By Susan Wroble
At first glance, my magic notebook doesn’t seem very magical at all. It’s your standard half-inch thick, plastic-covered white three-ring binder, picked up at a thrift store for fifty cents.
So how, exactly, is this not-so-special notebook magical? That story goes back years…
I’ve been a member of SCBWI for a long time. It took nearly a decade of plugging away at beloved middle grade novel before I realized that my writing group members had a much clearer understanding of my characters than I did — or ever would. My characters’ faces and bodies were always blurry; they changed ages with every re-write, and they never held onto consistent character traits. Despite assembling collections of photos and pages upon pages of dialogue, interviews and character traits, my characters were never real to me. Much as I love reading fiction, it finally became clear to me that my brain wasn’t wired to write it.
With that long overdue understanding, I let go. At first, it felt like giving up. And then it felt amazingly freeing. Everything changed. Instead of creating fictional characters, I could research the real people and things that captured my interest. Instead of a long novel, I could focus on short pieces, less than a thousand words. And instead of books, I could write for magazines.
And that is how the notebook came to be.
I made a spreadsheet of magazine due dates and wish lists to slip into the front cover (with a background in engineering, I love spreadsheets!). The list included all the upcoming themes for Cricket Media’s family of magazines. For me, the structure of a desired theme was the easiest place to start.
Simply having those dates and themes at the front of the notebook, where I saw them frequently, set the stage for the magic to happen. Ideas for articles kept percolating. I started asking friends what they’d want to see on a given theme — and found the question made for a great dinner party conversation! And then I started pitching. It took a lot of rejections and a bunch of typing out published articles to really get the sense of the style before an acceptance came.
In the end, the inside of the magic notebook didn’t matter at all. I had used the inside for submission guidelines, articles that seemed like good models, checklists of everything that was required to submit to a given magazine…
And I rarely cracked the cover. What mattered most was simply putting my notes in a place where I could see them and think about them. The true magic, it seemed, was in learning to change my habits.