Article - Keeping a writer's notebook

Photo and article: David W. Berner

I have little notebooks everywhere. In my bag, in my car, on my desks. Several are on my desks. Most of them are inside a little writing shed on my property but others are kept at my college office. I do not just keep one. And I do not consider it necessary to write in them, any of them, every day. None of them would be considered a journal or a strict daily diary. No, they are notebooks. Meant for notes. Fleeting thoughts of greatness and nothingness. Bursts of creativity and banal crap. And if you are keeping a notebook and not doing it in this scattered, haphazard way, I contend you may be doing it all wrong.

Notebooks have been part of the writing life forever. They have come in many forms from Virginia Woolf’s diary to Ernest Hemingway’s ever-present notebook, the one he wrote about in A Moveable Feast.

Mark Twain used his notebook to brainstorm. Ralph Waldo Emerson filled more than a dozen volumes with observations that were the foundations of bigger works. And John Steinbeck kept a diary of his writing progress while he worked on The Grapes of Wrath.

Too many times I’ve read articles and heard writing teachers and workshop facilitators talk about the notebook. Many tout its importance as some imperative. You must keep one and you must write in it every single day, they say, as if it is the path to good writing. I contend this is the absolute wrong way to approach the writer’s notebook.

The notebook should not be a chore. It should not be a duty. It should be freewheeling with its purpose shifting and changing to the delights of the writer. It should be a volume of dreams. Not a volume of tasks. It should be a place of fantasy, whimsy, and imagination. Write in it. Draw in it. Doodle in it. Use black ink and red and purple. Use a pencil. Use a crayon. The notebook should be a place to poke around in the dark or in the brightest light, a place to survey the brain, discover the deepest thoughts or the silliest realizations. Write in one notebook or write in dozens. Keep one there and one over there. By the bedside and in your pocket. Own them. Love them. Cherish them.

Philip Hoare is the author of three books about the sea. His latest is the travel /memoir/essay collection entitled RISINGTIDEFALLINGSTAR. Hoare says he’s kept some kind of notebook since 1974. He has not only changed notebooks over and over, he has changed from fountain pens to Uniballs to pencils stolen from hotels. He draws. He writes. He tapes photos inside. And when he looks at all those notebooks, as he explained in an edition of The Island Review, Hoare sees his life “marching across the shelves.” In one way the notebooks are documents of his travels, his life, his being and yet they are also acts of impulse and amusement. Hoare sees the notebook as a constant but not an anchor to his creative life.

If you are starting your creative life with notebooks, in order to keep it truly your own process, I suggest keeping only three things in mind: to-do list.

  1. Go to your notebook only when it feels right not when you think you are supposed to. Write, draw, scribble only when you can’t imagine doing anything else. Filling you notebook should never be part of a to-do list.
  2. Make what’s inside an individual endeavor. Don’t approach the notebook the way other writers have or according to some blog post about what a writer should or should not be doing with a notebook. Make the notebook wholly yours.
  3. Refuse the urge to be neat. The notebook should be the first draft of ideas. Scratch out words, circle and star things, spill coffee on its pages. Messiness has its merits. Ideas come from messiness.

Some writers insist you should never go anywhere without a notebook, believing it is a necessity to creativity.

But that should be up to you and you alone. If you try to force the notebook into your creative life instead of letting it become part of your creative life, you will reject it or fall out of favor with the process. Life with a notebook should not be in a writer’s job description, it should a love affair with ideas and the joy of creation. If you always consider the notebook in that light, you’ll fill them all with incredible things.

Stroud Short Stories - open for submissions

Stroud Short Stories is open for submissions.


Stroud Short Stories is currently open for submissions for its special 20th event dedicated to Stroud writer Rick Vick who sadly died at the end of November. There were obituaries for Rick in The Times and The Guardian. 

Here is the latter.

(By the way, Rick did once read at a GWN event at the Chelt LitFest.)


The event is for all Gloucestershire and South Gloucestershire writers. The theme this time is DISRUPTION. Submissions are free and you may submit unpublished or published stories. The deadline is the end of Sunday 8 March and the event is on Sunday 19 April at the 150-seater Cotswold Playhouse. Tickets will go on sale on 20 March.


All information about submitting is on the Stroud Short Stories website.



John Holland

Writing space available at Snowshill Manor

In 2020 Snowshill Manor and Garden is offering a space for creative workshops and courses on Saturdays and Sundays at a low day rate which includes entry to the gardens and manor house for course leaders and participants for inspiration…

The offer lends itself particularly well to writing courses as Charles Wade, who bequeathed the house and its contents to the National Trust, was himself a keen poet and welcomed a number of notable writers to Snowshill during his time here. Further details about Charles Wade and Snowshill Manor can be found on our website at

I would be grateful if you could please pass this information on to your members. I would be happy to respond to any questions or queries about this opportunity.

Best wishes

Rachel Leach

Rachel Leach

Business Support Coordinator


National Trust

Snowshill Manor and Garden, Snowshill, near Broadway, WR12 7JU

01386 842810


Annual Glosink event

invites you to our annual reading of prose and poetry at Peppers Cafe in Gloucester
on Friday, December 13, 2019 from 18.30 to 20.30 with a half-hour interval.
Entry is free. Food and drink are available to purchase from the cafe during the event.
We look forward to seeing you there to share the art and craft of writing in a relaxed setting.

Papatango New Writing Prize

Opening in 2009, the Papatango New Writing Prize is the biggest playwriting award in the UK, attracting more average annual entries than any other. It was the first – and remains the only annual – playwriting award to guarantee its winner a full world premiere in London followed by a national tour, plus royalties, publication and a £6,500 commission to support a follow-up play.

The 2020 Papatango Prize is open for entries! The UK's only playwriting award to guarantee: a month-long premiere in London; a month-long UK tour; royalties; publication; £6,500 commission and feedback for all entries, it is assessed anonymously and open to all residents of the UK and Ireland. All you need is a story. Enter by 9pm on 2 February 2020.

Writers and Performers News - Congratulations.

Writers and Performers News - Congratulations all !

  • Chloe Jacquet has been longlisted for the Flash 500 Novel Competition- good luck Chloe !
  • David Clarke’s poem “England, I loved You” has been included in “Collateral” magazine.
  • Abdul-Ahad Patel has published his short story “The Ghost of Shaolin” via ebook on Amazon, and his short story “Mafu” is published in issue 4 of The TOKEN magazine.
  • Anna Saunders’ poem “Phaeton’s Carriage Burns up the World” is being published by Envoi Magazine.  The poem is from Anna’s next collection “Feverfew”, published next Spring by Indigo Dreams.
  • Chris Hemingway’s poem “Pulse” is being published on Fresh Air Poetry later this month.
  • Belinda Rimmer’s Poem “Calendar”is being published in the latest edition of Allegro magazine.

Show tickets and writing opportunity ;)

Dear Gloucester Writers,
I am excited to share with you information about 'There's Nothing There', which comes to The Cotswold Playhouse on Saturday 7th December following a successful run in Bath earlier this month. The new horror-comedy from Black Dog Productions and Apricity Theatre received rave audience reviews at its opening, with Bath Scum praising its "Horror, folklore, surprisingly funny and the chemistry between the actors made for a mesmerising performance."
More details on tickets and pricing are available at or through the Cotswold Playhouse website at Please see the attached PR information for more about the show itself and the creatives involved.
We are offering 2 x complimentary press tickets to anyone interested in reviewing the show. If you would like tickets or have any other questions, please get in touch with myself, Black Dog Productions, or our Producer Emily Malloy (copied in). We look forward to hearing form you!
Best wishes,
Charlotte Turner-McMullan
Creative Director
Apricity Theatre
For information on upcoming projects please visit:

Success Stories...

Writers and Performers News - Congratulations all !

  • Ziggy Dicks has been chosen as Gloucestershire’s next Poet Laureate.
  • Howard and Marilyn Timms’ poetry collaboration “Deciphering the Maze” will be published by Indigo Dreams Press during 2020.
  • Robin Gilbert’s poem “Dee” was commended in the 2019 Buzzwords Poetry Competition.
  • David Hale won the Gloucestershire prize in the Buzzwords competition, for his poem “On Nashchokinsky Street”, Anya Maltsberger was runner up, with “Kilvicheon Church, Mull”
  • Barry Faulkner’s 9th DCS Palmer book made the top 100 medical thrillers list on Amazon in the first three days after publication.
  • Christine Griffin’s poem “Pandora’s Husband’s Phone was published in the October edition of Snakeskin.
  • Belinda Rimmer and Judith van Dijkhuizen have had poems accepted for the November edition of Snakeskin


Corinium Radio needs you!

If you would like the opportunity to record your work for radio - tere are a nmber of opportunities on Corinium Radion in 2020 for you to consider...
The following dates are available for the first 3 months of 2020 and I hope you can find one that suits you. As usual, please let Rona Laycock know as soon as possible if you want to take part.

Jan 16th, 23rd, 30th

Feb 6th, 13th, 20th

Mar 5th, 12th, 19th, 26th 

Writers Room

We meet in the foyer of Cirencester Library, The Waterloo, Cirencester GL7 2PZ  at 11am on the day of recording.

The library is situated at the back of Bingham House and can be reached via the little alleyway that runs down the side of TSB in the market place. Once the alleyway opens out into a road you will find the library on the right.

Work that is to be read on community radio has to be acceptable to a wide range of listeners so we ask that there is no explicit violence or sex and not too much swearing - certainly not the stronger swear words.

I will chat to you about what inspires you or what sort of writing you like to do etc.  If you have a website or have published a book you can publicise that as well. The programme is approximately 26 minutes long so we have plenty of time for readings as well as the interview.

The sessions are recorded so that any mistakes we make can be edited out.  If you make a mistake just stop and go back a couple of sentences and the programme producer will sort it all out during the editing.

The programme is now available to be sent out as an audio file via email so you don’t have to wait until it is broadcast to hear your performance!

It also features on the ‘Listen Again’ page of Corinium Radio’s website.

Stroud Short Stories Competition.

Stroud Short Stories is currently open for your submissions but closes at the end of Sunday 29 September. Ten stories will be chosen for the Sunday 10 November event at the lovely 150-seater Cotswold Playhouse in Stroud for what will be the 19th SSS event.
It's free to submit as always, and it's an open theme so any subject matter or style is welcome. SSS accepts both unpublished and previously published stories.
This event is part of the Stroud Book Festival.
Tickets, priced at £8, will go on sale on Friday 11 October on the Cotswold Playhouse website - by which time the ten stories and their authors will be announced.
SSS Organiser John Holland has a new co-judge this time - brilliant short story author Chloe Turner.
All the information you need is on the SSS website - http://stroudshortstories.