like a starling

Figments and Fragments

Anyone who follows my blogs knows that I’m a huge Laini Taylor fan. I adored Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and I’m reading Days of Blood and Starlight in tiny little sips so it won’t end. In addition to devouring her books, I also regularly check out the stuff she posts across the interwebs.

That’s how I discovered the two posts that led to the incredibly exciting art project pictured above.

The first is from her old blog, Grow Wings. Back in 2007, she gave detailed instructions for collaging a journal cover. She always uses hardback Clairefontaine notebooks as a starting point, and then covers them in scrapbook paper and art to create gorgeous, one of a kind journals. She makes one of these journals for each of her novels, as a dedicated space for notes and ideas.

She wrote, “Ever since I got serious about writing novels, I have been doing these notebooks, always hardcover Clairefontaine journals from France, and I like to collage the covers to sort of christen/dedicate them. They somehow work as a sanity-holder during the early planning phases. I have lots of computer notes, but I can never find anything in those when I need to. The notebooks are tangible and flippable, they’re sort of my permanent reminder of the process of writing a book, and my go-to for logging ideas as they come to me, and so much else. Lists of possible character or place names, notes on various things I look up, like mythology or science. Scene ideas. Etc.” (To see pictures of hers, head over to her more current blog.)

This idea immediately appealed to me, because I love journaling, collaging and art (Nick Bantock OWNS me). I’m not a particularly skilled artist, but what I lack in talent I make up for with enthusiasm and determination. However, while I loved the idea, I wasn’t sure about its practical use for me, since I’m not a published author (yet!). I’m not sure I really need full journals dedicated to single story ideas.

But then I discovered the second post.

This one was posted on dailyfig, and covered Laini’s “idea notebook.” This is different from her journals; this notebook is simply a plain composition book with a bent corner, but the inside is filled with treasure.

She said, “I have this ‘idea notebook’ that I started a long time ago. It’s not one of my project notebooks that are collaged and dedicated to notes on a particular novel. It’s this single little unadorned floppy composition book with a bent corner and a coffee stain, that just … is. It’s its own thing, an exercise that worked, and stuck…It contains simply a long list of things that interest me, things that ‘light my mind on fire.’ An entry might be a single word or a whole page of story notes. Often, what would begin as a list of snippets would coalesce into a story idea.”

The post is sprinkled with images from her notebook (you can actually see Daughter of Smoke and Bone come to life) and concludes with a couple of freewriting exercises that can help spark imagination. However, my imagination was sparked before I even got to the end of the post, because I was already thinking, What if I combined these two concepts? What if I collaged a journal and then used it as an idea generator, a place to store my little figments and fragments until I need them? 

I immediately ordered a Clairefontaine journal and then hit up the craft store for supplies. As it is, I already have a plain spiral notebook that I’m using for my three current WIPs (one is in revisions, the other two are in the plotting/early drafting stages). This is where I stash ideas for my established stories: plot points, character bios, revision notes, etc. But I wanted another notebook, something separate that could be used solely to stoke the imagination. I wanted something that could be part art project, part treasure trove; a place to freewrite, paste cool magazine clippings, jot down the definitions of interesting words and scribble story snippets.


The minute I made this decision, my imagination ignited. I had to quickly type down a list of interesting story ideas that sprang to mind. Two sentences popped into my head — something that could very well be the beginning of a new book — and I scribbled those down as well, saving everything in a document until the journal was ready and I could start brainstorming.

Once I had all my supplies in place, the real work began. Now, perhaps if you are crafty by nature, this project would be easy for you. But I was daunted. Covering the notebook meant cutting the paper to exact size, and in three pieces (front, back and spine). Each section had to be applied separately, and had to dry before I could start the next.

And let me tell you, this took days. Even though I was following Laini’s instructions to the letter, it was still tough. My paper wasn’t quite the right size. It got too wet from the matte medium and tore. Cat hair got glued in. Bubbles welled up (although it’s not quite as bubbly as it looks in the photo — that’s courtesy of the instagram filter). Pages stuck together. My workspace smelled like glue for days on end.

And once that difficult part was finished, I still had to decorate it. I had stamps and stickers and stencils, and needed to decide on a color scheme and mood. I settled on sparkly, metallic black. Then I needed a title. I ran through several, including “treasures” and “figments and fragments.” (That second one would go on to become the title of something else. ;)) Finally, I opted to use a part of one of the sentences that had appeared in my head when I started the project:

his wings were massive when unfolded, and the feathers were black like the down of a starling.

As soon as I settled on that, I realized that I had both a wing stamp and a blackbird stamp. So I applied the letters, then the bird, and then realized that the wings would make it too cluttered. So instead, they will go inside, on the title page. For kicks, I applied a peacock feather stencil to the back cover. I truly intended to add more, but at this point, I’m enjoying the simplicity of what I have and dying to start filling up the inside.

And even with all the foibles — tears, bubbles, cat hair and more — I love how it turned out. It’s personalized and moody, just the way I wanted.

What do you think? Would you ever attempt this collaged journal/idea attic project?

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