"Idea Catcher: An Inspiring Journal for Writers" by the Editors of Story Press

Pros: A few interesting quotes
Cons: Purpose and audience problems; not many interesting quotes
Rating: 2 out of 5

First published 7/7/2002

“Idea Catcher: An Inspiring Journal for Writers” sounded like a pretty cool idea. It’s filled with little “prompts,” and you use the blank page beneath each prompt to free-write or take notes on things you can use in your writing. I warn you: I’m not normally one for writing in journals, so I’m a little biased here. I’ve tried it at various points in my life and it just never quite worked out. However, this seemed like a good time to start a journal. I’m re-learning how to enjoy writing, and tackling some other issues in my life right now. A journal seemed like the perfect way to make sure that I kept thinking about these things, rather than forgetting about them.

“Idea Catcher” is the first journal I’ve tried on this quest. It won’t be the last, but I will say that it’s probably lucky that I ordered the others on sale from the Writer’s Digest Book Club before I tried this one. Because this one has left me rather unimpressed with journals.

The Prompts

The major problem here is the prompts. Some of them are engaging, but most just leave me feeling totally uninterested in pursuing them. Sure, some of this is going to be due to the fact that everyone wants something a little different out of their writing exercises. However, I think I do have at least a few valid quibbles. For example, each prompt comes with the rest of one blank page of paper. Some of the prompts, however, clearly seem to be exercises that will take up much more than one blank page of paper. What’s the point of calling it a journal and giving you one sheet of paper per prompt if you’re going to need another notebook just to get anywhere with some of these?

Other prompts don’t really seem to suggest much further to write about – they’re just stories of other writers’ experiences. (And yes, some of the tales of other writers do seem to provide food for thought, but others just don’t seem to lead much of anywhere.)

Sections and Divisions

The book is broken up into a handful of sections – Ideas, People and Characters, Conversation and Dialogue, Descriptions, Observations, Names and Titles, and Dreams and Anecdotes. The introduction suggests that, for example, if a person somewhere strikes you as interesting, you should flip to the “People and Characters” chapter and jot down your observations.

There are a couple of problems here. First, this doesn’t entirely seem to match up with the idea that this is a journal. This makes the book sound much more like a workbook or, well, a blank notebook that happens to have some quotes in it, really, than any kind of journal.

Second, none of the pages are numbered. So if you want to be able to flip to the right section, I suggest that you put post-it flags on the first page of each chapter. Otherwise it could take you a little while to find what you want.

Audience and Purpose Problems

Ultimately I believe that “Idea Catcher’s” problems boil down to two confusions.

#1. Audience problems: This book can’t quite decide who it’s aimed at. Writers who want a bit of guidance to help them write about something every day? Writers who think inexpensive blank notebooks aren’t good enough to do free-writing and take down observations in?

#2. Purpose problems: This book also can’t quite decide what it wants to be. Is it an exercise workbook, suggesting little things for writers to try? Is it a journal, with something interesting for people to write about every day? Is it a notebook for taking down observations in, that just happens to have quotes across the tops of the pages?

Ultimately, I don’t really recommend this book. If you want a journal, you can do better by cutting neat quotes out of the newspaper, copying interesting exercises out of writing books, and pasting them at the tops of the pages in a blank notebook.

Posted in Reviews, Writing

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