Every writer has their own creative process – some are organized and methodical, others are haphazard and unpredictable. Some writers have a certain bravado when it comes to writing – their words flow effortlessly from them. They exude a devil-may-care attitude – not really bothering to entertain the negative critiques and opinions of their readers. Then there is the tortured writer – the one who deliberates upon every syllable, sweating the details, and allowing self-doubt to percolate between the lines. There are hundreds of other hybrid writers, as well. All unique in their approach and methods.
But, for every species of writer that I have had the pleasure of knowing, there is one common thread that ties them together – the notebook. No serious writer is without one.
My observation is this – In the beginning, when a writer first decides to put her thoughts and emotions on paper, she will most likely run out to the nearest art store or Barnes and Noble, to purchase a beautiful, hard-bound, clumsy journal. Inside it are 125 pure white, double-sided pages begging to be written on. The responsibility of filling those pages with lofty observations or personal revelations is crippling. It’s rare to find a first journal that boasts more than a few dozen entries. First journals can often be found languishing under beds or buried deep in bureau drawers.
The second step to writing comes in the form of a plastic bag from Target or Walmart, filled with cheap, one subject lined notebooks in every color offered. This army of notebooks says, “I’m committed. I’m really going to do this.” The advantage to these notebooks is that they are lightweight and cheap. About six months after they’ve been embraced by the over-eager writer, it becomes apparent that only one of them has any writing in it. The others end up being transformed from keepers of the grail to repositories for grocery lists, to-do-lists, and phone messages. Younger children receive them with delight when the writer realizes that buying fifteen notebooks was a bit overzealous and she decides to share the wealth.
The third stage in the birth of the writer is the eclectic, sloppy, and rebellious phase. This is usually characterized by the writer using any manner of paper product to jot down flashing thoughts or pithy observations. Torn napkins, backsides of grocery receipts, corners of business cards, gum wrappers, pink memo slips pinched from a doctor’s receptionist’s desk – these are all examples of the flotsam and jetsam that flow from the bags, pockets, and drawers of the writer deeply buried in phase three.
At some point, phase three becomes unwieldy. This is when the writer attempts a return to organization. She buys a file folder to hold all those slips – maybe actually labelling the files according to subject or theme. It is a rare day when she has the time to look through all those floating slips. Ideas, settings, metaphors, and character sketches are lost in the abyss.
Finally, the writer admits that ideas come at inopportune times. She goes out to the store and buys a handful of small 3 X 5 inch notebooks. She places them strategically. One by the bed. One in the car. One in her bag. One by the computer. One in her pocket. The writer is on her way. The notebooks are easily managed. Their size is discreet. The small pages are effortlessly filled with just a few lines of scrawl. They are all within reach – a support system – seeds for the page.
These are the notebooks that hold the first sentences, the painful observations, the surreal descriptions and the daring concepts that take root in the stories that find their voice in the writer. These notebooks are the gatekeepers – the writer’s baby blankets. They are the common thread that all writers share along the trail to self-discovery.