The note-taking notebooks are where my brainstorming is done: lists of character names, plot sketches, scraps of dialogue and sentences that I know I must use but would forget if I didn't write them down right away. One of these is always at my left hand as I write in the actual writing notebooks. So as I settle down to another busy week of typing and editing, I thought it would be fun to give you a peek behind the scenes, so to speak, into the notebook that has possibly spent the greatest amount of time at my left hand so far.
I acquired it by accident. My parents were running some errands, and one of my siblings asked them to pick up a New York Yankees notebook. Mom evidently glanced at the shelf quickly, and came away with something blue and New York, but it turned out to be New York Giants. Now, I'm always ready to claim an unattached notebook—and the Giants are one of the football teams I root for, anyway—so I ended up with it. As of right now, it holds the notes for my short stories "Cross My Heart" and "The Outlaw's Wife" from The Ranch Next Door and Other Stories; the full notes for War Memorial, Corral Nocturne, my upcoming Christmas story and a Western mystery I did for NaNoWriMo a couple years ago; most of the notes for The Silver Shawl; the initial sketches of The Parting Glass and The Oldest Flame (Mrs. Meade now has a note-taking notebook all to herself, which holds the rest); and notes for legions of other short stories, miscellaneous ideas and plot sketches that haven't come to fruition yet. The amount of use it has seen is quite evident from the wear and tear on the cover. This is what a note-taking notebook looks like when it has become Real.
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Here's a (non-spoilerish) page of notes from War Memorial, which shows the rough method I've developed. Since notes for all different projects are mixed together in the same notebook, I mark the corners of the pages with the story's initials so I can find all the notes for the same story quickly. (As you can see, it took me a little while to figure out that this only works well if you mark the outside corner of the page.) The first page for a story is devoted to testing, rejecting and settling on character names, sometimes a basic plot sketch, and then whatever's left is filled with notes. I check off these notes as I add them to the first draft, or cross them out if I decide not to use them. Most of what's sketched on this page made it into the finished story (including one bit I forgot to check off).
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Here's a bit of an outline from "The Outlaw's Wife" (there were literally no complete pages free of spoilers for this story!), which includes a scene I cut because it didn't work, a note to re-work the opening, and a bit of me talking to myself trying to figure out how the climactic scene ought to go. For short stories, I often find a little A, B, C, D list of scenes like this practical; for longer works it's more complicated.
Today I'll be working on typing out Corral Nocturne, the first draft of which is housed in a green five-subject (college-ruled!) notebook—which incidentally also holds the drafts of Left-Hand Kelly, "Angel Unawares" from The Ranch Next Door and Other Stories, and a few other complete or half-complete shorts. But I keep the note-taking notebook on hand while typing too. Sometimes a passage changes between the initial note and the first draft, and again between the first draft and the typed version—and then I decide I don't like it and go back to the original in my notes. All in a day's work!
So who else does a lot of preliminary note-taking when they write? Do you have any note-taking methods or habits of your own?