Keeping a Notebook, Revisited, Now Influenced by Joan Didion


Right now, I am 100 pages deep in The Making of a Story by Alice LaPlante. This Norton Guide (read: quality) book was given to me as a convocation gift by one of my best friends’ mom. Yes, I only recently started it, three years later. Have I mentioned I have a rather large to-read pile?

So far I have nothing but positives to say about this book, but I want to finish it and write a response once I’m done. That’s going to take me some time because LaPlante has filled a lot of pages. Not that I’m complaining.

One part in particular has seized my interest and won’t let go. Chapter One is devoted to the basics, headed as What Is this thing called Creative Writing? Each chapter is broken down into roughly three parts, exposition on the chapter topic, exercises and examples, then Reading as a Writer. Under the introductory section Reading as a Writer, LaPlante chose to place Joan Didion’s “On Keeping a Noteboook.” Here’s a PDF version I highly recommend you read. If you want a solid cliff’s notes version, Brain Pickings does an excellent job highlighting the choice bits.

My favourite part about LaPlante’s choice is that she has this piece by Didion followed by four focusing questions you can choose to respond to (plus Denis Johnson’s story “Emergency”, followed by its own set of questions). That’s it. That’s the entire section of Reading as a Writer as far as creative writing basics go.

And I think that’s brilliant! If you’re already someone with a keen interest in writing, hence someone likely to pick up The Making of a Story, then you’ve already been told a million times that it’s in your best interest to keep a journal. LaPlante does not have to say it. And she doesn’t.

What’s more, Didion’s take is such a novel idea. It reminds me of flâneur exercises I did in an introductory creative writing class. A flâneur, directly translated, is a stroller. The artistic definition refers to someone who walks and watches and records the people around them; one who uses real life interactions in story.

That’s what I take away from Didion’s piece, and from LaPlante’s earlier exposition. To write is to watch, record, puzzle, question, and share.


Since re-embracing the hobby, I’m all about journaling. I have journals devoted to quotes, specific stories, story kernels, writing prompt exercises, blogging, literary events, and the list goes on. I do not have a flâneur notebook, which I want to rectify right away.

What artist doesn’t love to people watch? It’s time I put it to good use. So I urge you to read Didion, read The Making of a Story, keep a notebook, and chronicle whatever you desire.


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