If you’re like every other writer I know, you have piles of notebooks stacked around your studio or your bedroom or your house.

Maybe you keep them in a box or on a shelf. Or maybe they are hidden in a closet. But I know you have them. I’d bet money on it.

Which is why I was delighted to find this question in my inbox a few weeks ago.

(Remember when I invited you to ask questions? That offer still holds.)

Dear Saundra,

Here is my struggle: I have dozens of notebooks accumulated over the years. They are journals in the very wide sense: daily writing (continuous practice) mixed with class notes and notes related to academic articles that I was working on, mixed with quotes from my favorite novels or poems or philosophy books.

The writings related to my fiction project are scattered through that. Embedded in the rest. I don’t know how to go from scattered notebooks, to shaping the novel in a computer document.

Thank you for sharing your experience and strategies.


Dear MB and Everyone Else Who Identifies With This Challenge:

This situation is the drawback of your beautiful, messy mind. It is also proof that you are showing up for yourself and your writing day after day. Yay you!

I 100% understand your struggle, however. I have so many notebooks piled up in my studio, it makes me anxious to think about it. That said, I do have a few suggestions for you to start pulling your writing out.

The most important point is to break the task into manageable, somewhat pleasurable activities that you can tuck into your day. I prefer doing this kind of work in the late afternoon.

While I can’t promise a novel will rise fully finished, I can guarantee that taking these small steps to begin the process will open the doors of your mind to get you on track with it.

1. Work on one notebook at a time.

Sit in a cozy chair with your favorite pen and a stack of sticky notes and skim. Use the post-its to mark passages you may want to transcribe and your pen to note the content, either on the sticky notes or on the page.

Don’t worry if the writing is good or what you are going to do with it. Trust yourself that you will figure it out eventually

As you go, reward yourself for all the writing you’ve done and the effort you are making toward this one goal of seeing what’s in the notebook.

Work with a good cup of coffee beside you, some dark chocolate, or my recent, personal favorite, gold stars.

2. When you’ve gone through the first notebook, set aside ten, twenty, or thirty minutes a day to transcribe.

For minimum intimidation, you may want to start with ten. And if it still feels overwhelming, start with five.

As you go, create categories to help you manage the material. You could organize your writing by chronology or theme or character–whatever works for you and your project.

Don’t worry about chapters or sections or story arc yet. That will come later.

I recommend Scrivener for keeping the individual writes organized, because you can make folders with individual files. It is visual and intuitive.

Honestly, I keep my whole brain in Scrivener.

3. When you’re finished typing the first notebook, let the writing breathe.

Don’t try to figure out what you’re going to do with it. Let your mind work on it without you.

In the meantime, read, write, take walks, soak in a hot tub, and see what comes.

Don’t edit or judge.

On the flip side, if there is a paragraph or even a phrase that you love and resonates for you, savor it and see what blooms.

I hope this helps you get started. I’m guessing once you are on the path, you will know the next right step.

Be the Writer You Were Born to Be


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