Whatever profession you have, you definitely have this book of tips and tricks. Whether it’s a list of solutions to common problems you face or just secret tips to simplify your work.

Authors and writers, too, have this book of tips and tricks. More specifically, it’s a notebook meant to improve writing.

This writing notebook includes interesting words and phrases, tips on characterization and worldbuilding etc.

Today, we’ll explore the various categories we can include in this writing notebook.

[Self-Publishing Tips] 7 Must-Have Categories In Your Author’s Notebook To Improve Writing

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Writing Notebook: Physical or Digital?

Now, the first question is whether this notebook will be a physical notebook that you hold in your hands or a digital notebook that is accessed from your computer?

Some prefer the paper notebook which allows you to flip the pages while others prefer the idea of having all your notes in the cloud. You can easily get a beautiful notebook from Etsy or eBay.

Etsy - Leather Notebook

Source: SoGoodSoWood via Etsy

I use both actually. Since high school, I have the habit to write down interesting phrases or inspirational quotations when I read books. My bookshelf now has a dozen of these physical notebooks. When I decided to self-publish my books, I created a writing notebook in my Evernote. These notes are more extensive because I can include images, infographics and even screenshots.

But you can always consider other note-taking apps. Google Workspace (formerly G Suite) includes Docs and Sheets. It also has secure cloud storage to save your files. These digital notebooks are easier to navigate where you can use keyboard shortcuts to search certain text. On the other hand, I have to manually remember the categories that are contained in each physical notebook.

Once you decide on the notebook you’ll use, let’s move on to the various categories.

1. Quotations

I love to note down motivational quotations and wise sayings. Those that teach you about

  • Life
  • Happiness
  • Courage
  • Success
  • Love
  • etc.

They can be memorable quotations from books, television drama series or movies. Or even beautiful wallpapers that you stumble upon.

There are lessons we can learn from them. Like how to be a better person.

Photo by Studio 7042 on Pexels

I do look through them from time to time. (You should too!) These encouraging words might also give you consolation.

For example, I’m using a dream quotation for my phone wallpaper currently. It’s basically to encourage me in my writing journey :)

Hence, I enjoy collecting quotations to remind me about the positivity in life~

2. Idioms & Phrases

You can also note down interesting idioms or short phrases.

  • Idioms & sayings
    • caught red-handed
    • turn a blind eye
    • cat got your tongue?
  • Transitional words & phrases
    • Example: for instance, for example
    • Contrast: on the contrary, on the other hand
    • Cause: on account of, for this reason
    • Consequence: as a result
    • Summary/Conclusion: in summary, in conclusion, in essence, in short
    • Clarification: in other words, to put it another way

Idioms and sayings are similar to quotations. You could make them have its own category, just like Quotations.

Transitional phrases would be useful if you write non-fiction or if you’re blogging. This ensures that your ideas flow smoothly from one point to another and thus, makes your writing coherent. Or you could always file this under ‘Grammar’.

But most of the time, I use this category as inspiration when I’m writing dialogue or thoughts. They help portray a character’s personality. Or simply, just to get your point across in the shortest way possible.

Photo by StockSnap on Pexels

3. Grammar

Cause I’m quite weak in grammar, I created a folder for grammar tips.

  • Common grammatical errors (eg. lay vs lie, everyday vs every day, farther vs further)
  • Punctuation (eg. when to use dashes vs colons)
  • Tenses (eg. may vs might)
  • Pronouns (eg. indefinite pronouns like anyone, everything, nobody)
  • Articles (eg. when to use the vs a/an)

There are grammar checker tools like Grammarly and ProWritingAid that help identify and fix these errors. I do rely on such tools like Microsoft Word’s built-in spelling and grammar checker but there are times where it will not flag out errors. So this folder contains notes about grammatical errors that grammar checkers may miss out.

It’s super useful. I refer to it frequently when I’m writing. Whether to double-check that I’m grammatically correct or that I’m using the right word, tense or punctuation.

Grammar - Lay vs Lie

Source: ReferenceforWriters

This is a must-have category, especially if you self-edit your manuscripts. Your editor can help fix these grammatical errors but you’ll want your draft to be polished first before letting a pair of fresh eyes read it.

And as a writer, I assume that we all want to improve our writing and not make the same grammar mistakes as children do…?

4. Vocabulary

Likewise, you’ll need a vocabulary tips folder. You can include things like

  • Language differences (eg. American English vs British English)
  • Jargon
    • types of vehicles (eg. hatchback, sedan)
    • types of clothes (eg. A-line skirt, platform wedge)
    • anatomy of weapons (eg. blade, hilt)
  • Others (eg. flower symbolism, body language)

I use Evernote for this. Where I can include pictures and diagrams so it’s easier to see the differences and parts of each item.

Car Types

Source: infovisual.info

This is important when you’re writing descriptions for your stories. So instead of naming it simply as ‘car’, you can use a more specific term like ‘limousine’.

This category also helps expand your word bank, where you discover words that you have never known existed. For instance, I recently found out that the tall narrow window with a pointed arch at the top is called a ‘lancet window’.

Again, this is a must-have category if you’re a fiction writer!

5. Characterization

If you write fiction, you’ll need a characterization category to include character tips like

  • Personality types (eg. Myers–Briggs Type Indicator)
  • Hero (eg. typical traits of a hero)
  • Anti-Hero, Antagonist (eg. how to write an anti-hero or antagonist that readers sympathize with)
  • Character Development

You’ll probably use this the most at the beginning. The time when you’re planning your story and characters.

For example, we might include certain traits that make our antagonist sympathetic. Or bear these character tips in mind when we create our not-so-typical hero.

Character Development

Source: ReferenceforWriters

These tips are important if you’re writing a character-driven story. Where your characters are the main driving force that pushes your plot forward.

Even if you write a plot-driven story, your protagonist needs to appeal to readers. Not by being physically attractive but attractive based on his or her personality. Remember, there are some readers who put down books because they don’t like the characters. Although it is impossible to please every reader, you can at least try not to use a Mary Sue protagonist.

6. Fiction

Well and all other tips can simply be categorized as fiction tips. Or you can create more specific categories, rather than lumping everything together like me.

  • Backstory & flashback (eg. how not to info-dump but weave them into the story’s narrative)
  • Book & chapter titles (eg. how to name your books & chapters)
  • Conflict (eg. internal & external conflict)
  • Dialogue (eg. accent, dialect, dialogue tags)
  • Genre (eg. definition, sub-genres, word count)
  • Point of view (eg. 1st/2nd/3rd person, limited vs omniscient, unreliable narrator)
  • Worldbuilding (eg. language, geography, culture, law)

These notes can act as reminders when you’re plotting your story. To remind yourself of important tips so your story reads like one written by a professional author.

Fiction - Types Of Endings

They will be especially useful if you’re a beginner who just started writing your first story. If you’re an experienced writer, you might not refer to them frequently. But there are times you might want to challenge yourself and write a story different from your usual style. For instance, writing from a second-person point of view (‘you’), having an unreliable narrator as your protagonist or writing a story that falls under a totally different genre. These notes will then come in handy during such situations.

7. Ideas

And the most important category that you must have… Ideas.

This is where you write down all your story ideas about

  • Plot
  • Characters
  • Worlds
  • Mythical creatures
  • Magic
  • etc.

It’s almost like jotting down your inspiration as soon as they appear. You can even note down interesting snippets of conversation you overheard. For instance, I recently had a story idea that was inspired by an artwork. I’ve saved the link so I can look at the artwork again in future and maybe get more inspiration to develop the story further~

Photo by TeroVesalainen on Pixabay

And I’m sure you understand the sense of urgency to write down these ideas before they slip away from you. Hence, compared to the other categories, I use Google Keep for this. So that I can easily note down my inspiration on my phone.

Now It’s Your Turn

What other categories do you include in your writing notebook? How have these notes helped you when you’re writing?

You can join CreativeLive writing classes or just watch streaming broadcasts of free online classes for more writing tips.


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Nicole C. W. All Rights Reserved.

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