On Writing Memoir: The Importance of Carrying a Notebook

I’m sure you’ve heard the advice that fiction writers should keep a notebook with them at all times, just in case they overhear an interesting conversation at a cafe or the ending to their novel reveals itself to them in the cereal aisle of the grocery store. However, the idea of carrying a notebook is just as important for memoir writers as it is for fiction writers.

You never know when you’ll be hit with a memory that could be included in your memoir. It might be something as small as a dress you wore when you were six or the name of that kid down the street who you used to play with after school. These things seem insignificant, but they aren’t. We remember things for a reason. And often, when we sit down and actually try to remember our lives, we only think of the big things when the little details are what makes these memories real.

The most random memories come to me throughout my day. Some of them are things I haven’t thought about in years. If you don’t write these memories down the moment you think of them, there’s a good chance that you’ll forget them once you get home and go to your computer or journal. Trust me, I’ve spent a lot of time staring at my computer screen, trying to recall that great memory I’d thought of while I was in line at the grocery store that I was certain I wouldn’t forget.

Another use for these notebooks is a little more controversial. You can take notes on events while they’re happening. I did this on my trip to Japan a couple of years ago. I was at a bar with a bunch of the people from the hostel I was staying at in Kyoto. I knew I was going to want to write about the scene later, so I asked if anyone had a piece of paper. No one did, so I started scribbling notes and fragments of conversations on a napkin.

When one of my hostel friends asked me what I was doing, I was honest. I said I planned to write a story about the trip and wanted to take notes. No one seemed to mind, and those napkin notes really helped me reconstruct the scene later. I wished I had been carrying a notebook because covertly trying to write notes on a napkin is a difficult task. I also would have been able to write a lot more without the napkin’s space limitations.

On a technical note, you want to make sure your notebook is small enough to carry with you at all times. My notebooks of choice are the small Moleskine journals.  Moleskines have little built-in bookmarks and an elastic band that keeps them closed in your pocket or purse. Moleskine also has an app for iPads and iPhones if you prefer doing your note-taking on those kinds of devices, which I completely encourage. There are plenty of free note-taking tools on cell phones and tablets that can get the job done just as well as any notebook. Find what works best for you.

How many of you writers out there carry notebooks with you? Do you have a favorite type or brand?

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4 replies to “On Writing Memoir: The Importance of Carrying a Notebook”

  1. I agree. Carrying a notebook is particularly good for memoir writing, because those ideas are far more random and unintentional, at least for me. Somehow memories come and go much quicker than story ideas, they must be wired in our brain differently 🙂 But I definitely need to write things down or they are gone. I never actually have a notebook, but I usually start writing all over receipts and anything I can find in my wallet.

    1. Alana says:Author

      Yeah, I definitely scribble on receipts and loose papers sometimes. I do try to keep a little notebook in my purse so it doesn’t come to that because it’s so easy to lose those things. Thanks for the comment! 🙂

  2. Paul Rice says:

    I recently started carrying around a “wheelbook”, one of those 4″ x 6″, 50-60 page notebooks found in every office supply store and most drugstores. It fits into my right back pocket fine.

    I use it the same way you use your journal. My current one has: 1) notes for a new book; 2) notes from listening to Joanna Penn’s 100+ podcasts; 3) notes from an eBook I read two months ago that I didn’t seem to remember very well :-\ 4) outlines for book reviews of two books I’m reading.

    It does it all!

    1. Alana says:Author

      Sounds good! Notebooks are really helpful. Thanks for the comment!

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