Tools of the Trade: Spiral-bound notebooks still a favorite

By G. Robert Frazier

Quick show of hands: Which tool do you writers like more, the spiral-bound notebook (along with a good old-fashioned pen) or a computer and keypad?

For quick notes, character sketches, and random scenes that come to me in the middle of the night, I have to go with the former.


For one thing, you don’t have to get out of bed. You don’t have to take time to turn anything on. You just grab the notebook (which I conveniently keep on the nightstand beside my bed), flip to an open page, and start writing. You don’t have to worry about saving your work midway through by giving it a file name, finding a folder on your computer to save it in, and hitting the save button. You aren’t distracted by the lure of email messages, tweets and Facebook posts. And, perhaps most importantly, you aren’t compelled to go back and retype a sentence or correct any typos you’ve made along the way.

Your mind is free and clear to just write away.

I have reams of notebooks filled with goodies for my work in progress, as well as other story ideas, scenes and outlines. I use sticky notes to mark what I’ve written, so that I can find what I want again. I use a larger sticky note on the front of each notebook to create a sort of index. I keep the notebooks together in a small plastic tote and pull them out as needed. (Note: I stock up on notebooks dirt cheap every summer during the back to school sales.)

I am impressed by the volume of words and ideas I’ve managed to get on paper in this way. Any time I get discouraged by the word count on my work in progress on the computer, I can look to the tub of spiral notebooks for some reassurance. I am writing. I am making progress.

Of a sort.

When I get stuck in my writing, I can also flip open the notebooks to find inspiration or ideas that might provide a spark to get writing again. There are treasures there that I want to get back to; ideas I’d love to develop into full-fledged stories, once I get done with the novel at hand.

I also look at my hasty scribbles as a way to cleanse my thoughts. When I have time to transcribe the words from the notebook into the computer file, I find I can fine-tune or elaborate on the writing along the way. I can easily skip over anything I think is a bad idea or repetitive, or embellish a quick spark of a thought into something more.

There are, of course, downsides to the spiral notebook method of writing. First among them, finding the time to transcribe my words from the notebook to the computer. As you can see by the photo accompanying this article, I’m a bit behind in that regard. Secondly, there is the problem of reading my own writing. I’m not the neatest when it comes to writing with pen and paper, especially when I get in a hurry. I tend to write in a sort of hybrid printing/cursive pattern. I can make it out, for the most part, but sometimes even I have trouble trying to decipher my own chicken scratch.

My spiral-bound notebooks also take up space. A computer file doesn’t.

Still, the notebook method works for me. I like it.

Which method do you prefer in your writing? Use the comment box below to share your thoughts.


Other reading:10 Famous Writers Who Don’t Use Modern Tech to Create


Everyone’s an expert on writing, or so they think

How-to articles on the writing craft are a dime a dozen. They’re all over the internet, in my email’s inbox daily, on my Facebook feed, and in the dozens of Writer’s Digest magazines and writing books in my personal library.

And everyone is an expert, or so they claim.

Today, I read an article sent to me by Writer’s Digest about finding time to write. I’ve been struggling with getting to the computer to actually write. This past summer was traumatic on a personal level for me with the loss of my mother, and the past month has been stressful as we try to put her affairs in order. So, writing has sort of taken a back seat to everything else.

When I saw the link to the article from Writer’s Digest, I clicked on it hoping to find some new spark of advice or inspiration to help me get writing again.

Instead, the article was more of a rehash of the same old advice: Take a notebook with you everywhere, because you never know where the urge to write will hit you; take time to day dream ideas during lulls in whatever else you do; plan beforehand/manage your time wisely.

Sound advice, yes, but nothing really new in it.

What was surprising when I reached the end of said article was the about the author blurb. The article was written by a 13-year-old. Out of curiosity, I followed a link to her book page. The blurb for her book was sloppy. It was comprised of typos and sentences that didn’t make a lick of sense.

The book, naturally, was self-published.

I typically respect and appreciate Writer’s Digest for its wealth of articles on the craft. The magazine often cites professionally published, best-selling authors and includes invaluable tips and information to reference time and time again. I also admire the magazine for promoting the works of young authors and encouraging a range of voices, from novice to expert.

I wish nothing but success for the writer of today’s article, but I was disappointed in her article overall. When I learned the age of the writer and then learned the writer was clearly an amateur, I felt I had been duped by Writer’s Digest.

Lesson learned: From now on, I will read the about the author blurb on any article first. That way I will have some idea of whether the source of the article is someone I can trust and put my faith in. Because apparently I can no longer trust Writer’s Digest to do that for me.

About me: I’m a former journalist who has written about local government, business, schools, crime and edited thousands of stories for print and the web. I’ve had two short stories published in local anthologies and I have dozens of unfinished stories waiting for me. I am working on a novel and screenplay.  I don’t profess to be an expert on anything.