notebook is that it has no internet access. You can’t check your email or watch YouTube… just write.
It reveals the hard truth: creating original work is hard. Watching things already made or looking through Twitter can be soothing because it takes relatively no mental work. Writing is hard. Especially if you’re so packed with ideas you think you’re going to explode, but the moment you look at that blank document, you don’t know where to start.
I like to outline first. Listen to music (usually a playlist for the story at hand) and write a basic outline, adding more details as they come to me before I turn on my laptop. It’s like stretching before a marathon. It helps to get your mind ready for the task at hand. Using a computer to outline can work, but there’s always the temptation. Turning off Wi-Fi can help, but sitting at a laptop and trying not to go on the internet to me is like walking into a bakery and asking for only one pastry. It’s really hard to do. Kudos if you can!
Never Low on Battery
Technology has gone far, but there are still moments where we forget our chargers at home or our devices are just too old to hold a charge for long. A notebook is your best friend in these moments. I even make sure to carry around a pen so I can write anything I need to on my hand in case I forget my notebook!
Nothing is worse than forgetting an idea. Granted, I sometimes wake up at 2:oo AM, jot down something I think is super important from my dream and wake up to find I wrote: “gnomes are the ancient ones” with no context. Not all ideas are helpful, but you’ll never know what might be the breakthrough in that feature screenplay you’ve been agonizing over. If it ends up being something silly, you’ll get a good laugh.
Worrying about your writing now? Think you used to be much better? Having a notebook is great for that. Sometimes, if I need a little confidence booster, I can go back and reread some of my earliest entries. Of course, I’ll need to recover from the painful embarrassment that I used to think that was a good idea? But it can invigorate you into remembering you’ve come a long way and, by writing more, you’ll get even better.
You never know! Maybe you’ll also find an idea you neglected and now you know how to work it into something better and turn it into something that your younger self would have gushed over.
I’m incredibly paranoid that I’ll lose my notes and ideas. I’ve had nightmares of my notebooks getting lost as my ship sinks. I back everything up. I back up phone notes into my notebook. I back up everything from my notebook onto my computer. I back up everything on my computer into the Cloud and an external hard drive. The notebook may only be one link in this crazy paranoid diagram, but it’s one of the most important ones for me because so far it’s the only one that hasn’t failed me once (usually due to my technology ineptitude).
I am not advocating that you only keep your ideas and notes in a notebook or go through the process that I do, but having a notebook has been the best security I have had for my stories and ideas. I always keep the latest form of each of my screenplays in a physical printed out packet tucked safely away. I guess this just goes with a bad habit of doing stupid things with technology. If that sounds like you: notebooks are lifesavers.
Not Just Words
As a visual person, sometimes pictures help better than words. Notebooks may have lines, but you don’t have to use them. Need to map out a new world? Need to doodle to charge up those brain juices? Notebooks are great for that. Of course, there are apps and programs that can help (like Microsoft’s OneNote which I used to use all the time), but I find that my drawing skills, which aren’t great to begin with, deteriorate the moment I’m given the option to pick different colors.
I’ve jotted down symbols, dining settings for scenes in a script where I had to make sure everyone sat where I wanted them to, and maps of locations that may have just looked like scribbles, but somehow it helped. I like looking back through the notebooks and seeing more than just words. They also can help as landmarks if you remember that one idea that you really want to use but you can’t remember it exactly, but you know it was right next to the new idea for a playing card design.
Getting to the End
I’ve gone through two notebooks and I’ve never felt so accomplished as when I’ve reached that last page. Each book holds about two years worth of ideas, stories, and ramblings. It shows how my stories have evolved, how my writing style has changed, and how I have persevered through the bad times and made the most of the good times. I go out the next day, I buy another plain black notebook, and continue writing.
However you choose to write is up to you. Prefer to keep it all in your head? Impressive! Prefer several notebooks, one for each story? The more the merrier! Just remember: Don’t stop writing.
Beverly Peders is a Screenwriting graduate from Drexel University. She loves all visual writing mediums and has experience in writing plays, comic books, screenplays, TV sitcoms, and video games. World building is her favorite and she obsesses over anthropology and linguistics. In her spare time, you may find her trying to get over her fear of heights at a rock wall or adopting yet another plant because she can’t afford an actual pet.