Enter Notebook

Every book on writing I’ve ever read recommends using a notebook. I’ve had difficulty putting that tip into practice. It’s not for want of a notebook. I’ve bought several, and even carried them around with me. I’ve scribbled some notes on them, which I usually never read. If I do, I blush and wonder “What the heck was I thinking to write that down? Cheez!”

I know a notebook is not obligatory. Reputedly Einstein, when asked if he kept a notebook to jot down his ideas, said that it wasn’t necessary since he’d only ever had one good idea. That might have been all fine and well for Einstein, but I have to come up with something every day. Also, my brain is like a rat lab, where hundreds of rats, all spinning on their respective rat wheels, make an awful lot of noise while not really getting anywhere. I keep losing track of the rats in that dreadful ruckus. Enter notebook.

When I was young, I was obsessed with diaries. I’d fill out page after page of introspective drivel. I remember reading Anne Frank’s diary and wondering how much description of her life, and of her family she wrote. For me, it was mainly just “I don’t like, I think, I want to, I this, I that…” I was very self-centered, as is perhaps suitable for a fourteen-year-old. I wanted to write about the world, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the mirror. I kept gazing inwards like Narcissus staring at his reflection in the murky pond water.

But that was then. Now I am all grown-up, maybe even slightly past grown-up. I want to see the world, and not just my inner universe. I am sick and tired of my inner workings. Enter notebook.

A writer’s notebook consists of notes of the world, like observations made by a zoologist on some new and interesting species. The general idea is to create a storeroom of ideas, full of tiny little sparks. They are sketches of reality; not works of art as such, but impressions that are hastily scribbled down, incipient ideas, germinating gems, faltering fledglings. They shouldn’t be cringed at, but treated with the care and understanding we reserve for children. Allowances should be made. They might still need their shoelaces tied. They might say something stupid, belch in public or poop their pants, but that’s because they’re still learning. Don’t expect them to act all perfect. Write them down and help them grow instead.

I am going to learn this hidden art of note-taking. I will become like Sherlock Holmes, making note of the tiny details no one else sees or cares about. I will take my notebook everywhere I go for two weeks. I will actively try to think up ideas. I will passively listen in on conversations. I will make note of the news, and read blogs, writing down the thoughts and the feelings they inspire. I will observe which radio channel the bus driver is listening to, or what the kids are wearing these days. Snoop, snoop, scribble, scribble. That’s me for the next few weeks.

I want to do this, since I feel that this is the heart of writing; to know yourself and to find others, and to mark down the intersecting lines with love and attention. To release those rats into the world and see what they come back with.

By the way: This post was inspired by MaggieMayQ and her post yesterday. See? Other blogs are a great source of ideas!

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8 thoughts on “Enter Notebook

  1. I need to buy one, that I like. One that I will actually use and fill it with posts. Not like the others I have had, fill two pages and them just leave it. And it needs to be pretty to look at.

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      1. Please do not look at my floor, were there are a dozen unused or first page used books. That all look great, but they are either to small or to big to carry around.

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      2. I found a book that I had written a few pages in, cut out the already used pages and started over. I think I have beaten an OCD and gained a new one – only managing to write on one page, not both!

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      3. Way to go! Luckily I’ve gotten over the initial “the notebook must look nice and neat” phase, I’m sure you will too. Now I’m finding that the hardest thing about this notebook stuff is remembering that you’re supposed to use it…

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  2. I remember being at a party with Jon Carroll, a columnist for the SF chronicle. I walked up to talk and he halted me mid sentence and gestured for me to follow him over to the hor du oeuvres table. He picked up a napkin, scribbled a quick note and pocketed it. Then he smiled with an apology saying it he didn’t write it down it would be lost forever. I’ve always appreciated that impromptu lesson … you do have to be tenacious about capturing your ideas.

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    1. That’s such a cool story! There’s something really fascinating about writers scribbling on napkins, it’s legend material. I’ll have to try that sometime. 🙂

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