Organising the Writer’s Notebook: the Index (or Table of Contents)

I love writing longhand. There’s something deeply satisfying about filling up a blank page with words. Stuffing a notebook to the brim is better than chocolate, and I have dozens of the things, fat with ink, lining shelves and stacked in corners throughout my home. I also rarely write in order – a character sketch here, a bit of research there, and some stories can easily span multiple cahiers – and information can get lost pretty easily.

I’m a little late to the craze, but I recently started using a bullet journal instead of a more traditional day planner to organise my schedule, and with learning the system I also learned of a tool that I wish I had started using years ago.

We’ll call it an ‘Index’ here for the sake of clarity and continuity – it might be more accurately described as a Table of Contents, with it being at the beginning of the book and organized by page count instead of alphabetically – but what it’s called is less important than what it does, and what it does is wonderful. Indexing allows a writer to add on to previous stories and easily find notes and reference material without having to scour a notebook from cover to cover. It also prevents the user from losing writing entirely if it gets buried between unrelated content. Paired with pagination, a notebook’s index is a powerhouse of organisation, and it’s a simple, user-friendly system. Here’s how it works.

There are two main elements to an index system: pagination and the index itself. For pagination, you can either add page numbers to an existing notebook  or purchase a pre-paginated notebook (two nice but pricey options: the Leuchtturm1917 or Clairefontaine’s ‘My Essential’). The first few pages (or last, if you prefer) are set aside as the index. Each new section of the book, be it a snippet of dialogue, a single page of notes, or an entire short story, is then logged in the index followed by the corresponding page numbers.

For example:

  • Chicken Poem: 1
  • Blog Post Ideas: 2-4, 39
  • Hunter’s Moon: 5-28
  • Dot Kensington Story Ideas: 29-32, 34
  • The Manta: 33
  • Steep Sequel Ideas: 35-38
  • See You At the End of the World: 39, 41-50
  • Notes on Spaceflight: 40, 51

It does take a little getting used to, and if you’re using this system it’s important to build the habit of adding to the index regularly – it’s only as good as it is current. Some people prefer to add to their index every time they write, but updating it every few days is also an option. If you’re indexing a filled notebook retroactively, affixing a bifold of paper to an inside cover can buy you enough space to log your entries.

Overall, indexing is an elegant system and a great tool if you love writing by hand. If our notebooks are jungles, our indexes are our maps, and knowing where you are is never a bad thing.




Published by sydmore

Writer and cartoonist from Southern Ontario

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