I'm addicted to my writer's notebooks. Have been since college. My writer's notebook is where the ideas that matter (to my books and to my life) start percolating.
How I use the notebooks has changed over time. In fact, when I flip through them, I can tell a lot about where I am in the writing process based on my handwriting and how I use the page. Loose script dashed diagonally across the page? Definitely a sudden inspiration, probably jotted down while walking. Tight lists with page numbers? I'm trying to get unstuck by analyzing a novel I admire. Entry that begins, "why do I always forget how hard this is?" Self talk during a first draft. Crazy cartoons and doodles surrounded by quotations? Me, at a reading (probably after a glass of wine)...
Now that I've been doing it for almost 10 years, keeping a writer's notebook is kind of like clicking on the Time Machine function on my Mac. I can see all those different writing Ashleys--and how they led me to my current place.
I have changed through these notebooks, but the most crucual benefit they offer me hasn't changed. My writer's notebook lets me take my writing anywhere. It turns every park bench, bus seat, or cafe table into a workable writing space.
Even when I'm working with Scrivener on my Mac, my writer's notebook is open. I move back and forth between the two, using the physical notebook as a safe space to think out an idea (and question it) before or even as I draft a scene.
My notebooks also save my butt via the reading lists I tuck inside them, lists of (with secret notations) every book that I read or listen to. They save my butt because I'm one of those people who blanks when asked their favorite book (I have too many!). Having the lists makes it easier to track down the right recommendations when asked, too.
P.S. Just click on the "writersnotebook" tab for my blog to see bits from many different notebooks. One of my favorite posts is here.
These days I'm doing most of my work from that "other" side of myself--the comparative literature PhD candidate side. My goal is to finish a full draft of my dissertation by early next spring, a very ambitious timeline for a humanities dissertation, much less one in literature.
But I'm told it can be done, and I HAVE managed to produce A LOT OF WORDS in similar amounts of time. Of course, as I explained to a writing buddy... in fiction, I can improvise. I can't really do that to the same degree with literary criticism.
The good news is that the work is exciting and challenging. It keeps me cranking away during the day and wakes me up at night with (mostly helpful) revelations. Thanks to the elves in the back corridors of my brain who are making that happen... I don't think I could do this without you.
To motivate myself, I have combined a favorite photo of "my boys" (because they are a big reason for wanting to get this done sooner than later) with my ambitious but achievable writing schedule. Any other brilliant ideas for staying motivated and on task? Email or comment... I'm always looking to boost my productivity.
I've got fingers crossed that I'll land a dissertation fellowship to cover childcare next year--and buy myself a few hours a week to dip back into fiction even as I'm writing the Frankendraft of my dissertation.
Forget the Grinch! The holidays are the perfect time for indulging in re-reads of favorite books from the year and from years past. If you're looking for a book to cozy up to for a few hours, here are a few ideas. These books are also highly giftable if you're looking for a last-minute selection for a literary loved one.
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry: A beautiful book that shows an odd mix of characters becoming a family--for a brief spell--and ultimately having that joy systematically dismantled by the vagaries of life under a highly corrupt Indian government.
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein: Highly recommended for readers who like a strong female lead, anyone interested in WWII, those who like a kick of page-turning adventure, and budding engineers/techie types. Code Name Verity is a perfect crossover novel with as much adult appeal as teen appeal.
Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer: Funny, tragic, beautiful. A book that makes you feel new things about Holocaust experiences. Superior to Foer's more recent novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
Beginner's Greek by James Collins: This novel immediately made me think of Jane Austen. The characters (who matter) are privileged, marriage is a central concern, and we're wondering from page one to the end if the two who are so right for each other will overcome all the confusion and earn their shared happiness.
Holiday cheers and best wishes for the new year!