Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Confessions of a notebook addict

I am a notebook obsessive. Anyone who knows me knows this: many of my notebooks are presents from friends who bring me them back from their travels, adding to my ever-growing collection. I love paper – there is something enticing about the blank page, the tactile joy of it, the scratching of pen over paper, that you simply can’t recreate with an empty screen. A blank screen is daunting: a blank page is exciting.

Dark Dates 2 - the first draft (and my feet)


An unused notebook jettisons me back to the ‘start of term’ feeling of my youth; it speaks of possibilities, of projects not yet started: but also of finiteness. A notebook runs out, you come to an ending – you get a sense of achievement and completion when you fill a notebook. On a computer, you can just keep typing: opening a notebook, you know that at some stage, you won’t be able to write anymore.

I write all of my fiction in longhand, a fact that continues to boggle many around me. In fact, it’s even more arduous than that first sounds, because for longer works, my progress goes like this: do ‘character notes’ and scenes in longhand (roughly: 7 notebooks’ worth). Pull all of those together into first draft, written in longhand (roughly: 10 notebooks), then do another longhand draft, tidying up and rewriting as I go (another 10 notebooks or so). Only then do I even consider starting to type: sometimes, not even then (I did 3 handwritten drafts of Dark Dates before I transferred it to a computer).
Unbelievably, this is only about half of my current stash

This is a project inherent with risk: I once had my bag stolen and the thing I was most upset about was I lost a notebook that included two weeks’ worth of work; work that, being handwritten, had no back up anywhere. But it’s also an incredibly rewarding way to work and, I think, ultimately benefits my writing. I write incredibly quickly (as anyone who attempts to read my unruly scrawl will attest), finding that nothing gets the ideas flowing faster than just sitting with a pen and letting go, but writing longhand forces me to edit slowly – a variant on Hemingway’s write drunk, edit sober theory (um, I do that too, I must admit). No matter how good I think the first draft is, I still have to type it up: it will inevitably be reread, edited and changed as I go. (I also only use one side of the paper, using the other to make notes and ask questions: as someone who struggles to maintain continuity in my plots, I need the space to go ‘why has this just happened? Where did X go?’ in the margins. )You can’t erase your mistakes, they are still there on the paper: and sometimes you come back to them and find they weren’t mistakes at all.
One of my ex-colleagues shared my love for stationery and always used to quote a teacher who said that ‘ink thinks’: that the very act of writing longhand changes the way you express yourself. I find I agree: writing on paper is a tactile pleasure in a way that using a computer, for all its marvels, never can. I love my laptop – and dear God I would hate to be back in the old days of Tipp-ex and typewriters – but there’s something about stationery that nourishes my soul.

(If you are a lover of all things stationery, let me direct you to my idea of heaven: Liberty of London's stationery hall. You may never leave.)

11 comments:

Derek said...

Hurrah for paper! I did get out of the habit, I must admit. But I have started going back through old journals and I found the process very useful for my writing generally. There's an immediacy to pen and paper and a freedom to write ANYWHERE. My only prob is that, having purchased (or been given) a quality notebook, I don't want to fill it with junk. So that means taking along a back-up notebook sometimes for random ideas. I really like Paperblanks at the moment!

Joe said...

Notebooks are essential, even if you tend to write your first draft straight on to a computer, like me. You just don't know when an idea is going to come to you: and they very often come at the least ideal moment. I'd have lost so many ideas without mine...

Thrifty Gal said...

Derek, I used to be the same about quality notebooks but then I realised I wasn't using them. So now I don't discriminate: though I do save my nicest for my long form fiction, I use anything to hand, so have been known to write shopping lists in Smythson. My favourites are Moleskine and Muji, but I do have a weakness for Vivienne Westwood and anything shiny.

Gillian McDade said...

I use notebooks stolen from the company's stationery store! The bog standard ones. I rarely use it though, preferring to make notes on my Iphone. My first draft goes straight to computer. I cannot write in longhand because then it just becomes a mess of shorthand and scribbles which I can't read!

Trudy said...

I love notebooks, the prettier the better, and I don't care if I use them for jotting down stray ideas or for longer scribblings, or even capturing a good dream before it dissolves in my morning coffee. I've tried to write snatches of my novel too, but I'm so impressed that you can write a whole draft longhand!
One thing about writing on paper - everyone knows what you're doing, and they're not afraid to ask if they're not sure! Writing with a pen and paper is that unusual nowadays At least with an iPhone you can tap away in relative anonymity, and most people will assume you're just texting your mates.

Andrea Franco-Cook said...

Notebooks are essential. I love em. Not sure I'd want to write an entire book in one, but they're great for brainstorming, characterization, plot summaries and over all note taking. I can't imagine life without them. The prettier the cover, the more I want to write in them. Isn't that crazy??? Great post, I enjoyed it.

Claudette Anne Pearson said...

i couldnt agree more, notebooks are amazing, you cant beat paper:))

Derek said...

Thanks Thrify-Gal, I have a moleskine too. You're right. Notebooks are for all occasions!

JO said...

Ah notebooks! I twitch if I ever leave one at home.

And have had an adventure or two finding them - they're not easily available all over the world - I think I walked about three miles in the heat of India once, directed to a little roadside stall selling exercise books for schoolchildren. The paper thin and grey, but I still bought two!

Thrifty Gal said...

Glad it's not just me who loves them, then!

simplcity said...

I have notebooks littered all over my house. Some are nothing more than to-do lists and some are full of ideas, journaling and drafing. I even kept all the pens I used to draft my first novel. I far prefer writing longhand with a pint to using my laptop. (Yes, I do the write drunk, edit sober thing, too. Show of hands?) Very nice post. Thanks for sharing.