Ninja Writer’s Academy: Keeping a Writer’s Notebook

Ninja Writer Academy is a weekly series. Every Saturday morning, I post a lesson here. You can do the work, then come share it on our Facebook group. I’ll be on Facebook on Sunday for Office Hours so we can discuss the lesson, or anything else writing related. If you’d like to join the Academy and get an email on Saturday with a link to the lesson, plus notification when Office Hours start, Click Here.


The Capturing Ideas Assignment

Ninja Writer's Academy-The Capturing Ideas Assignment

I thought we’d talk about something a little different this week.

Do you keep a writer’s notebook?

Basically a writer’s notebook is just what it sounds like: a notebook that a writer carries. It’s a place for keeping the ideas that come at you, the little bits of dialogue you overhear, the character sketches that just can’t wait until you’re at a computer.

They’re also a good place for old-fashioned hand writing when you can fit in a couple of hundred words at a time when you’re not able to type.

I have a section of my notebook set up with three or four pages for each of ten or so story ideas that I have at different levels of development. When something hits me about one of them, I can jot down a note.

The problem I’ve always had is I don’t always want to carry a notebook around with me.

So, I also use a Hipster PDA, which is essentially a bundle of index cards held together with a binder clip. It fits in my back pocket and I always have it with me.

In addition to cards for things like my daily to-do list and my weekly schedule, I keep blank cards in my hPDA. I use them as a portable writer’s notebook.

My habit is to transfer my notes just before bed. Some of them get re-written in my notebook. Any handwriting I do is transcribed into my WIP.

It seems like extra work, and of course it is, but it forces me to evaluate the notes I’ve taken and the writing I’ve done that day and organize it.

Analog works for me. You might use Evernote on your smart phone or some other way of keeping electronic notes.

Here’s your assignment for this week. If you don’t already have a writer’s notebook system that works for you, spend some time getting one set up.

If you do have one, but you aren’t using it the way you’d like to, try to evaluate why and make some changes. Maybe share your struggle on Facebook and let us help you figure it out.

If you’ve got the perfect (for you) system up and running already, that’s awesome! Come over to Facebook and share it with us. Maybe you’ll inspire one of your fellow Ninjas!

I’d love to see a picture of your notebook or hPDA or whatever it is that you use.

Once you have a system set up, use it! Come share one of your notes or ideas or snippets of dialogue with us on Facebook.

My Turn

Here’s my hPDA.


Here’s something that’s been kicking around my various writer’s notebooks for about twenty years. Someday, I’ll use it. Somewhere.

When my older kids were very little, I was on a city bus with them. We drove past a broken down muscle car–it was bright blue–on the side of the road with it’s hood popped up and steam or smoke pouring out from under it. It was summer in Las Vegas and intensely hot, well over 100 degrees. The car’s driver was kneeling on his bare knees on blacktop that must have been soft and sticky and excrutiatingly hot. Praying. Hands folded, face lifted to the sky, his mouth moving.

I only saw him for a few seconds as the bus rolled by, but he’s stuck with me all of this time. Eventually the perfect situation for him will come together and I’ll use him in a story.

Your Turn

Here’s your homework this weekend, Ninja!

Are you in this week? Leave a comment here and let me know. Ninja Writers are ALL about the big A word: Accountability. Post here that you’re going to be part of the Academy this week, then do it, Ninja.

Set up your writer’s notebook, if you don’t already have one. And either way, use it today.

Come by Facebook and share your writer’s notebook as well as something you wrote in it today. I’ll be there tomorrow at 5 p.m. PST for office hours.

Please share this post on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest, and spread the word about the Ninja Academy.

If you haven’t joined the Academy yet, you can click here to do that. It’s totally free–when you sign up, I’ll send you a link every week to the Academy post and an invitation to my Sunday office hours.

If you want some extra accountability for your Academy work, check out the Ninja Writers Kick-in-the-Butt Crew. It’ll help you get it done.

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  1. I do have some index cards and a jacket to keep them in. I’m going to now make the same index card writer’s notebook you have, but the artwork on the front will be different.

  2. I have numerous places that I keep notes… digitally in the memo app on my phone, voice recordings, text and emails to myself, a solid cover journal that is in my writing bag, a bedside journal, and in scrivener on my computer. My problem is that I don’t always have the time to review them each day and gather them into one place. The upside to this is when I find a particularly good idea while going through old messages, it often feels the same as when I find a $20 tucked away in the pocket of an old purse. Very exciting!