Friday, March 16, 2012

A Cheap Notebook for Me


For the past two and a half months I have been struggling to write by hand. I have kept writer's notebooks for more than twenty years and every so often this sort of thing comes over me. I just don't want to write in the notebook. I'll type. I'll write on other paper. But I can't be brought to the notebook. And though this has happened many times, the simple solution still gives me trouble. I should just get a new notebook and move on. For some reason, I struggle with this. I would feel odd about it except that I know too many people who finish bad books because they are unwilling to quit in the middle. I'm the same way with notebooks. And yet today I stopped eighty pages short of finishing a notebook. The reasons why are writerly and so they seem just right for talking about here.

First, here is what I think a writer's notebook ought to be: something inexpensive and comfortable. If it costs more than a couple bucks, it's not for me. This includes Moleskin notebooks which so many people take as _the_ writer's notebook. That might work for some people but it doesn't work for me. I tried on, thinking that it was just the thing when I got it, but it was a trial for me. Natalie Goldberg (whose book _Writing Down the Bones_ shapes a lot of my thinking about writing) suggests using cheap spiral notebooks, preferably ones with cartoon characters on the front. I disagree. Spirals catch on everything, rarely have a stiff back (so I can't write in my lap), and it is all too easy to remove the pages. Bad, bad, and bad.

My ideal writer's notebook is a composition book. Those marble covered things from middle school. I like them to be wide ruled even though I used to have minuscule handwriting. The wide lines encourage me to write large and messy. I go faster that way because there is more room to maneuver. I found out a long time ago that thinner 60-sheet notebooks are better than the 100-sheet versions, but the smaller ones are harder to find. I just found a way to get them and will likely by a dozen when I order them. The shorter notebooks are nice because hanging on to any one notebook too long feels like I'm not doing enough writing. A 60-sheet notebook is also lighter and I like that.

The real beauty of a composition book is that tearing pages out is difficult and usually leads to the whole thing falling apart. Keeping what I write isn't that crucial. I've thrown away many a notebook. But not being able rip out a page and get rid of it right away makes me linger with what I've put down. That's a writerly thing to do. Living with the stuff I'm not happy to have written makes it more likely that I'll write more soon.

So, my ideal writer's notebook is a 60-sheet composition book, wide ruled and as inexpensive as I can find it. This is the antithesis of the notebook I quit today. That notebook is faux-leather bound, filled with128 sheets of heavy college-ruled paper, smaller in height and width than a composition book but much thicker, and has an embossed quote from _Hamlet_ on the cover. The quote "To be or not to be..." if you must know and because of that I've named it my suicide notebook. I can't balance the thing in my lap well. When I write on a table, it's thick enough that my writing arm doesn't rest correctly on the table. And I just can't stand to write in it. Everything is slow, wrong, and yicky. These, of course, are technical terms.

So I've set it aside. I bet I'll toss it out soon enough. Nothing inside of it is really lighting my soul on fire. I'm so much lighter now with the other notebook. I feel free.

It's a poor workman who blames his tools but it's also a fool who tries to do good work with the wrong tools. I know my tools. I write in composition books, mostly with a fountain pen. I drink black coffee. I type into Google Docs or 750words.com. I print things on a monochrome laser printer. I don't need much more. I don't need anything fancy. It turns out that fancy gets in the way. Writing is complex enough without unnecessary complication. Keep it simple. Keep it plain. And keep writing. Or, put another way, write on.