#WRITINGTIP: Starting a writing inspiration notebook

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This week’s #tuesdaytip #writingtip is in answer to a question I received from Alice. She’d read my post on getting inspired on demand, and wanted to know more details about my notebook. Here is the original post for those who haven’t read it.

Setting up an inspiration notebook is pretty simple, but here are some tips to make it effective and easy for you.

1. Decide where you are going to keep your inspiration.

I currently use a Moleskine notebook, but I am also trying to make my life more digital to make it convenient when I travel. I haven't gotten around to trying to transfer all the information in my notebook to my iPad yet, but if I do, I’ll use GoodNotes and set up an Inspiration folder.

2. Decide what categories you want to record.

Take a moment and think about your usual sources of inspiration. Is it from people-watching, listening to song lyrics, reading poetry? Flick through your last few books and ask yourself where the seed of the idea came from that ended up in the scene. For me, it’s quite simple. My categories are:

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Moments: These are ideas for scenes that I currently don’t have characters or books for. For example, I saw an ad on TV for American Chopper (a company who manufacture custom chopper motorcycles). I remember thinking, 'I wonder what they’d think of a classic bombshell walking into their garage to ask for help'. I made a note of that in my notebook and it eventually became Reid and Lia in The Darkest Link.

Lyrics: This is the easiest to explain. Any line from a song that inspires a feeling or a moment or an idea. I usually have to look up the song to find the exact words because this happens a lot when I’m driving! Thank goodness for Shazam (not when I am driving, obviously!)

Storyboards: In this section, I’ll record more flushed out ideas. Usually, I wake up in the middle of the night with half-baked ideas that run for four or five scenes. I’ll get up, scribble the run of scenes down, then go back to sleep. This is for the kernel of a new idea. I keep thoughts for my current WIP in a separate place.


Titles: Titles of books are so important, and as we all learned from #cockygate, they are better if they are specific to you. I’m slightly obsessed with ensuring series titles read like they are connected. The ideas for the “RE” titles of Preload came from a note I made in my notebook after I played a game of Scrabble and wanted to find a word that began with re-. Jordan Reclaimed, Elliott Redeemed, Nikan Rebuilt, and Lennon Reborn.

Characters: In this section, I have big picture characters e.g. young female politician battling to make her mark in Washington, down to micro character details, such as a tattoo design.  I’m a big people-watcher, so wherever I go I make notes of mannerisms, hairstyles, clothing choices, accents etc.

Books: I read a lot of non-fiction as well as fiction, and I’m often inspired by the things I read. So in this section, I’ll write bullets points that could inspire a storyline. I also put quotes in here. 

Miscellaneous: This is the catch all for stuff that doesn’t fit in the other topics. But when I start a new notebook, I go back through this section to see if there are any common themes I should pull out to make a new standalone section.

3. Build on the notes you make

As you can see from my original notes that went on to become PRELOAD, those notes grew organically over time. As I had a new thought, or read something new, I’d scribble it onto the page.

4. Done is better than perfect

Don’t get hung up on how your notes look. They don’t need to be Instagram-worthy. They need to capture the thought and moment in a way that will make sense to you later.

5. Read them often

I’ll often pull out my notebooks and flick through them. You’ll probably find that what spoke to you yesterday might not speak to you tomorrow. Or something you interpreted one way when you wrote it down now makes you think of something completely different.

Either way, an inspiration journal for writing is a great way to catch those moments that inspire you before they disappear amongst the hundred-thousand other things we’re trying to keep straight in our heads.