N is for Notebooks (and Not)

Confession: I’m a sucker for a new notebook, especially if it’s a good price. Our dollar store gets a lot of the spiral-bound kind I like and sells them for $2, so I have way too many.



(the baby dragon one is not from the dollar store)

I mean, I adore $40 leather-bound notebooks, too, but can’t afford them and would never be able to actually write in them, so they’re kind of out.

The point is, I have a LOT of notebooks.

They’re great. Portable, pleasant to write in if you can find one that lies flat, great for journaling or brainstorming. The thing is… I’m starting to realize how limited their usefulness is.

Much as I love being able to write things out in pen or pencil, I have a hard time keeping notebooks organized. Even if I use one per project, it’s impossible to rearrange notes to put scenes in order, or to put more pages in where I need them later. Binders are better for this, but aren’t as portable as a notebook. And the other problem is that space is limited– I either spill over into another notebook (rare) or have a whole lot of wasted pages (frequent).

So though I love buying notebooks, I find myself shifting to other options. TECHNOLOGICAL options. I struggle with technology, but I can’t deny that some programs/apps have distinct advantages over paper.

EVERNOTE is a great program. There are a few like it out there, and everyone has their favourite, but I have no complaints with this one so far. I like that I can organize my notes into “notebooks” (hey!) to keep them organized, and can always add more as I need to, without worrying about space or leaving enough pages for future notes. I can access it from anywhere if I have my phone on me, so it’s perfect for those random moments when inspiration strikes while I’m out walking, or at the grocery store… or at church (sorry, pastor!).

Oh, and it’s free, unless you spring for the premium version. I don’t even know what that entails– I’ve been happy with the basic service.

They have other products, too. Skritch lets you write/draw/make notes on photos, there’s one that does digital handwriting, something with food, yadda yadda. I’m not so fancy with my computery things, but they’d be worth looking into if you like this program.

Moving on.

You’ve all heard me rave about Scrivener before, but let me tell you something: I had NO idea how much I was missing out on until I took Gwen Hernandez’s course. She’s the author of Scrivener for Dummies, and what I learned has me thinking that I might only be using notebooks for brainstorming in the future, because this program does everything else that I need.

Those index cards I’ve been using to organize scenes during revisions? It’s got ’em. I can colour code them, mark what stage of writing they’re at (notes, draft, revised, whatever), add keywords to track characters, show locations for each scene… whatever floats your boat, really. And it’s easy to move them around on-screen if I need to shake things up, stick a new scene in, or take one out.


Sayonara, paper.

The info panel lets me make notes for the scene or the whole project without interfering with the manuscript, play with those keywords, keep research and resources handy, add inspiration photos, and a lot more that I can’t do in a paper binder.

As for the writing itself, we’ve covered this before. Each scene is its own file in the binder, so I can move them around, jump to a different scene in one click if I need to fix something or find a reference, group them by chapter, find scenes by keyword (for, say, working on a single POV character’s chapters).

I can’t even begin to tell you all how much I miss just this one feature now that I’m editing in Word.

Scrolling sucks, is what I’m saying.

Scrivener’s not for everyone. Some people find it confusing, or just don’t like using it. Some are perfectly happy in Word, and that’s fantastic. I don’t understand it, but I fully support everyone in their software choices. But for someone who’s looking for an alternative to the frustrations of notebooks and binders (and scrolling, oy), it’s been the best tool I’ve found.

And… that’s it. That’s the only two tools I need to work toward replacing notebooks. I didn’t think I’d ever see the day when it would happen, but then, I thought I’d hate e-books, too.


I’ll keep using binders for things like worldbuilding and series bibles, and I’ll keep a little sketch pad on-hand for doodling and drawing. But it sure looks like I’m going all computery for everything else.

For more A-Z challenge, click here




About Kate Sparkes

Kate Sparkes was born in Hamilton, Ontario, but now resides in Newfoundland, where she tries not to talk too much about the dragons she sees in the fog. She lives with six cats, two dogs, and just the right amount of humans. USA Today bestselling author of the Bound Trilogy (mature YA Fantasy), Into Elurien, and Vines and Vices. Writing dark, decadent, and deadly Urban Fantasy as Tanith Frost. www.katesparkes.com www.tanithfrost.com View all posts by Kate Sparkes

9 responses to “N is for Notebooks (and Not)

  • L. Marie

    I also love notebooks too. And I have Scrivener. I didn’t use it for my current novel, since my current novel was well underway when I got it. I’ll try it for the next book.

  • sknicholls

    Scrivener’s really helped me get organized. I couldn’t have done it without Gwen. Glad to know things are going well for you. I have all my works in Scrivener now at various stages of development. But I still have five notebooks on my desk for details that just pop up but aren’t ready for the work 🙂

  • katsheridan

    I love notebooks, too, but I do all my actual writing in Word. I just got Scrivener and am trying to learn to use it (there was a great webcast class on it last week). Good to know someone’s having success with it. It gives me hope!

    Swinging by as part of the A-Z challenge!

    Kat Sheridan with Sia McKye Over Coffee

  • Stephanie Faris

    I’ve wondered about Scrivener. I’m not 100% sure I could figure it out! There was a class on it recently but I didn’t have time to go. I do use the Notes feature of Word to make notes to myself so I can keep track of what day of the week a scene is set so I don’t get lost in the flow!


  • Sherry Ellis

    Every writer needs at least 10 notebooks! ;0)

  • shanjeniah

    Hi, Kate! *waves great big!*

    I looooove notebooks. I have a cupboard full, and a specific type of favorit pen to go with them. That’s how Eden and I got started with our Star Trek fanfic waaay back when, and I still feel most comfortable exploring new fanfic ideas with them (T’Pol and Trip just got their own first notebook a few weeks back – squeeeee!)

    That said, I have the same problem you mention – they’re really hard to organize, and I have at least a dozen years’ worth! Finding sruff again…..ack!

    More, I am very left-handed. Those spirals can hurt!

    These days, I generally create rough drafts of everything from blog posts to novels on 750Words.com. There’s something about that plain white screen that feels like a sketch pad – wide open; accepting everything, free for play.

    After, I move things to my word processor (I use LibreOffice, which is free), and there I highlight and revise my blogposts and one-off stories).

    I also use it to keep track of various novel word counts (I’m working on multiple WIP for CampNaNo, so I have totals for each; a combined document I can slap into the validator when I reach my goal, and a “New wrds this session” file so I know what I’ve done for each ROW80 update.

    I don’t edit these; I also pop the raw material into my Scrivener file (beside the handy Cheat Sheet I keep in the Info panel). I love the color-coding and status bars.

    I now do all my book editing in Scrivener. SO much easier!

    I’ve been using it for a couple of years now. I think I have 8 novels in varying stages, a book of poetry, and the new Kifo Island Chronicles A-Z stories, which may become a set of novellas, in the future.

    I learned a few things here, and that blue notebook? Sheer loveliness! =D

  • Emily Witt

    Noteboooooooks! *drools* I love that one on the left of your photo, with the dragon.

    I am only allowed to have one notebook on the go at once, otherwise I would end up with millions. Most of my close friends do know to keep an eye on me in stationery stores or even at the news agent’s to make sure I don’t go crazy.

    I’m the same as you, though, with the expensive ones. I would never be able to write in them. I got this nice one for my 21st birthday (2009) with a van Gogh-themed cover that I only convinced myself to start using last year when I needed a travel journal. I figured recording European adventures was a decent way of using it. It’s not leather-bound, though; I would probably have extra trouble with one of those.

    I was a late Scrivener convert. I bought it when NaNoWriMo had a deal to get it half price, but then it sat there until I realised that it might be handy for putting all those out-of-sequence scenes I had written for AMCF into some semblance of order. Since I already had most of the plot and characters and such by the time I got to this point, I’ve basically just used it for writing/ordering scenes, but I’m thinking I’m going to try to make use of more features with my next writing project.

  • Top Of The Slush Pile

    I keep meaning to try Scrivener. I never seem to actually get there, but I keep meaning to! As for the notebooks, I seem to get most of my inspiration whilst sitting at traffic lights – so the notebook I keep shoved in my glove box gets plenty of use!

  • melissajanda

    I just started using Scrivener and I LOVE it! I could kick myself for not trying it earlier.

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