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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | The Scribbling Notebook

The Scribbling Notebook

I’ve been spending a lot of time with my scribbling notebook this month.


This is the place where I work out plot problems. Some people use white boards, some use index cards or Scrivener. For me, working it out visually and long hand is the way to go.

I hang on to my notebooks after the book is written. It’s reassuring to remind myself that, even with some of my most successful stories, I didn’t know what I was doing at the time but eventually figured it out. For example, here’s the thought process that led to me deciding who would rescue Riley Pendragon from his cell in the Dulac basement in The Inquisitor’s Mark.


Some lessons I have learned from my scribbling:

  • The obvious path is the least interesting. Complications and reversals make for a better story.
  • Cut the things that delay information getting to your characters and readers.
  • Whichever path provides the most pain and trouble for your protagonist is the one you want.
  • Sometimes I’m asking the wrong question, and that’s why I can’t move forward.
  • The thing I thought was going to happen next is the wrong thing to do, and my subconscious knew that all along, which is why I ended up in the scribbling notebook in the first place.


What’s your brainstorming method?

19 Responses to The Scribbling Notebook

  1. Hilary says:

    Hi Dianne – I guess if I was writing stories .. I need to settle with a pad and pencil – I do a great deal that way … but I also think quite well when I’m typing, but I want to move into recording … and then transposing – I can get my thoughts down more easily …

    Good luck with your next book and all those notes … yes, I agree the notes need to be kept for reference as well as nostalgia sake – cheers Hilary

  2. That’s great. I’m bad, I do in my head when I’m walking and then forget half of it. I need to start writing this stuff down!

  3. Love the ‘eye doo-dad’! I’m a notebook scribbler too and they look just as chaotic. It just helps to write things down (sometimes over and over again with varying scribbles) When I have a very, very important idea I don’t want to loose sight of no matter what, I slap a sticky note onto the wall over my desk. Luckily, I have a big wall.

  4. When trying to plan the path, always ask – what’s the worst thing that could happen?
    My current outline is a mess of scribbles at the moment…

  5. I love those scribbled notebooks. They reveal the beautifully messy mind at work. We are fascinating creatures when we create.

  6. Glad you found a system that works for you. Yes, sadly we must make our characters go through lots of pains for a story to be interesting.

  7. Tiana Smith says:

    I use Scrivener a lot, but when I’m really stuck, I go longhand. Usually on notecards. But those things are totally true- make it hard for your characters and do the unexpected!

  8. J E Oneil says:

    What a cool idea! I just imagine things out in my head. I love all the little scribbles you make. You even draw things 🙂

  9. I write long-hand when I’m stuck too. I’ve got sooo many notebooks floating around. But I am consistently writing in one now that is actually a journal, and has a nice ribbon and everything. =)

  10. Anna says:

    I don’t always use a notebook, but I do write out what I need to work out. Some plots need as much artwork a logic. hehehe

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  11. I LOVE it. My brainstorming process is 70% in my head, 20% discussion with my hubby, and 10% notes I scribble in a much less orderly fashion than yours. You’ll find mine on receipts, old school assignments, napkins, and other scraps. I think having the eclectic grouping actually helps my creative process. Weird? Yeah, but moving from scrap to scrap feels like just that–movement.

  12. So funny we are both thinking of inspiration and working things out in a story. I do this all the time. My notes are a mess but it helps me work out things visually. I have post it notes too with scribbles of questions and answers along with notebooks full of notes. It does feel good to look back to see how much work was done.

  13. Amymak says:

    I love love love that you took pictures of your process. I’m endlessly fascinated by how other writers write and plot and break through tricky sticky situations. After four novels I still don’t think I’ve found exactly the “right” process. I use a notebook to start, keep note cards in my purse for inspiration, Scrivener to start typing…I’m working on an outline right now, hoping that it will save me from endless rewrites and edits. Ha. Yeah right 🙂 Thanks for posting! So interesting.

  14. I usually take notes in a document on my computer or on my phone, but I do have a notebook I’ve kept in whatever bag I had since around 2004 or 2005. It’s quite battered by now, and there are some really old story notes in it, but I know that I always have a place to write stuff down. ^_^ And good on you for recognizing that you always need to do what makes things hardest on your characters; it took me years to learn that and I still have trouble with it.

  15. I love talking things out with someone when I need to brainstorm. I always get the best ideas that way. It’s something about saying it out loud.

    But when it comes to plot, my characters tell me. I’m just along for the ride.

    Very cool that you keep your scribbling notebooks!

  16. Some of my brainstorming takes place in the middle of the night when I’m supposed to be sleeping. When everything is quiet, (except for the cats climbing all over me, and my hubby snoring like a chainsaw) it’s easy to muddle over plot turns I want to take. But during the daytime, I’d be lost without my notebook. It’s looks kinda like yours… only messier.

  17. ChemistKen says:

    I mostly pace around the room, letting various scenarios run through my head until something clicks. I have jotted down notes to help me work my way through problem areas, but since I tend to lose the pages rather quickly, my office is quite messy, I avoid depending upon the written notes too much.

  18. Thanks for sharing your notebook. I agree that the obvious path is the least interesting. I dislike books when I can predict the ending, so I try not to be so obvious in my manuscripts. I don’t do brainstorm notes like you though. I write it out.