Take a look inside top writers' notebooks

Talk to just about any writer and they'll tell you they find their notebook invaluable. It's where they gather the bits of life that find their way into stories. It's also a place for them to experiment and play with ideas without fear, discarding some and holding on to others. 

If you're a young writer looking to start your first notebook, or even a teacher looking to encourage pupils to use notebooks, it can sometimes be a little unclear where to start and exactly what to write in a notebook. It can take time to get used to the idea that things can be messy, that spelling and punctuation can take a back seat. It can take courage to write things which you might later look back, cringe and discard; but it's through that preparedness to write freely that the best ideas emerge too.

Below, three top children's writers share their thoughts on keeping a notebook, and give you an insight into how their notebook works for them. As you'll see, no two writers' notebooks work in quite the same way. We hope these insights invigorate you to pick up a notebook and keep it going; as a writer, it will be your safe and private store of inspiration.


Nicola Davies
An image of Nicola Davies' notebook

When an idea comes into my head, it goes into my notebook. It might be just a phrase I’ve heard someone say, an image, a line, or just a weird combination of words that appeals to me. Whatever it is, I write it down. My notebook is a cross between an external hard drive for my brain, the place I put anything I need to remember for my writing, and a camera, where I can take snapshots in words of what I see and hear. Sometimes I write about what’s happened or what I’ve seen, like a diary. Sometimes I do pictures, or even stick bits of plants I’ve found between the pages. Writing something in my notebook feels like planting a seed; safely recorded in the ‘soil’ of my notebook, that little idea is ready for me to return to it, water it, shine some light on it and coax it into growing. 

The single tip I would give all young writers is  to keep a notebook - every idea, thought, moment, or image you put in it is money in your creative bank.

Nicola is the author of The Promise, which won the 2014 English Association Best Picture Book Award for fiction, and A First Book of Nature, which won the 2014 Independent Booksellers Best Picture Book award. Check out Nicola's video about finding inspiration for your writing in nature! Nicola visited schools in Argyll and Bute during the Scottish Friendly Children's Book Tour in September 2014 - find out more about how you can apply for the tour here.


Diana Hendry
An image of Diana Hendry's notebook

(Click the image to enlarge Diana's notebook)

If you were a cook, you’d need ingredients in your cupboards and in your fridge. If you’re a writer you need a notebook. You need it for jotting down ideas. You need it for sudden thoughts and memories. You need it to explore a character for a story or to try out lines for a poem. It’s the ‘food’ in your cupboard or fridge. 

Whenever you’re stuck for an idea, you can always go back to your notebook to find something you wrote down a week or a month ago. A notebook is your safe place. It doesn’t matter if what you write in it is rubbish. This is the place for trying things out - for experimenting.  

The best notebook is one that can fit in your pocket so that it’s always available. I never have clothes with good pockets, so I keep mine at home. I like a notebook that’s not too big and has pages which, if necessary, I can tear out!

The notebook in this photograph is my Poems/Stories notebook. The page on the left has notes for a poem about a cat called Leonard and the page on the left has questions I’m asking myself about a character called Daisy Elwood. She’s still waiting for a story.

Diana is the author of The Seeing, which was shortlisted for both the 2012 Costa Award and the 2013 Scottish Children's Book Awards


Lari Don
An image of Lari Don's notebook

(Click the image to enlarge Lari's notebook)

I never go anywhere without a notebook.

I use notebooks for:

- writing down things I see or hear which might inspire stories, like a bin lorry flying balloons, or a man at a bus stop with a telescope.

- specific research, like sketching the defences of a castle I’m visiting to see if my characters can break in, or information from an old book in the library.

- sudden ideas connected to the story I’m writing. For instance, last week, I was in the middle of a vital scene when my kids got home from school, so I used my notebook to scribble ideas on the bus on the way to their afterschool class. My brain didn’t stop thinking just because my fingers had stopped typing!

I love the feeling of scribbling in a notebook. It feels like playing with words, not writing anything permanent or anything I’m going to show anyone. As I scribble the one thing I saw or heard or thought, my hand often keeps going. The notebook pulls other ideas out of me; silly ideas, daft ideas, wild ideas. Ideas I might never have had sitting at my desk. That’s why I love my notebooks! 

Lari is the author of teen thriller Mind Blind and the Fabled Beast Chronicles books (including First Aid for Fairies and Other Fabled Beasts, which won the 2009 Scottish Children's Book Awards in the 8-11 category). Check out her blog series Unlocking the Writer Inside for some inspiring advice and strategies for young writers.


If you're looking for more advice and inspiration, why not head over to our Love to Write section or check out our other great blogs for young writers? If you're a teacher, why not take a look at our other blogs about creative writing in the classroom?