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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Whenever I begin daydreaming about a new novel, I buy a notebook.

Sometimes I search everywhere for the perfect notebook. Other times, I’ll be impatient and grab one from the local stationary store. If I do this, then I’ll make a cover for it. I’ll search out a photo that speaks to me and print it out and stick it on the cover. As you can see, it can get very tattered:


THE WILD GIRL is a very big and complicated book. It was a two notebook novel. So was BITTER GREENS. Most novels, though, only need a single notebook.

I begin by writing a brief outline of the book and what I think it’s about:

I stick photos and maps and drawings in my notebook. I scribble down questions, ideas, timelines, research notes, list of things to do, and problems to be solved. I draw myself narrative arcs, and think about where to put scenes for maximum impact. I play with the shape and structure of the novel. If I jot down a thought to myself on a sticky-note, or a paper napkin, or an old receipt, that gets stuck into the book too.   

It’s not a pretty notebook. It’s a chronological record of ideas and inspiration. Sometimes I doodle in it. Sometimes my writing is indecipherable and my sketches appallingly bad. It doesn’t matter. Everything is recorded. 

I usually put the date and often the time in the top of the page. This way I know I began thinking about THE WILD GIRL on 1/2/08. I wrote the first draft of the first line on 26/8/11 – a considerable time later. I spend a long time thinking about my novels before I begin to write them. I planned the first chapter on 12/10/11. In July 2012, I wrote a list of problems to be fixed in the editing stage. I began to edit the book at 11am on 13/11/12. 

Once I begin writing, I keep a record of my word count too. One of my pages tells me that I began writing at 3am on 1/5/12 and wrote 1,700 words by 5.40am (I often can’t sleep towards the end of a book). 
I’ll also record where I am if I’m away from home. So on 20/4/12 I was in Sababurg in Germany, and had written 104, 426 words in total. That day I wrote 8 pages in my notebook; the next day I pushed my word count to 107, 042.

Why do I do this? I find it interesting. I like to record every step in the creative process. I like to imagine some future scholar blowing off the dust on this notebook and finding my process as fascinating as I do. My notebooks are paired with my diaries, in which I record my thoughts and feelings and discoveries. One is the key to the other. 

Whenever I am stuck or stymied, I can go back through my notebook and read my notes and find new inspiration. I can keep track of what needs to be done and draw up lists for myself. I can see the whole messy process of writing a book, from the first idea to the last word. I can remind myself, when I first start writing a novel, that I never really know where I am going or what amazing serendipitous discovereis are yet to be made. 

When I'm on tour, I keep my notebook in the hotel safe (even fi that emans there is no room for my laptop). 

When I go on holiday, or on a research trip, it travels with me (which helps explain why it gets so tattered).

Then, when I’m finished writing and editing the novel, it gets put away.

And I will go in search of a new notebook, filled with excitement and joy at the infinite possibilities presented by its pure white pages. 

Tina commented on 22-Feb-2014 01:18 AM
I love the fact that you have notebooks for each novel. It must be lovely to look back on and see how each novel developed and took shape. Thanks for sharing.
sue knight commented on 22-Feb-2014 09:31 AM
Fascinating look into your creative process. The lengthy and detailed journey from scribbles to story to book reaffirms why I will remain a happy reader not a writer. Thankyou so much for sharing.
Shelleyrae commented on 22-Feb-2014 10:25 PM
Amazing Kate and so generous of you to share them with us.
Kate Forsyth commented on 23-Feb-2014 10:24 AM
Thanks so much! I'm glad you enjoyed seeing my notebooks :)
Helen commented on 23-Feb-2014 06:05 PM
This is just fascinating TY for sharing!
Philippa Rees commented on 06-Apr-2014 04:57 AM
A very generous disclosure and illustrations of the creative process. I found myself envious of the total absorption in somehow being a novelist visible to the novelist.

I might try to emulate. I have no recollection of how I came to write anything! Fascinating, and thanks to Magdalena for pointing at you...
Kate Forsyth commented on 03-Aug-2015 03:41 PM
Thanks so much! I'm so gad you enjoyed the post :)

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