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Notebooknotes: Roughing It Out

After many years of doing rough work on Visors and Treos, I switched back to notebooks this year. Moleskines and Field Notes. Usually working with a propelling pencil, until I found a reliable micro-Sharpie thing earlier this year. Just because I think it’s always worth looking at the way you work and seeing if a change won’t do it good.

These are from a Field Notes notebook started on 5 July 2009.

Had to crank this one up in GIMP, as I was working in pencil (some notes on ASTONISHING X-MEN I scanned were too faint for the scanner or GIMP to save). The left hand page was made around the time I was speaking to the Architecture Association. As you can see, I do tend to go back and add guidance notes later — here, reminding me not to re-use this bit because I ended up using it in a WIRED UK column.

On the right, is how I tend to start roughing out a comics script. It’s almost legible, innit?


I write GRAVEL as "scriptments," usually — a cross between a script, a short story and a film treatment, that Mike Wolfer then turns into something that makes some kind of sense before he starts drawing it. They can run to four or five pages, sometimes just becoming long runs of dialogue. This is me halfway through #15 of that book, just banging the dialogue down without stage directions, as it comes to me:


Yes, I do have bloody awful handwriting. Always have had. I’ll often write in block caps just for the sake of legibility — sometimes I can’t read my own writing.

I’ve filed the serial numbers off this one, as it were, because it was for a work-for-hire project that never got off the ground due to my lack of time. Hence the odd gaps on the page. But this is what you’ll most often find in one of my notebooks: looking at comics page flow. This was the start of several pages of diagrams and notes, trying to find a formal page flow I liked for a DPS, or Double Page Spread.


Published in paper and process


  1. […] 11, 2009 · Leave a Comment Warren Ellis has posted up some notes on how he tends his notebooks that I found rather interesting – although I admit I’m a bit of a creative process […]

  2. Wil Wil

    I love it when you post stuff like this, Warren.

  3. Quinn Quinn

    Ha ha – you chav with your ‘innit’!

    Serious note, I’m glad you can’t read your handwriting either. Makes me feel better about my own! Still, I like to think passion for the writing is excuse enough for writing this way. Plus, nobody can copy your first draft! =)


  4. Adam Adam

    Totally killer. Thanks for giving us a small window into the world of your writing process. Everyone’s is very different, and I love seeing good writers talk about their methods. By the way, my handwriting is worse;-)

  5. That is really cool. Also, I guarantee my left-handed scrawl is more illegible than your writing.

  6. My handwriting is worse. Years of keyboard and Palm’s Graffiti has turned it into a torment to do — I often leave out frikkin letters or parts of them.

  7. Owen Owen

    Thanks for sharing, it’s interesting to me your notes are heavy with dialogue because so often I see ‘writers’ on forums or in how-to books advising not to go dialogue first. I often can’t get into scenes any other way, yet, so reassuring. Also as a former teaching assistant, not the worst handwriting I’ve seen by some distance.

  8. Stoft Stoft

    Fully legible. You’ll get more speed out of it if you write your E:s as mirrored 3:s since it’ll allow you to write them in one continuous stroke instead of three. Common practice among telegraphers since E is the shortest letter in morse code (one short). YMMV and legibility may suffer. :-)

  9. […] novelist Warren Ellis was a fan of FIELD NOTES memo books. Following up, Ellis recently posted scans of some FIELD NOTES pages, sharing a glimpse of his creative process, including a futurist nanotechnology concept, a bit of […]

  10. johnv johnv

    Much better than my chicken scratch. Thanks for the insight into your process.

    Warren – have you taken a look at the livescribe pen technology? I merges the natural non linear creative/expressive form of pen and paper with technology for transfering , cataloging and including audio.

    I myself have recently gone back from using Microsofts OneNote to pen and paper via the Livescribe method to interesting results.

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