Stepping Stones Blog

Writer’s OCD: What Works for Me (Part 2)

In my last post I discussed how my left-brained need for organization has led me to use a variety of notebooks for all my different writing projects; the idea of one catch-all notebook sends me into a tailspin.

The two life journals.  The bottom one for ideas - the top one for journaling.  I have written #1 on the spine to indicate the volume.

The two life notebooks. The bottom one for ideas – the top one for journaling. I have written #1 on the spine to indicate the volume.

I mentioned that I actually use TWO  notebooks for my life story project, and promised to detail that system in a future post.  I am now making good on that promise.

I have combined the teaching of two fine authors:  How to Write Your Own Life Story by Lois Daniel and Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg.  I have used this system for the past three weeks and it works well for me.

Both authors advocate the popular notion of writing prompts.  However, Lois Daniel puts a spin on this idea. Rather than listing specific prompt questions (e.g., write about your favorite childhood toy), she advocates making lists (e.g. childhood toys).  This may not seem like a big deal, but it makes a WORLD of difference to me.


Page 12 from my "idea" journal.  Each page allows plenty of room to brainstorm possible prompts from one broad category.

Page 12 from my “idea”notebook. Each page allows plenty of room to brainstorm. The margin notes indicate where I can find my entry in the writing journal.

The first prompt demands a “right” answer.  What is the “favorite” toy.  For this left-brain, OCD perfectionist, this totally stymies the writing process.  I must  discover the “favorite” toy… and I can’t start writing until I have totally considered all possibilities and then narrowed it down the one definitive toy (I am exhausted just thinking about it…)

Whereas the second process allows me to write about all kinds of toys.  I don’t have to select ONE favorite; I can choose to write about as many as I want.  I know this sounds silly for many of you, because the truth of the matter is – this can also be done with the first writing prompt.  But for those of us who suffer from “perfection affliction” – this a huge breakthrough

In her book, Ms. Daniel offers about seventy different prompt categories.  Great for writing possibilities, terrible for organization… for now I am faced with another stumbling block.  How can I keep all similar entries together?  I rarely want to write exhaustively about a topic at one time.  Sometimes distance from a subject allows further ideas to come to mind.  So…. how can I write about toys one day, followed by jobs the next, and then beloved pets after that ?  The lack of organization once again stymied me.

I needed an easy way to access these journal entries … and the TWO notebook system was born.

In both notebooks, I have pre-numbered the 100 pages.  It takes a little time but is invaluable to my need for organization.

One notebook is to help me brainstorm.  At the top of each page I have written the category … and the rest of the page is blank to jot down any ideas I may wish to develop in future writings.  This serves me well as I can easily spend five minutes here and there to brainstorm, when I don’t necessarily have a chunk of time to write.  I am making daily progress, which is important to developing my writing habit.

Alphabetical Index of the Idea notebook

Alphabetical Index of the Idea notebook

In the back of that notebook I have developed an alphabetical index.  If I have an idea that I want to quickly document, let’s stick with the toy idea…I turn to the index, find the category (Toys), turn to the dedicated brainstorm page for Toys and jot down my idea.  The entire process takes no more than ten seconds.

The second notebook is where I actually journal on the writing prompt.  The journal entries are in no particular order… I write what I want to write.  I give the entry a title (to aid in organization) and when I have finished the entry I document the page number in the brainstorm notebook in the margin next to its corresponding idea entry.  Sounds confusing, but really it isn’t.

Using the photos to the left, let’s say I want to write about my current home.  I open my writing journal and write.  When done, I then go to the brainstorm journal, use the index to find the Property page (12)  find the brainstorm entry “Olathe home” and in the margin insert the journal book and the page number of  the entry (1 p 39).  This will help me easily find that clip when and if I ever decide to use it for further exploration.

Hopefully the pictures have explained this process.  It works for me – and it is not at all cumbersome.  And if you are feeling overwhelmed with the lack of writer’s notebook organization – I hope you give it a try.

A Page from the writing notebook.  After journaling, I return to the "places" page in my idea notebook and in the margin next to "Olathe home" indicate the volume and number of this entry for easy reference

A Page from the writing notebook. After journaling, I returned to the “places” page in my idea notebook. In the margin next to “Olathe home” I indicated the volume (1) and page number (39) of this entry for easy reference

How does Wild Mind fit into this process?  Natalie Goldberg is a big proponent for the ten minute timed write.  She selects a topic, puts pen-to-paper and advocates writing as fast as you can for ten minutes.

I have decided to do at least one ten minute write a day.  The truth of the matter is that once I start… I typically write for 20, 30 or more minutes at a time BUT… I tell myself that I only have to write ten minutes a day.  And if I am not willing to devote ten minutes to this process, then I must stop deceiving myself that I want to be a writer.

If I do not have a particular topic that I wish to explore, I peruse my brainstorm notebook until I find one.  I then open the Journal and begin the timed write.

Ten minutes.  It is a great starting point.  Try it….


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: