Notebook Nerdery

I posted this image to instagram a little earlier today:

So close…

A photo posted by Peter M Ball (@petermball) on

That’s the notebook I started writing a new novel in, back on August 17, in which I’ve now filled 223 of its 240 pages and begun the process of hurtling myself at the midpoint of the story. There’s a scene or two left to write, in which the worst thing that could happen to our protagonists actually happens, and then I start a new notebook and start figuring out the second half of the novel.

It looks all civilized, when it’s posted in isolation, but the instagram feed also contains photographs of what I’ve lovingly started calling “The Wodge” – at any given point I’m usually carrying around a half-dozen notebooks of various sizes, with various projects in in them. One contains the novel in progress, one or two contain novellete-length projects, one for short stories, one for recording ideas. I’m slowly starting to slim The Wodge down a little, as my focus increasingly slides into the novel, but I’m pretty sure that I’m still going to be carrying around four notebooks at a time.


Tonight also marks the end of the September notebook experiment, where I tested my hypothesis that I’d start getting far more first drafting finished if I stepped away from the computer. Wild success would have been hitting 300 handwritten pages over the month, which meant I’d hit about 50,000 words for the month based on my average word count per page.

I didn’t expect to hit that. September is usually hard on my writing process – the month starts with the Brisbane Writers Festival, which eats a week, and it’s usually the point where shit starts getting real at work (case in point: this is the month we launched the GenreCon program and start doing all the logistical stuff for making the con happen). When I set out to experiment, I figured a positive result, of the this is working, keep doing it type, would be closer to writing 200 notebook pages for the month – that would work out to 35,000 words or so, and be a little more than I was usually hitting at the keyboard during my less-productive months of the year.

Looking at the quantifiable results, I came nowhere near a positive result. I didn’t use the computer for writing at all, outside of a 200-word microfiction I banged out to capture an idea at work. My page-counts, across various September projects, ran like this:

  • Gothic Novel, in progress: 128 pages plus whatever I achieve tonight. Probably another eight or so pages.
  • The Americans, Novelette in progress: 17 pages
  • Scenes for other projects I don’t have time to write yet: 2 pages

Not the 200 pages that would have made it a solid conclusion that notebooks worked better, for me, when it came to getting down words.

On the other hand, this month came with a black swan event: I spent about eight days laid up with the death flu, barely crawling out of bed unless I absolutely needed to. I made a handful of forays into work, when absolutely necessary in order to get the GenreCon program live, but even they were largely a case of being there for a few hours and then heading home to wish for death.

Writing wasn’t really possible, during those eight days. I managed a paragraph here or there, but not a full page.

And if you take that week of illness out of the equation and compare the average page-count I would have needed to hit 200 pages with the average page-count I achieved in the 22 days I had as a healthy person, I was pretty much on-target to hit what I wanted to hit. Possibly a little higher, since the days I was sick meant I lost a weekend, and two write-club days.

Still not enough to call it a positive result success on my end, but interesting enough that I’m going to keep at it – I’ll take a look at how close to the end of the novel I am by time we hit GenreCon and re-evaluate things then.

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