Creative Notebooks for Writers

Do you keep a writer’s creative notebook?  If so, the notebook is probably a great place for your A writer's notescreativity to sprout, bud and blossom? Do you use your notebook to record record fleeting ideas, plus imagine, dream and play?

Writers have always had a need to capture ideas on the run, often scribbling notes on napkins, cigarette packages, and old receipts they found in their wallet or purse. These days a writer may be more likely to use their smartphone to record their ideas, but I’d like to urge you to consider something more tactile; a resource you can hold and flip through anytime you need inspiration – a creative notebook.

Pocket-sized Notebook      

The most classic style is created by Moleskine®.  Their pocket-sized notebooks are similar to DSC04297Athose handmade by French bookbinders in Paris in the 19th and 20th centuries.[i] Click here to read more about the notebooks’ history on the company’s website. I purchased my snazzy red Moleskine® from Blue Heron Books. But any small notebook from a stationery story, or even a dollar store, will work fine.

Here are some of the ways you can use your notebook:

  • record juicy snippets of conversation you overhear in a café, restaurant, on the bus or in a shopping mall.  A single phrase might provide inspiration for a character or a story in a future writing project
  • capture story or poem ideas as soon as they occur to you
  • relax by creating doodles or simple drawings of the world around you – a way to let your conscious mind take a break and allow submerged story ideas to surface
  • observe and record sensory details in your environment for future reference:  the sound of the wind blowing through aspen leaves, the smell of garlic frying
  • jot down titles and authors of books others recommend to you

Small Journal Notebook                                                 

If you’d like a bit more writing space in a format that is still fairly portable, consider using a small journal notebook.  You can purchase notebooks or create them. I’ve recently begun to make my own using a method
DSC04276AI learned from artist Lisa Sonora Beam, author of The Creative Entrepreneur: A DIY Visual Guidebook for Making Business Ideas Real. I fill an artsy greeting card with folded sheets of paper and fasten them on the spine with string. This is a great way to reuse beautiful cards people send to you.

Here are some ideas about how to use a small journal notebook:

  • you could make a separate one for each of your main characters, choosing a cover that suits their personality, and adding not just your written ideas about their traits, but images and clippings they would like from newspapers and magazines, recipes they might use, ads for products and clothing they would buy, along with travel and entertainment opportunities that would interest them
  • you might dedicate separate small journal notebooks to each one of the senses and record notes aboutDSC02157 daily sensory impressions related to sight, sound, taste, touch, smell and intuition
  • you could dedicate a small journal notebook to your dreams. Keep it by your bedside and record your dreams each the morning.  A dream image might inspire a story

Imagination Journal Notebook 

An imagination journal isn’t as portable as the two other notebook options, but it provides lots more space and so many more pages for writing and creating. Start by purchasing a large hardcover journal with unlined pages. Choose one with a cover design that appeals to you or decorate the cover yourself.

Some ways to use your imagination journal:

  • you might start off your journal by writing your own writer’s manifesto and pasting itDSC04283 on page one. Google “writers’ manifestos” for inspiration
  • record inspiring quotes about the writing life
  • paste in positive feedback you’ve received about your work. This can be useful on days when you’re feeling blue and think you can’t write
  • when you need a break from writing, create mini-collages from images and/or words and phrases ripped DSC04281from magazines. Images speak to and inspire the unconscious.  Keep a stack of magazines, a pair of scissors and a glue stick handy
  • on days you are feeling stuck, get your creativity flowing again by doodling or sketching in your journal
  • add photographs that intrigue you, cut from newspapers or magazines or photocopied from your family’s albums. Let those images trigger memories that lead to new ideas
  • paste in newspaper headlines that may suggest a future story
  • capture all of your fleeting ideas in one place.  You may wish to transfer ideas from your more portable journals and develop them more fully through freewriting
  • freewrite in response to prompts.  Sign up to receive daily prompts from the writer Sarah Selecky 
  • add inspiring advice from other writers and a few samples of really great writing by those whose work you admire

You may wish to embellish the pages using coloured pencils, watercolour or tempera paint, or coloured ink – anything that makes your ideas come alive visually. You can revisit your imagination journal regularly whenever you need ideas and inspiration.

Do you use a writer’s creative notebook? If not, I hope that this post may inspire you to give one a try.

Best regards,





All photographs and artwork in this post are by Janis McCallen.

If you enjoyed reading this post, why not subscribe to our blog? Just enter your email address in the “subscribe” box at the top right hand corner of this page. 


Leave a Reply