Friday, 19 March 2010

Tools of the Trade


Hilary Mantel wrote a lovely piece for the Guardian recently where she talked about her passion for stationary. When the new catalogue arrives, she loses herself in it for hours, browsing everything from notebooks, pens and paperclips to ‘biscuits, buckets and bayonet fitting bulbs.’
I too am a stationary addict. The only part of Mantel’s article I couldn’t identfy with, was her view that fixed-spine notebooks like the Moleskine are ‘death to free thought’. She believes you have to be able to shift notes around to create a novel but being rather linear of mind, I rather like Moleskine notebooks. [Maybe this is why she is a brilliant and successful novelist and I’m not]. Anyway, this got me thinking about the tools of the trade and what is absolutely necessary to me to write.
First up, I must have the right pen. And that pen is the Pentel Superb, with its lovely fine nib and lack of inkiness. Since being a small child I have always written in a cack-handed way, with my hand curled over and above what’s gone before. This means I spent my childhood with indigo mitts. Secondly, I need a notebook that isn’t too fancy but is allowed to have a utilitarian beauty, if that makes sense. My husband bought me a beautiful red leather notebook the Christmas before last and I find it almost too gorgeous to use. It currently languishes by my bed in case I get any noctural inspiration. So far, I’ve only written on two of its pages. I’m currently into Moleskine exercise books, which are very pleasing [sorry Ms Mantel].
But what is this obsession with using the right stationary? I’m sure if I was holed up in a foreign prison I’d write on a dirt floor with a stick if I had to. The urge to write is powerful and once, bored in a playground while my children ran about, I resorted to writing story notes on my mobile phone. And I don't have an iPhone or a Crackberry, so it was a laborious process I can tell you.
Maybe this desire to use equipment that is just right has a purpose. I’ve heard many writers say they believe there is some connection between brain and hand that triggers the creative process and allows stories to grow and breathe. Even though I use a computer to do most of the work, there are times when nothing beats writing in a notebook by hand. I wonder whether this has its origins in the time when all we had was a stick to use in the dirt or the wall of a cave. Humans have always told stories and its thought this desire may be hard-wired into our brains. Maybe our ancestors argued over which stick had just the right amount of definition to make the perfect mark.

21 comments:

Old Kitty said...

Hi

That's a gorgeous pen! I'm full of admiration for anyone who still posesses the art of penmanship!

I abandoned my own because I don't just scribble, I write in such a way as to render all of it so illegible it falls in the nether regions of abstract squiggle art.

:-)

What on earth is a Crackberry?

Enjoy your lovely stationery!

Take care
x

Xuxana said...

I love stationary too. I can't resist anything in arts and craft shops either!

Emma Darwin said...

Lovely post. Yes, I'm another stationery addict - and I love Moleskines, big and small, for notebooks. They're well-made enough to survive and be a pleasure to use, but they're not so glamorous (let's be honest - they look like a policeman's notebook) that I feel intimidated. But I'm not sure I could write a novel in one: I do my shifting about once I'm on the computer.

I think the catalogue thing is interesting. There's a nerdy streak to most writers, I think: a classifying, ordering, fact-collecting streak, and like anything operating on the art/craft interfact, what we do can be thought of as problem-solving. So what could be more soothing than a thick book full of stuff that's all designed to solve someone's problem, classified, ordered and arranged by function, and much of it dedicated to what we do...

CarolineG said...

Oops, sorry, that isn't the pen or paper I use! It was just a nice image!

I like your analysis, Emma..

A Crackberry is a Blackberry, so called because of their addictive nature!

Debs Riccio said...

I also have no idea what a Moleskine is (thought they were what my husband's trousers were made of) and will have to look into it immediately. I also love stationery. I love Staples and Office world and esp. Art shops with their weird and wonderful stuff. I love new notebooks and pens, but, like your lovely red leather one, would be too afraid of spoiling it with my scrawls. At least there's a clever 'delete' button on the keyboard!

CarolineG said...

Debs, I'm sure you'll recognise this...

http://www.heymister.net/storage/MOLESKINE_YIKES.jpg

Ellen B said...

I mostly write on computer but in the early stages of a story I write by hand. This is because when I'm journaling about an idea, I need to write things like 'She works in an office. No wait, she doesn't, I feel she works in a petrol station. Yes, that feels right. That feels like it is truly Yolanda.' And I feel a LOT less silly writing that stuff than typing it :)

But when I do write by hand, I am *fussy*. When I started my current job after months of unemployment, I went to my very favourite paper shop in Dublin and bought a notebook with a slipcover, covered in tiny little white flowers, because I dimly had the idea of writing a fairytale type of story. And the story came from the notebook, I'm convinced of it!

Unfortunately the notebook is a little battered now from being lugged around in my backpack so I can only write in it at home. This is why fancy notebooks can be a bad idea. . .

Fionnuala Kearney said...

[Maybe this is why she is a brilliant and successful novelist and I’m not].

Yes, you are. Felt I had to correct that! I love pens, paper, clips, notebooks greeting cards, pretty boxes. I'm lethal in stationery shops.x

CarolineG said...

I beg to differ, Fi, but thank you!

Seems like this stationary fixation is pretty universal among writers, doesn't it?

What would happen if we were all in a stationary shop at the same time though...would there be an unseemly scrum?

Ellen, I know exactly what you mean about notebooks allowing you to write in a dithery way..

Luisa Plaja said...

I'm with Fionnuala on this!

Wonderful post, and I am another stationery lover. Mmmm - stationery.

Gina said...

I adore the SMELL of stationery and love having heaps around me for inspiration or - reality check - to remind me there's work to do!

Debs Riccio said...

Glad someone else mentioned the smell of a good stationer's. forever sniffing stuff, me. wonder if you could tell a book by it's scent? (dangerous shades of Hannibal Lechter)

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Isn't it fascinating how different writers write - brilliant post and very thought-provoking. Lately I've developed a ganglion in my wrist and it hurts hugely to write by hand - and oh, it really drives it home how important it is. I write fiction on the computer,usually, because of the changing-round aspect, but I journal obsessively. In a big A4 file with loose-leaf paper and the joy of being able to scribble in a (particularly now) completely illegible way about What Really Matters...
Susiex

Gillian McDade said...

I could never warm to the moleskine. Actually, I rarely use stationery. Is it just me or is there anyone else out there who not only plans the whole novel on screen, but also makes notes in a separate Word file? I think it's because I can type really fast and I'm used to working on screen in my day job.

Brian Keaney said...

I think all this stuff - the right notebook, the right pen, the right shed - is all just fetishism. It's like saying I can't have sex unless my lover is wearing stilletos. Surely what matters is what you write not what colour the ink is.

CarolineG said...

I don't know Bryan. Maybe your attitude is a male thing..!

I wouldn;t say CAN'T write...it's just nicer to do it with the right tools.

Emma Darwin said...

I think it's very understandable to care about the tools you use: I like moleskines because the paper will take any kind of pen without scratching or smudging and still mean my writing is legible, the pocket in the back is useful, the marker means I can get straight to the current page for hasty, discrete notes of the conversation I'm eavesdropping on, the elastic means the pages don't get crushed when I stuff it in my bag, nor give me papercuts when I go to fish it out, and it's really well bound so it survives being chucked about without breaking.

For first drafts at my desk, I use something quite different: big, cheap, spiral-bound A4 notebooks from Smiths. A novel is about 10 of them.

But if I didn't have my moleskine (or the Smiths books) to hand, and wanted or needed to write, then I'd write on whatever I did have.

It's like taking trouble over your bed and bedlinen. Why shouldn't you have what you like? It only fetishism if you get to the point when you can't, shall we say, perform, without the necessary equipment.

alberta ross said...

I also love stationary - always have since very small - is it something to do with the endless possibility that pen, pencil and paper present. I cannot write in beautiful notebooks - I have a great collection on the shelves!! but I write in plainer books - hopefully with bright coloured covers but this last is not essential! my books are done on computer with four fingers - the notebooks are for handbags and next to bed - very useful to be able to make notes of the inspirational nature as well as whether too have chops for dinner

CarolineG said...

Alberta, I'm just the same...too beautiful a book is just plain off putting!
Thanks so much for comments, everyone.

Michelle said...

I am slightly obsessive about stationery, notebooks in particular. Recently I even made my own notebook with card and handmade papers for a project. I think as creative folk a notebook for writers can be an inspiration itself. I write on the PC but all my thoughts, character plans, plotlines, sketches etc are all done in notebooks. They become as much of the writing process as the words on the screen.
Michelle
x

Liane said...

Oh, hello. I so love it all. I bought my inner child some flavoured highlighters on Saturday. She's very happy. It means she can highlight exciting tips from Beginnings, Middles and Ends and sniff strawberry and orange and lick the nib. It even beats stroking blank paper or kissing the spines of books. Hee hee. :)