12 Writing Truisms

12 Writing TruismsSome aspects of writing are more universal than others. Here are just a few truisms that fit most writers.

  1. You’ll always have the best ideas when there’s no pen or paper in sight.
  2. Your desire to be writing increases in direct proportion to your obligations elsewhere. The reverse is also true. The less you have to do, the less you may desire to write.
  3. The first 20,000 words of a novel are the easiest.
  4. Characters sometimes refuse to cooperate, make contrary decisions, fall for the wrong character, and even die without permission.
  5. To have a rich writing life, it helps to have a life (and ongoing experiences).
  6. Inspiration is overrated. A writing practice is not.
  7. The hardest part to write is the middle.
  8. No matter how thoroughly  you check, you’ll always find an error as soon as you hit “send” (or “publish”).
  9. The harder you try to remember that great idea, the more thoroughly you’ll forget it by the time you can write it down.
  10. Writers write because we are compelled to do so. Choice is not always a factor.
  11. Good writing benefits from daydreaming, walking, mindless tasks, and things that hush your frontal lobe but keep your body busy.
  12. There is no one right way to write. There is only the way that works for you.

Agree? Disagree? Have truisms to add? Let us know in the comments.

Footsteps of the Villain

The Journey

Last week on our adventure into archetypes, we discussed the hero’s journey. This week’s post is going to focus on the antithesis of that – the villain’s journey. This is by far one of my favorite archetype… because villains need some love too!

When discussing archetypes, more specifically the arc that the protagonist and antagonist journey, I am always asked if the villain’s journey mirrors the hero’s journey. In a way the villain’s journey moderately mirrors the heros, but the order of the villain’s steps are in reverse.  As in my last post, I showed you that there can be many layers to the hero’s journey, and thus there can be many layers to the villain’s.  Today, we will focus on the main steps that every villain in any story experiences.

Within both journeys there are many parallels. Both have a “trigger” that sets them off on their own personal journey, however, the end of the journey is where these two characters typically differ: one ascends while the other falls.

The Stages

The main stages of the villain’s journey are:

  1. Master: the villain perceives himself or herself to be better than other people
    • has the ability to alter society’s needs to his or her own
  2. Loss: the villain, despite the mastery, is still missing or has lost “something”
  3. Denial: the villain denies the culture of moral society and his or her own ethics
    • the moral event horizon
  4. Dragon: the villain battles with the hero or anti-hero**
    • the hero offers help (i.e.; take the villain back to the light)
    • the symbolic death of the hero / anti-hero is a false victory for the villain
    • the villain’s plans become unstoppable with the hero / anti-hero’s symbolic death
  5. Foiled: the villain’s plans are thwarted / the villain experiences failure
    • the world is delivered from evil
  6. Echo: an essence of the villainy remains
    • either the villain escapes / lives or a residual evil lingers

The Reason

With the hero’s journey, the hero (or anti-hero in some cases) crosses the threshold from light into darkness, and along the journey he or she crosses back into the light. With the villain’s journey, the villain starts at a higher level of darkness, and some may even start at that fine line between light and dark. However, it is at the point of denial, after the loss is realized, that is when the villain descends into the lower levels of darkness – and continues on, straight into the pit. For with the villain’s journey, the villain never again surfaces to the level of light.

The Daleks are the heros in their own minds (c) businessplans

The Daleks are the heroes in their own minds (c) businessplans

This is because a true villain would rather fail, than ever accept the hero’s help.  The villain cares not about the “greater good”, but is only  concerned with his or her own self.  The villain does not see the hero as the “hero’ in his or her mind. Every character in a story always thinks that they themselves are the true hero. However, a true hero is defined by the path of his or her journey. A true hero / anti-hero only supports the “light” or “greater good”.

True villains are always selfish.

The rejection of the hero’s offer of assistance always seals the villain’s fate.  The villain’s plans will be destroyed by the hero, because it is the hero’s journey to overcome the villain.  The villain will then metaphorically or physically die – but can never be fully erased…

Now, for those writers who are keen on strengthening the journey of the villains within your stories, pay special attention to the “Echo” stage. For a story that will leave your reader’s satisfied, always leave a piece of the villainy intact. If a villain’s evil is completely obliterated, readers tend to lose interest. Leave a little tidbit of the evil behind.  Evil is exciting.


In literature, Annie Wilkes of Misery and Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs are defined examples of characters who have a robust villain’s journey.  Also, after recently seeing Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (I know… movie reference), the simian character Kobo has one of the most clear cut journey as a villain that I have seen.


** The hero is a protagonist who is seen as the carrier and protector of the “greater good”.  The anti-hero is a protagonist who can be perceived as being villainous and heroic at the same time (one who does not embody the typical noble characteristics of the archetypal hero).  Yet, the anti-hero will follow the hero’s journey because their ultimate goal is the sanctity of the “greater good”.  The anti-hero’s journey may be more rocky than the hero’s – but the character will never fail like the villain.


Fan Fiction as a Writing Tool: Part Deux


I was supposed to post this last week, but I was detoxing from the awesome weekend I had in Charlotte, NC at the Authors After Dark Convention. That trip sparked a whole flurry of blog post ideas, but those are for later. This week I’d like to get back to discussing fan fiction as a medium for training your inner writer.

How can fan fiction be used as a tool?

The world, the characters, and all the intricacies of the story are already developed for you. Your only job is to use what is already there and run with it. No brainstorming, no world building, no character shaping. Just writing. This presents the perfect opportunity to test your writing skills, to expand them without having to do all the prep work we normally do as writers (well, most of us who aren’t true “pantsers”.)

All of us have read a book or watched a movie/TV show where we found ourselves unsatisfied with the direction of the story, the conclusion for example, or had an idea sparked by a specific scene or character pairing. Run with it. Use that spark of creativity to write a piece of fan fiction. It may just quiet the frustration you had about the show/book, or it could spark an idea that takes on a life of its own.

Once you’ve written it, what do you do next? Well, you could bury it deep in your hard drive or burn it as a symbol of acceptance. You can’t publish it…but you can. As I mentioned in my last post, there are sites dedicated to fan fiction. Fanfiction.net  and Archiveofourown.org are great places to post your fan fiction. Why would you do that?

Feedback. One of the greatest fears every author has is acquiring any kind of critique on their work. Good or bad, it doesn’t matter. Posting it for the public on either of these sites will prepare you for an author’s worst nightmare and most sincere delight. Reviews.

I’ve had two novels, a novella, and a short story published in the last year. I need reviews to market my books, but at the same time, I know I cannot please everyone and there will be those who leave me bad/negative reviews. This comes with the territory of being a writer. You take the suggestions, consider them, use the ones you know can improve your work, and then move on to the next project.

Posting your fan fiction for others to critique can be a daunting prospect, but it will help you hone your writing skills by taking the constructive criticism and suggestions left by readers. It will help you become a better writer, trust me.

Also, putting your fan fiction out into cyberspace will attract fans. These fans will then follow as you dive into publishing your own fiction…well, I know I would. There are some talented writers who only write fan fics. I would buy their book if the decided to take the plunge into writing/publishing their own creative fiction.

Fan fiction allows the readers to see and feel your style of writing, kind of like blog posts. Fan fiction is more fun and less clinical.

If you haven’t taken the challenge, then I ask you this time to write your own fan fiction. Pick a show, a book, or a movie that sparked an idea in your mind and write. Use their characters, their setting, and their world to write a scene as YOU would have written it.

Have a little fun and see where the wonderful, but dangerous, world of fan fiction can lead you.

Let me know how you do. Comments welcome.

Thanks for reading.


Writing 101: Finding Inspiration

Writing 101: Finding Inspiration

“I only write when I’m inspired, and I make sure I’m inspired every morning at 9 a.m.” – Peter De Vries

‘Where do you get your ideas?’

A question heard at least once in every writer’s career. The correct answer is, of course, ‘are you going to buy my book or not? You’re holding up the line.’

In truth, it’s a good question and one that’s often on my mind (usually when I’m supposed to be writing).

So, where DO we get our ideas?

They come from everywhere. They’re drawn from the world around us, from those within us, from the depths of our minds, from the exciting and the mundane. The trick is to recognise when we’re doing it. Finding ideas is easy; keeping them, on the other hand, is like platting fog. They’re intangible wisps which, when left uncaptured, burn up like nightmares on a dreamcatcher’s web.

I suppose the real question should be:

How do we know when we’re having an idea?

The truth is that it’s rarely clear cut. Eureka moments are as prevalent as unicorn droppings. Sometimes, all we have is a snatched snippet of overheard conversation, the briefest of thoughts on the periphery of our consciousness, something half-glimpsed from the corner of our eye; barely a trace of anything.

I recognise an idea as being anything that sparks the question “what if?” and anything that invokes that response is recorded in my notebook or note-taking software, on a napkin or the back of my hand – anywhere, so long as it’s recorded. It may be a complete idea or a fragmented shard that needs something more.

The act of finding inspiration is often mistaken as a being a passive process. I can count, on one hand, the number of times inspiration has found me. More often than not, it involves me actively searching for it. We have to be prepared to do the legwork, to get our hands dirty. We search, we hunt, we dig until our hands are sore and our nails are broken, and we keep on going.

How to find inspiration?

1. Read

Read everything you can get your hands on. Read newspapers. Read magazines. Read junk mail. Read books and stories, especially ones outside of your preferred genre. Taking ideas and situations from one world and putting them in another can have amazing results…don’t believe me? Take a look at Star Wars.

2. Question everything

Writers are curious creatures; we want to know everything. Why? What If? How? are all best friends to a writer. Never stop asking questions, who knows where the next one will lead?

3. Get out and observe

Leave the house, take a walk, do something to get you out in the larger world and while you’re there…observe everything. I don’t just mean with your eyes, either; use every sense. What is that smell? What does the ground feel like? People watch and listen to the conversations of others. Snippets of overheard speech are gold mines for idea hunters.

4. Use mind-maps and other brainstorming techniques

5. Look through old notebooks and unfinished work

Who knows what unpolished gems they hold?

6. Write

Just sit down and free write. Don’t think, just do. Write fan fiction, write garbage, write shopping lists, anything…just let the words come.

7. Carry a notebook and use it

It doesn’t have to be a physical notebook but have a way of capturing your ideas. Record everything that makes you ask a question.

Above all else remember, ideas travel in packs; don’t stop looking after you’ve found just one…

Anyway, I better go. Amanda is stood in the doorway rolling her eyes at me. The last time she did this, it took us over an hour to get them all back in the jar.

How do the rest of you search for ideas? Are you always aware when you do have an idea?

A Huge Thank You

One dark morning in the early days of August, six little Muses were woken by the frantic chiming of the Muse Phone (shut up, this is my story and I’ll tell it any damn way I please…). Not being a morning person, Amanda dispatched a shadowy minion to “disconnect” the caller but, fortunately, I snatched up the receiver before any real damage was done.

“Hello?” I said with a voice still thick with sleep.

“Sarcastic Muse?” came the voice on the other end. “S. B. James here–“

“I’m sorry, we’ve already got one…” I was starting to rethink Amanda’s minion. Michelle, who never sleeps (vampire?) took the phone from me.

“Hello S. B. James. How can SM help you today?”

Well, long story short, it turns out that S. B. James didn’t need our help, but was calling to, ever so kindly, nominate us for our first Sarcastic Muse blog award. That’s right, we now have our very own (highly polished) Very Inspiring Blogger Award.

Ta da! (No, I didn’t miss a bit. Well, you polish it then.)

A Huge Thank You

We’re all so proud. Thank you, S. B. James for thinking of us.


Wait! What? No one said anything about rules…

  • Thank and link the amazing person(s) who nominated you.
  • List the rules and display the award.
  • Share seven facts about yourself.
  • Nominate some other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated.

We have to do ALL of them? Can’t we just send a card? Oh, alright…


Seven Facts

As Sarcastic Muse not one writer but a hive mind…collective of writers, we thought it best to offer one fact about each of us as well as nominate those bloggers that inspire our own work. Here goes (apologies in advance)…


Amanda Headlee


The Jabberwocky was the first monster that gave me nightmares and it has caused me to have a mad obsession with Alice in Wonderland and horror.


Andrew Knighton Writes

Slasher Monster


Jen Bradlee


I keep a whip on my desk for motivation.

[Author’s note: she never specified WHO she motivates with it].


Tea and Knee-Socks

Erik Conover


Kirsten Blacketer


I use my toes to pick up things off the floor.

[Author's note: ewwwwww!]


Decadent Kane

Writers in the Storm


Robyn LaRue


I was offered $20 by a relative for my lasagne recipe. I didn’t sell.



Magic Violinist


Michelle Mueller


I’ve spent the majority of my life working with horses.

[Author’s note: I was sad to later learn that this was not as part of a circus act.]


Lemon City

Dave Cenker


Chris Musgrave


I’ve been detained against my will. Send help immediately. Send–

[Author's note: the tape continues for a few more seconds. A scream and sounds of a struggle can be heard before it goes dead.]


Melissa Barker-Smith



And finally…


Sarcastic Muse


Each of the Muses has their own Muse Nickname. It’s how we differentiate from each other in the dark.

Once again, we’d like to thank S. B. James for his kind nomination and all of our readers for sticking with us and making it a pleasure to come to work each morning. Before we go, I’d just like to take the opportunity to remind everyone not to call so early…oh, and don’t touch the stuff on the floor…Kirsten’s feet and all that.

Repetition, Repetition: Effectively Repeated Words

Repetition, Repetition: Effectively Repeated WordsLast week I discussed the “don’ts” of repetition. This week I’d like to discuss a “do”: repeating words to emphasize, to garner an emotional response, or to manage rhythm.

As a line editor, I am charged with finding those pesky repetitive words that detract from the story. Sometimes, if they are special words (words not used all that often in the narrative or in everyday life), I’ll even mark them as a “bad” repetition if they are in separate chapters at different ends of the novel. Call it nitpicking if you want, but fresh words are an asset to any writer. But what happens when using the same words is actually beneficial?

Well, let’s get started, shall we?

The easiest way to show effective repetition, is to give examples. Kirsten will be happy to know that I’ve chosen Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence as one of them. See, even romantic scenes get some love from me on occasion. The reason I’ve chosen this novel is that it uses repetition a lot—and it’s good at it.

Repeating Words to Emphasize

“He laid his hand on her shoulder, and softly, gently, it began to travel down the curve of her back, blindly, with a blind stroking motion, to the curve of her crouching loins. And there his hand softly, softly, stroked the curve of her flank, in the blind instinctive caress.”

Firstly, the repetition of adverbs ‘softly, gently’ right next to one another is an example of what stylisticians call epizeuxis. The two words are synonyms, which is repetitive in itself, but the same style is repeated not more than one line down, again: “softly, softly”. Minus the phonetic properties of the words (which are arguably “soft” sounds), the repetition emphasizes the way he goes about the motion. This transfers to the character, too. The softness and the blindness of his actions could translate as any number of nouns to the reader: hesitance, instinct, compassion, desire. I’ll let you decide.

The “curve” repetition emphasizes the structure of her body. It’s syntactically repetitive, but the words themselves draw attention to the physicality of the scene. Curves are round; they are softer than lines. The entire scene emphasizes the softness of the body, of the emotions, and gently draws the reader in.

Repetition Emphasizes Emotion via its Rhythm

And he stood up, and stood away, moving to the other coop. For suddenly he was aware of the old flame shooting and leaping up in his loins, that he had hoped was quiescent for ever. He fought against it, turning his back to her. But it leapt, and leapt downwards, circling in his knees.”

There are two repetitions here I’d like to bring your attention to: “And he stood up, and stood away,” and “But it leapt, and leapt downwards”. The rhythm is in their similarity of structure. They repeat internally: “stood up” — “stood away” and “leapt” — “leapt downwards” and this rhythm translates into the emphasis of emotion. The character needs distance, so the author creates distance by repeating verbs that move in different directions. The two also repeat externally, too, and by doing this, the repetition only reinforces this need of distance as well as the character’s subsequent desire (and also where that desire is going). The conflicting desire between staying and going away: the word choices effect these two different meanings through their similarity.

The author uses repetition of words as a clever opposition, too: the old flame leaps up in the character’s loins. But when he can’t resist it, desire continues to leap down.

The more I read this, the more I see, so I need to step back before I bombard you all with 2000 pages of academic-worthy analysis. Despite my own interest in the topic, however, the uses of repetition in the examples above can be translated into your own writing. It takes practice: sometimes it’ll work, sometimes it doesn’t. But if you’re aware of you word choice, you can control the impact you’re making on the reader.

Next week: Syntactic Repetition

Found this interesting or useful? Check out the following posts I’ve written on this topic:

Repetition, Repetition: The Don’ts of Repetitive Writing

How to Write Poetic Prose: The Sound of Words

See anything you’d add? What do you think of repeated words? Do you have any examples? Do you use this technique in your own work?

Mission Statements for Writers

Mission Statements for Writers

“If you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter which way you go.” ~Cheshire Cat, Alice in Wonderland

Do you have a personal or family mission statement? If so, you know how helpful a well-crafted mission statement can be. If you don’t have one, I strongly encourage you to create a personal mission statement for yourself. If you write, a mission statement tailored to that part of your life is also a real benefit.

What is a mission statement?

The simple answer is that a mission statement is a few sentences or a paragraph that describes your purpose and passion. It’s a mini business plan, if you like, that describes what you do and why you do it. Some mission statements also include the “how.” A mission statement is not a tag line or a USP (unique selling proposition), but both can be distilled from your statement.

How is  a mission statement useful?

We are inundated with choices and options for how to spend our time and energy. A well-written mission statement not only helps you define the areas in which you want to invest time and energy, it also helps you evaluate opportunities and choices so you can say yes to those supporting your goals and no to those that don’t.

What are the elements of a successful mission statement?

  • Present tense–not “I will do this,” but “I do this.”
  • Answers the following:
    • What you do
    • Who you do it for
    • Why you do it
  • Succinct language. State your purpose as clearly and concisely as possible. Be specific.
  • Prominently visible. Refer to it. Use it.

Some authors create a mission statement for each book. I have one that covers fiction and a separate one for non-fiction/mentoring/coaching. I did two because the functions and purposes are quite different.

As an author, you can also include your goals and your plan to get there. If you prefer, you can leave those as part of your business plan instead.

Don’t worry about making your mission statement formal. Start with jotting down your thoughts and string together a few sentences. Play with it until you are happy that it represents you. As a living document, your mission statement should grow and evolve with you.

Further Resources:

The Creative Penn: The 5-Step Mission Statement (an Author Essential)

Joanne G Phillips: Author Mission Statement

Allen Watson: Your Indie Author Mission Statement

Beth Morrow: The Art of Creating a Writer’s Mission Statement

For business: What Should a Mission Statement Say?

Personal Mission Statement Examples (check out the one under Digital Portfolio as best example).

Do you have a mission statement?


Journey of the Hero

"Heroesjourney" by Anonymous poster, in a thread, gave permission to use it. Re-drawn by User:Slashme - 4chan.org, thread about monomyths, AKA the hero's journey. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Heroesjourney.svg#mediaviewer/File:Heroesjourney.svg

“Heroesjourney” by Anonymous poster, in a thread, gave permission to use it. Re-drawn by User:Slashme – 4chan.org, thread about monomyths, AKA the hero’s journey. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – click on the image for the URL

Over the next few weeks, I will be focusing my posts on archetypes for creative writing. I am a firm believer that utilizing various models for a story’s structure will strengthen its core and control the plot, which allows the characters to find his or her natural balance.

To get these structure episodes kicked off, this week we will be reviewing the monomyth, or the hero’s journey.

The hero’s journey was formalized in Joseph Campbell’s 1949 work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. The hero’s journey is an architectural form that builds the steps of the protagonist (hero) of a story. Though each hero’s journey may vary due to the presented circumstances, the overall architecture of the hero’s walk through his or her experiences usually follow the order of Campbell’s monomyth. Some journeys are long and laborious, being broken up into multiple acts or thresholds, while others follow a simpler path. The simpler path one truncated from the more complex path. However, the high level facets mostly remain the same between the two.

The simpler facet of the hero’s journey can be broken down as:

  1. Call – This the hero’s call to adventure / action
  2. Threshold – This is the point as to where the hero crosses the line from the light into the darkness
  3. Dragon – The trials / tribulations that the hero experiences, could face unexpected danger and may include a symbolic death
  4. Atonement – The hero atones with his father or marries a woman of high standing (e.g., queen, priestess, Goddess)
  5. Boon – The hero receives a gift of supernatural abilities to ward off / fight the darkness
  6. Mastery – The hero becomes the master of the light and, in most situations, the dark worlds; both worlds are set free

A more complex hero’s journey may follow this route:

  1. The hero is called to Adventure / Action
  2. The hero receives supernatural Aid prior to departing for the adventure
  3. The hero crosses the threshold / beginning of the hero’s transformation (transitions from the light world into the dark world)
  4. The hero faces challenges and temptations
    • The hero is introduced to a Helper and / or Mentor that will assist the hero in the journey
  5. The hero experiences a revelation and this typically occurs during the Abyss, where…
  6. The hero experiences an actual or symbolic death, and is reborn
  7. The hero goes through a 2nd transformation
  8. The hero atones for his “sins” or prior wrong doings that were executed before the Abyss
  9. The hero crosses the threshold / ending of the hero’s transformation (goes from the dark world to the light world)
  10. The hero receives a “gift from the Goddess” or a high level woman (e.g.; queen, princess, priestess, etc.)
    • The gift could be marriage or sex
  11. The hero returns to his origins before the hero was called to action
    • The hero returns enlightened and a different person

(Note:  Joseph Campbell broke his monomyth down into 3 acts with 17 stages, and this wiki of the monomyth is a fantastic resource to reference for additional detail.)

The hero’s journey archetype is one that shows the transition of the protagonist from the realm of the known, to the unknown, and back to the known. The journey showcases the hero’s growth between these realms and how the hero overcomes all obstacles thrown in his or her way.

This archetype will always have a HEA, as Kirsten Blacketer says (HEA = “Happily Ever After” for you non-romance followers).  The hero will always win.  If the conclusion to the story results in the hero losing, or worse, physically dying and not resurrecting, then the story is not following the hero’s journey trope.  The story may very well be following another archetype that we will be discussing in the coming weeks.


Join me next week as we discuss one on my favorite archetypes, the Villain’s Journey.

Writing 101: Writer’s Notebooks

Writing 101: Writer's NotebooksWe had a wager in the Sarcastic Muse offices. I bet Michelle that I could write a (passible) Writing 101 post and she disagreed. Actually, I think the phrase she used was ‘over my cold, dead body’. Anyway…guess who won? (Free tip: never cross a horror writer).

A writer’s notebook is, after an over-active imagination, the most essential tool in a writer’s arsenal.  They serve as a repository for thoughts and observations, and become fertile ground we can grow the seeds of ideas. So, why is there so much confusion between writers over their relevance, especially in this age of smart phones and instant access to obscure information?

I’ve always been the first to admit that nothing works for everyone, but EVERYONE needs a notebook. It doesn’t matter what format it takes (paper, digital, a series of audio-recordings. You can write everything down your trouser leg for all I care), but it does matter that you have one and that it’s to hand when you need it.

One thing I don’t understand is the fervent belief held by a lot of writers I speak to that notebooks are archaic, a throwback to the days of yore when writing was a pursuit oft done in the pale yellow glow of candlelight. I know a lot of writers who tell me they don’t need one; they can keep all their ideas in their head. Their biggest argument is that anything they are likely to write down is available somewhere on the internet and what’s left can easily be remembered.

Our brains are fantastic pieces of kit. They process information at an alarming rate, more so today than ever before. And with that constant stream of distraction, remembering our daily observations to the level of detail we require as authors, as well as keeping track of every snippet and intangible thread of an idea, is nigh on impossible. But you claim you can…

I’m not a sceptical person but I’m calling B.S. No one has that good a memory and most of us can barely remember what we had for breakfast ten minutes after eating it, much less the subtleties of how it tasted, the smell, and the feel of it on our tongues.

Why risk losing that one perfect idea or metaphor? Write it down.

“But, write it where?” I hear you ask.

And I say: “You’re trying my patience…” (Refer to free tip above).

What is a writer’s notebook?

Essentially, a writer’s notebook is anything you can use to store ideas, inspiration, observations, etc… Traditionally, it was, as the name suggests, a paper-based notebook that, like a faithful lap dog, never left its owner’s side. Since the advent of pocket technology (excluding calculators…okay, not all calculators…55378008…hehe, takes me back), many writers have made the shift to a digital format and use note-taking applications, cloud storage and digital cameras to capture much the same thing. The only real stipulation is that it must be of a format that can be easily transported, the reasons for this will become clear.

Types of notebook


This can be anything from an old, school exercise book (very fashionable again these days) to a £100 luxury, hand-bound, leather tome. I know writers with pockets full of 3 x 5 index cards which serve the same purpose.

My own notebook is paper-based: a durable, leather-bound, customisable Midori Traveler’s [sic] Notebook. It is lightweight, a little too big to be classed as pocket-sized but the ideal size for me. My reason for staying paper-based is two-fold: one, I write faster than I can type and so stand half a chance of writing down my thoughts before they’re gone; and two, it never runs out of battery power…well, almost never, there was one time….


This type seems the most common these days and even I have a back-up in digital format. Smartphones are astonishing things and, with a plethora of note-taking apps on the market, a migration to digital seemed an inevitability. Couple that with the ability to take and attach photographs and even voice notes, a digital notebook is a very powerful tool indeed…until the battery runs out.


A frequent sight in the 1980’s (for those of you born in the 21st century, that’s just after the extinction of the dinosaurs) was a suited businessman/woman recording their thoughts into a hand-held Dictaphone for a secretary to transcribe later.  Although not as popular these days, audio-recorders are another great way to record those ideas and observations and I know a few who put them to good use. The only real issue with audio is that browsing through previous ideas is more labour intensive than other media.

What makes a good notebook?

Two things make a good writer’s notebook:

  1. Portable – a notebook to capture ideas is useless if it’s still sat on your desk at home. Whatever you choose to use should be small and lightweight enough for you to take it everywhere.
  2. Something you’ll actually use – you have a notebook/audio-recorder/phone, you have it with you when that idea for the next bestseller hits, you don’t want to write on those pretty pages/have the confidence to talk into it with people around/know how to use the app. Really, I despair. What good is a notebook you are uncomfortable using? None at all.

Tips on keeping a notebook

1. Take it everywhere with you (and I mean EVERYWHERE)

Inspiration can come at any time and capturing it while it’s fresh is paramount. To do this, you need your notebook with you wherever you go. I have a panic attack if I’m more than three metres away from my notebook (five metres from my phone).

2. Learn how to use it

You don’t want to be consulting the user guide when that idea strikes, you need to get the idea down. Learn how to use any parts of your chosen platform before you actually need them.

NOTE: This doesn’t typically apply to paper-based notebooks but, if it helps, the pointy end of the pen/pencil is where the writing comes out.

3. Use it

Now you have a notebook, it’s time to use it. But, what type of things should you write down? Well, anything really. Write down anything that inspires you. Oh, you want me to spell it out for you…I suppose a few examples would be okay…

  • Brief synopses of story ideas;
  • Quotes and snippets of overheard conversation;
  • Descriptions of people and characters;
  • Newspaper and magazine clippings;
  • Character quirks;
  • Sketches – maps, people, objects etc.;
  • Names;
  • Story titles (trust me on this one);
  • Dreams (oh, shut up!)
  • Lists. Lists (you know who you are); and
  • Anything you find that interests or inspires you.

As well as being a place to capture ideas, notebooks should be used to expand on those already recorded. Sometimes an idea occurs to us that is only half-formed and not enough to create a story with. But, as idea after idea is recorded, we can start drawing links between them. Suddenly, half-formed ideas become a short story, or even a novel. Your notebook is the best place to make this happen.

4. Review it

It’s no good writing in it if you don’t go back and read through what you’ve captured. Make a habit of reading through (listening to) your notebook regularly. I tend to do this with a highlighter, marking the observations and ideas I want to revisit sometime.

That’s it from me folks. I’ll be back next week with more Writing 101 tips on finding inspiration.

P.S. Michelle’s fine.

P.P.S. Maybe…

P.P.P.S Stay tuned to find out.


Do all of you have a writer’s notebook? Do you use it? What format does it take? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

For more Writing 101, check out these links:

Writing 101: How to treat your Beta Readers

Writing 101: How to be a Good Beta Reader