Writers: Try a Writing “Sketchbook”

But, you’re a writer, right? Not a visual artist. What the hell would you want a sketchbook for?

I got caught up in YouTube recently, one of those tangled webs of clicking random “suggested video” links, and I ended up somehow at videos of sketchbooks. Page after page, turned for the camera, sometimes with the artist describing their ideas or inspirations. They’re visual candy, and what struck me about them was the freedom of the artist’s sketchbook.

Trying something new, crossing it out, fiddling with styles and colours and composition. Knowing even before you start that whatever you’re trying may be a colossal failure, and doing it anyway. Scribbling out, starting over, playing with ideas. Not caring about the end product, because if it sucks you don’t ever have to show anyone. The sheer joy of a happy mess unapologetic on the page.

Which is why I’ve adopted the “sketchbook” model for writing.

Sitting in front of a cold, impersonal monitor watching a cursor blink doesn’t exactly rev up my creativity. The harsh glow of the blank screen offers little in the way of inspiration. Show me a white screen and I’ll show you boredom, frustration, and occasional panic.

But show me a blank page, put a pen in my hand, and it’s on. Scribbling (even the word, scribbling, describes a freer way to write than the measured clicks of keys) encourages experimentation. Stuck? Doodle in the margins. Plotting? Draw the path of the story. Flash of inspiration? Throw a key word in the middle of a page and weave a web of related points, characters, and themes all around it. Try writing in a different colour (though not red ballpoint, trust me. It’s a bitch to read later). Your “sketchbook” will become art all on its own; ink stains, wrinkles, coffee and crumbs all marking the times and places you fleshed out your story.

At some point, it’s likely you’ll want to type up your story, whether it’s for publication or just to see it in print. I resisted the sketchbook method for quite a while, since it’s double the work: first writing longhand, then inputting every word. It feels like a huge waste of time, if you miss the major benefit: You can always edit your work on the fly as you type it up. By the time your story’s down, you’ve already caught a lot of the simple errors of tense, missing words, and the like. You’re one draft ahead. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll find that the time lost to typing is more than made up by the extra output of a few scribbles here, a few paragraphs there. A notebook can be crammed in a pocket or purse and snuck out almost anywhere in moments of inspiration, which puts you way ahead of the game in terms of production. No booting up, no waiting for apps to load, just uncap a pen and go.

Try it out, and let me know: Does it work for you?

7 thoughts on “Writers: Try a Writing “Sketchbook”

  • Couldn’t agree with you more! I love my notebook – even though I do sometimes have to convince myself it’s more efficient than keying in directly. Not to mention the quality of the writing – using a pen takes ideas and language to a wholly different level.
    Thanks for a great post.

    • You’re absolutely right about the quality of the writing: it’s like writing by hand frees up a part of the brain that typing just doesn’t reach.

      Welcome to the blog! I hope to see you again.

  • I completely agree with you. I have a sketchbook since… Hum, I don’t know, always? Haha, it’s both for drawing and writing. I can’t live without it, and drawing inspires me to write even more.
    One point I should mention is… I love smells. The blank pages, the ink on the pen, the mix of them both… They end up taking me to places the computer screen never would.
    Another thing, distraction. I am so very easily distracted on the computer, and that just doesn’t happens when I’m handwriting.
    Well, that’s it. Sorry if my english is bad or gross, I live on the very bottom of America.

    • Excellent points! I love the smell of books, but I never thought about the smell of handwritten ink. You’re right: it’s something you’d never get from a computer.

      Your English is just fine! Thank you for your comment, and welcome to the blog 🙂

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