In Make: Time & Space, our series on organizing your lives physically and mentally, we’ve talked about tips for arranging your tools and being more productive. What about your notebooks? I read this excellent Slate review of a book about Agatha Christie’s messy notebooks. Apparently she wrote anything in them, merging day-to-day stuff like shopping lists with thoughts about future novels and even she let her family write in them as well. She used Notebook 3 for 17 years and it contained elements from 17 of her novels.

The contents of the notebooks are as multi-dimensional as their Escher-like structure. They include fully worked-out scenes, historical background, lists of character names, rough maps of imaginary places, stage settings, an idle rebus (the numeral three, a crossed-out eye, and a mouse), and plot ideas that will be recognizable to any Christie fan: “Poirot asks to go down to country–finds a house and various fantastic details,” “Saves her life several times,” “Inquire enquire–both in same letter.” What’s more, in between ominous scraps like “Stabbed through eye with hatpin” and “influenza depression virus–Stolen? Cabinet Minister?” are grocery lists: “Newspapers, toilet paper, salt, pepper …” There was no clean line between Christie’s work life and her family life. She created household ledgers, and scribbled notes to self. (“All away weekend–can we go Thursday Nan.”) Even Christie’s second husband, the archeologist Sir Max Mallowan, used her notebooks. He jotted down calculations. Christie’s daughter Rosalind practiced penmanship, and the whole family kept track of their bridge scores alongside notes like, “Possibilities of poison … cyanide in strawberry … coniine–in capsule?”

Sounds delightfully creative! I personally prefer using a single composition notebook at a time and work my way through it chronologically, dating each page and labeling which project or idea it relates to. Sometimes I’ll go on a roll and burn through 10 pages in one day, other times a week will go by without an entry. Oddly, I rarely read through older notebooks. It’s almost as if my scribbles serve more as a creative aid than an important record.

How about you? Do you keep a notebook? Are you neat or messy? Chaotic or organized? Share your thoughts in comments and post links to pictures. [via Kottke]

In the Maker Shed:


Pick up The Maker’s Notebook ($19.99) for all your big ideas, diagrams, patterns, etc. Exclusive to the Maker Shed: Sticker sheets and a band closure to customize your book.