How $1 Could Make You a Bestselling Author

One thing has remained consistent about my approach to writing, from a seven-year-old in love with stories and Care Bears to a 32-year old full-time writer with publishing contracts in 18 languagesI always, always carry a notebook. Spiral-bound flipbooks in my back pocket. A jotter in the glove box of my car. One of my kids’ discarded drawing pads in my bathroom (yes, my bathroom). And, where possible, beautiful hardback notebooks in my office, handbag, and bedside table.

Carolyn is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 1 week;
winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. (Update: Michelle M. won.)


Guest column by Carolyn Jess-Cooke, author of
the award-winning poetry collection Inroads (Seren,
Wales: 2010) and four academic books on Shakespeare
and film. Her debut novel, The Guardian Angel’s Journal,
came out April 1, 2011, and is being translated in 17
languages. She was born in 1978 in Northern Ireland
and currently lives in England. See her website here.


These notebooks are not used as diaries, nor do I tend to write more than a page at a time
these are for “lightbulb” moments, scribbles of dialogue, hastily composed plotlines, factual information or a headline that interests me, or just fragments of something-or-other that strikes me as interesting. If my house was on fire, I would fight tooth and nail to retrieve these notebooks. Why? Because they contain pure gold.

I return to these notebooks constantly, sometimes over a decade after first writing an idea. When I was eighteen or so I had an incredible idea for a title, though I had no clue what the story was or whether the title was for a poem, novel, or even a screenplay. Fourteen years later, I’m working on the novel that bears that title. Similarlygoing back a bit furtherI had an idea sometime around the age of seventeen for a screenplay which remains unfinished due to the fatal combination of lack of confidence and no clue how to get past the first plot point. The idea has stuck with mea sign that there is clearly something working thereand so I plan to develop the initial idea as a novel in the future.

My notebooks serve as a very practical toolbox, tooon many occasions I’ve been asked to produce a piece of work within a crazily tight deadline, and I find that, most often, coming up with the idea for a commissioned work can take more time than actually writing it. Hence, notebookspacked with ideas that can be developed to fit the bill, the random, undeveloped ideas I had many years ago have fished me out of deep water more times than I care to admit.

And while I’m selling the act of carrying a notebook at all times, let me divulge the most important benefit: notebooks can counter writer’s block. Whether you feel you have nothing to say or have something to say but are afraid of writing it, writer’s block is a vicious, draining, and highly inconvenient experience that all of us will encounter at one time or another. Dipping into past ideas can provide an imaginary ladder over the obstacle of writer’s block. The “a-ha!” moment that writer’s block ultimately prohibits is achieved by simply flicking through your own notesafter all, it was precisely an ‘aha!’ moment that made you write it down in the first place. Even if your ideas seem a little dumb, a little callow, or even a little silly on second reading, you can take them somewhere, give them some muscle, trim the flab, or even alter the tone to suit your purpose. At the very least, re-reading your notes should spark some new ideasand so the notebooks flow.

The reason I believe that $1 might make you a bestselling author is down to the simple fact that continually writing down ideas is the only way to keep drilling down to the good stuff that agents and publishers will leap at. A notebook needn’t be expensiveespecially if, like me, you want to pepper your house and car with themand, if need be, you can always use your hand, a ticket stub or a napkin to write on until you can transcribe your ideas into your notebook later in.

There are many pathways to becoming a writer that will put you out of pocketdegree programs, mentoring schemes, online tutoringand, for sure, some of these may be grand. But the quickest, cheapest, and most perennial way to “become” a writer is pen and paperdone often enough it will, as they say, reap the benefits.

Carolyn is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 1 week;
winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. (Update: Michelle M. won.)

Confused as to what a query or synopsis
should look like? Seek
out the formatting

guidebook Formatting
& Submitting

Your Manuscript, 3rd Ed.



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54 thoughts on “How $1 Could Make You a Bestselling Author

  1. Paulac4

    I love this article! I have tons of journals, different sizes, colors and bindings. I go through my desk and boxes of old letters, cards and pictures, and find single sheets of paper with something I wrote years earlier. I love to find the little scraps. Usually, I read what ever it is I have written and think to myself, “I certainly didn’t write this. I must have copied it from a professional article or published book!”

    I too have a journal or two in my bathroom, under my bed, next to my bed and under or around virtually every chair in the house! I have even gotten my husband in on the act! The difference being, I want to publish, he just wants to remember!

    Thank You for this article! I am finally convinced I am not a freak of nature!

  2. sunsinger

    In an age of electronics, paper notebooks are often overlooked. They keep notes together. I often use scraps of paper as well, and then hope the cats don’t knock them off my desk before I get back to them.


  3. journalwriter

    Thanks so much for having Carolyn as a guest on your blog.

    I appreciate your dedication to keeping notebooks in every place possible for your writing endeavors. That really shows how much you honor yourself as a writer. I think keeping notebooks is a fabulous idea; it’s a great way to capture what matters to you, what you notice. And you can never know what it will lead to. I’m a huge fan of journaling, so your post resonated with me.

    So, I have chosen your post, How $1 Could Make You a Best Selling Author, as the #JournalChat Pick of the Day for all things journaling on Twitter.
    I will post a link on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, my blog and website Refresh with Dawn Herring, and in Refresh Journal, my weekly e-journal: .

    I host a weekly chat on journaling called #JournalChat Live on Thursdays at 5 EST/2 PST on Twitter; you’re welcome to join us. This week’s topic is Journaling: Your Approach and Intent.

    Thanks again for sharing the importance of keeping a notebook, actually many!, for writing success. It was an inspiring read.

    Be refreshed,
    Dawn Herring
    JournalWriter Freelance
    Host of #JournalChat Live and Links Edition on Twitter


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