Friday, August 24, 2012

The Editorial Life: My Working Notebooks

When I started working as Arthur's editorial assistant back in 2000, I quickly discovered that I had a lot to keep track of:  his appointments and any materials he might need to prep for them, my personal to-do list, people who called, what Production needed from us each day, what manuscripts most urgently required a response . . . a long, long list of priorities to juggle and information to track. There was only one possible solution to contain all this:  a notebook! And as soon as I got one, my work life got a hundred times more organized.

Here are my collected notebooks from 2001 through today:

I keep them because I never know when I might need to make contact with someone I spoke to on the phone about a project in April 2006 -- and I really have used these for information like that! I have also become very particular about the qualities of my notebooks through the years. A good working notebook has to open flat. Either a wire binding or a standard glued binding can work, but glued is slightly preferable, as then the wire doesn't dig into my hand when I write on the left-hand page. The notebook indeed has to be wide enough to hold my whole hand as I write, and/or have few enough pages that my wrist is still supported on the desk. And I like lined paper, but with the lines a decent distance apart, so my handwriting doesn't have to be any more crabbed than it already is when I write quickly. I don't know if many other editors use them -- any editorial readers: Do you? -- but I do give notebooks like this to new editorial assistants, to provide a home for all the many notes they have to take on procedures, and to welcome them into the tribe.

Every day, my notebook sits open on my desk to anchor me with its calm, practical list of tasks to complete (and cross off, oh frabjous joy), to accept notes on phone calls and voicemails and manuscript thinking sessions, to doodle in during meetings, to draft letters or note random phrases for flap copy. When I talk to writers, I usually take notes on our conversation for later, so my notebooks contain sloppily scribbled transcripts of my first conversations with Francisco X. Stork and Karen Rivers and Trent Reedy. Here I have notes from a brainstorming session on what concepts should be included in Food for Thought:  The Complete Book of Concepts for Growing Minds.

And every night, the last thing I do before I leave work is make my to-do list for the next day.

For this day in November 2007, for instance, I wrote "Notes for Francisco" (on an early draft of Marcelo in the Real World), "Email Yurika" (the foreign rights agent for Moribito:  Guardian of the Spirit), "Fact sheet copy," and "Clean desk a bit?" (The question mark is telling.) I also brainstormed titles for the book that eventually became Crossing to Paradise, by Kevin Crossley-Holland, and apparently received voicemails from a couple of agents. Thus, as you can see, the notebooks are fun historical documents as well as useful ones . . . the diaries of my working life.


  1. I love that! And what a great record of all the wonderful conversations and other minutaie you might otherwise forget! So glad you're keeping them.

  2. This is beautiful!

  3. Wow, crazy resonance with having particular requirements for a notebook. My work notebook has to be three-subject (not too big, not too small), has to have holes for a three-ring binder, and has to have perforated pages for easy removal. My creative notebook gets thrown into bags at a moment's notice, so I like to have the wire spiral protected by fabric. Few things are more annoying than the end of a wire getting pulled and then snagging on things in retaliation.

  4. My little heart pit-pattered at the sight of all those notebooks. I need one to stay organized as well, and it does serve as a diary too ... I threw 10 yrs of notebooks away when we moved though. But the pile is beginning to grow :)

    My favorites are the composition notebooks that my children use for school. Cheap, sturdy, take anywhere. I also have lovely ones for prayers, quotes, etc.

    1. I know what you mean, Vijaya! I get giddy when I go down the notebook aisle! :)

      I have tons of notebooks and never tire of getting them as presents. I know I'll fill them all up eventually. :)

  5. I love notebooks, too. A friend just sent me an AWESOME Oxford notebook with pages made of stone (limestone, I think?) instead of pulp. The pages are waterproof and so smooth I find myself petting them. It's a spiral notebook (a down-to-business office tool) and gel pens glide on the pages sooooo smoothly. She got it at Walgreens!

  6. I'm always telling my students about the value of writers' notebooks. It'll be fun to have your example of an editor's notebooks! Thank you for sharing!

  7. LOVE this--the idea, the visual, the organization.:) Awesome!