Psst: What if I told you that you can have a tool to hand that can mean you never run out of ideas again?

It’s not too good to be true. It’s actually really simple.

Writing journals.

Notepads and pens. That’s it. For me, specifically, I break my writing system down into two journals:

  1.  My reference journal 
  2.  My writing “sketchbook” 

Why two?

While it is entirely possible to mix these into one big book, I found that didn’t work for me. I like the idea of having a reference journal where I might take a bit longer laying notes down and collating things. I also like having a sketchbook where, when I’m on the go, I can quickly note stuff down and it doesn’t matter how it looks, it’s all about getting those ideas and sentences catalouged so I can work on them later.

To give you an idea of how I use these journals, let’s take a look at them in a bit more detail. Remember, this is an example of my work flow. It doesn’t mean you have to do it this way. Hopefully this will give you some ideas though!

My writer’s reference journal

These are the kinds of things you see on social media like Pinterest and Instagram, and they often look staggeringly beautiful.

Reference journals are useful for creating a log for basic things like grammar pointers, colour descriptions, all the way through to more specialised subjects. You can create a reference journal for anything, and it can take any form you want, from purely note-taking, to drawn images or cutouts/copies from books and magazines.

The one issue with a reference journal that I see talked about a lot is that we don’t want to spend ages making something look beautiful only to “ruin” it by writing a few sentences of a short story and then deciding none of it is working.

This means keeping a second, more disposable journal and that’s where writing “sketchbooks” come in.

My writer’s sketchbook

I began calling these sketchbooks after I started learning to draw. When I was first learning to draft out shapes, and later putting down pencil lines to try to create 3D objects like the human head, it occurred to me that as a writer I do something very similar when I write.

When I am first thinking about a subject I am making “gesture marks” and blocking in colours, getting down the key details of form, setting and the emotion I want to create. Later on, I come back and refine those into a finished piece through the process of layering up the details and then tweaking what works and what doesn’t. Writing and art forms like drawing do diverge, but their starting points are actually the same: quickly capturing and organising the information we need in order to be able to build a piece that reads like it is a complete and engaging whole.

Keeping a notebook in which you are free to cross out, strike out, make spelling mistakes, talk nonsense and generally make terrible first drafts of things is the very foundation of getting a great finished product. So, keeping a writing sketchbook you can use for this purpose, and one you don’t mind burning through quickly and messily, is key.

The materials you need to get started

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I recommend that every writer get themselves a good quality set of pens. What that means to you might not be what it means to me, but in general I follow the rule that I want something that is comfortable to hold for an extended period of time, and something that is easy to write with in that it makes consistent lines on the page.

One of my favourite pens at the moment is the Marabu Graphix fineliners. They are relatively affordable, and why I like them compared to, say, the cheaper Bic pens is that they tend to write more smoothly and make the experience more pleasant. They are used for linework and inking for drawing, but the deep black is gorgeous for writing too. They’re also surprisingly good for not bleeding so long as you have decent paper to work with:

Obviously though, any pen will do, so don’t stress too much about this, and grab whatever is to hand and get writing.

Second, in terms of journaling notebooks, again any kind of notebook can be useful. I personally go with a cheap notebook for my writing sketchbooks because I’m not needing anything too durable.

I’m currently using one that I got from Wilkinson’s, but in the past I have used these:

For my writing archive journal, I’ve gone for something more expensive, but remember that I’m hoping to keep this as a reference for many years to come and so wanted something that could both handle various mediums and would also stand the test of time.

For my reference journal I chose the LEUCHTTURM1917 Notebook in Medium.

You can of course buy much cheaper notebooks for these exercises, and I recommend that if you’re unsure about how you will use your notebook systems, start out with cheaper supplies and then, when you have a working practice in place, buy more expensive supplies. That’s exactly what I did and I’m glad I didn’t have expensive materials to start because I used up my pages quickly as I tried to find what worked and what didn’t.

 Next week , we’ll dive into the process of setting up your Reference Journal and how you can use it for improving your writing.

As always, you can keep up with me this week on my various social media, just look for @stevenbwriting.

Lastly, and until next time, always be writing, friends!