Writing notebooks: what I use when I write a book

This post was originally written for Nero's Notes, where I'm one of the blog writers, but I thought it would be interesting to my readers, too.

A few weeks ago, I talked about the notebooks I use to capture ideas (Writing notebooks: 'capture'). Today, I'm going to talk about what kind of books I use once an idea has enough oomph that I think it will be a book.

This noodling around could be thinking more about the setting, or plot or the characters. Usually, it's a bit of all three, though plot and characters often seem to come together.

I used to use A4 Clairefontaine Age Bag notebooks and all notes went in them. They had a decent amount of real-estate and were fabulous for writing in with a fountain pen. They were a one-stop scrapbook of ideas which in some ways was great - everything was in one place, but were often fairly disorganised. I'd often start out intending to do notes on setting in one colour, on characters in another etc., but then by about 40 pages in had forgotten to do that! If I went back to them after any time away, I was flipping back and forth through them to find things. Fun, but inefficient. The paper is amazing. The rest of the notebook is 'no frills' with no ribbon markers, no elastic closure and no pocket in the back cover, but for what I wanted, they were brilliant.

However, A4 books take up a lot of desk space! I'd acquired a few (tens of) A5 notebooks by this point (as you do) and decided to use some of those up on a couple of books, in much the same way as I'd used my A4 - not quite 'stream of consciousness' (though often not far off) but a jumble of ideas. Mostly, this was because my A5 notebooks (like my A4s) were chunky things with lots of pages. A brand I used a lot was Ciak (pictured) though their quality has declined recently, while the price has risen.

But after A4, A5 notebooks always felt a bit too small... Ah yes. The Goldilocks issue.

Well, welcome to the party... B5.

Oh, I know... they're not easy to get in the UK. Well, decent paper ones aren't. You can get a variety of cheapish, low quality ones, but they don't usually play nicely with a fountain pen. Which is usually an essential for me, because I can write for hours when I'm planning a book.

But B5 is a brilliant size! Partway between A4 and A5 (B5 is 176 x 250 mm; A4 is 210 x 297 mm; A5 is 148 x 210 mm) - so a decent amount of real-estate without taking up the entire desk when open.

Given the issues with ideas being jumbled and given that I found a place where I could get thin B5 books (sadly, no longer available), I switched system and decided to use at least four (yes, FOUR) B5 notebooks for each book.

[Actually, for the current book, this isn't strictly true, though you'll soon see why]

The four notebooks are for:

1. Setting
2. Characters
3. Plot
4. Scene-planning

The first three types of books can be thinnish ones. The fourth book needs to be a chunky one! Once an idea has taken hold of me enough that I think it really will turn into a book, I start making notes in these topic-specific notebooks. I'll cut out pictures from magazines for the setting; I'll do long descriptions of the characters, including all their backstory, as well as try and find images of actors/people that resemble them physically. The plot often starts as a long, rambling noodling, but eventually becomes a mind-map with the different strands mapped out, and then fuller details about each of the strands etc.

Only once all that has happened and I'm sure enough about all of it that I want to write the book, I use the chunky scene-planning notebook to... well, plan scenes.

[For the current book, as it's the third part of a trilogy, setting and character notes have already been done so I just have two: plot and scene-planning.]

Stalogy B5

For the current book, I'm using a Stalogy 016 notebook for plot notes. This has just 68 pages in it, though as I haven't finished editing it yet and have used 55 of them, I may have to overflow into a second book. I bought four of these notebooks for a tenner, a long time ago and I'm now kicking myself that I didn't buy another 400, as the paper in them is absolutely amazing. If I could find a B5 notebook with 100 pages in it, that would be better, to be honest. 68 pages for plot is a bit small.

Leuchtturm B5 dot grid

For my scene-planning notes, I've been using a Leuchtturm dot-grid soft-cover notebook. Again, I wish I'd bought a shed-load of these when they were on sale (I just bought two! What an idiot!). There are 121 pages that are fountain-pen friendly (as long as I don't use my stub-nibs) and there are two decent-length ribbon markers. At the front are 3 pages for listing the contents and the pages are numbered. There's a pocket in the back cover (unused by me for this book) and there's a vertical elastic closure (that as you can see from the picture, I also don't appear to use!).

The decal on the front is just to make me smile (one of the characters has a selection of Celtic knots tattooed on them). Between the writing and the first round of editing, I've overflowed out of this into another B5 book, but a cheap thing with just 76 pages (and fountain-pen unfriendly paper...).

B5 notebook

As ever, I'm already planning the next book (on and off) and since I was too much of an idiot to buy a houseful of the Stalogy notebooks, the three slim books for plot, characters and setting are three more cheap notebooks like the scene-planning overflow book (the Bough Shadow notebook, pictured). The scene-planning book will either be Ya Jin hardback notebook (with 320 pages), or a Zhi Jin notebook with 220 pages (though the line spacing is a tad over-generous for my writing. It is fountain-pen friendly though!).

Of course, all of these can go in my writing folder - made from a converted Deskfax, which is perfect for B5 notebooks. You can see how I made that in the post: New writing folder - an old Deskfax