the reason i like keeping old notebooks

Well, there are several reasons. Not the least of which is that I can open one willy nilly from the dusty pile under my desk whenever I like and find odd things written inside that alternate between (only to me) mind bendingly brilliant, to (only to me) amusing bon mots, to… what the?

I posted an example of the latter on my ‘other’ blog recently. No flipping clue what any of it meant. But it did amuse me and could very well be brilliant.

Or… ahem…uh, not.

The thing is even if there’s no apparent purpose, if all those words from all those years ago amount to meaningless dreck, so be it. The fact is that they were written, jotted, recorded with intention. There was a message, an impression to share. And maybe it’s the sense of that ‘something’, more than the specific, that resonates. There’s pleasure and even welcome discomfort in stumbling across that kind of rawness in ourselves—like a piece of us that we choose to forget but that, at some level, still exists.

Not everyone feels this way. A friend of mine burns her notebooks at intervals, doesn’t want to be reminded of what she thought was important then. I understand wanting to avoid the cringe factor, but still, I think she’s missing something.

Anyway, after having that bouncing round my head for the past few days, this morning I opened a new old notebook and the first entry was this—a quote by Mr. Housman:

“The reason the words can have such a physical effect as to raise the hair on one’s neck is because these words are poetry, and find their way to something in us which is obscure and latent, something older than the present organization of our nature.”

Not that it has anything to do with notebooks. But to which I still say yeah.  
~

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7 thoughts on “the reason i like keeping old notebooks

  1. In Christy Ann Conlin’s Seawords workshop she handed out a very interesting essay by Joan Didion on keeping a writer’s notebook. I’ll make a photocopy and send it to you. Hers was filled with snippets of things she heard around New York, on the streets or in bars. She never seemed to use any of it in her writing, but she felt the act of keeping a notebook and that moment of jotting certain moments or memories down contributed to her development as a writer.

    Liza Oliver, who was in our group, bought everyone moleskin notebooks as good-bye presents. I’m sorry to say mine is still blank. I’ve never been able to get myself into the notebook discipline, although I do have a few half-filled ones lying about the office. Then again, I don’t think it is a discipline, but more of an inclination that some people, writers or not, have. It’s a bit like making lists. Either you do it or you don’t.

  2. I’m always surprised to know it’s possible to write without keeping a notebook. Where do you put stuff?? Thoughts, etc.

  3. For the most part they are floating around in my head. But they are also in various drafts of poems, stories, etc. And in some notebooks too.

    It’s just that, in my experience, of jotting down notes can sometimes kill the idea for me. Maybe because I feel I’m putting it to paper too early. I like to let things percolate in my head for a long time, sort of like a crucible. Ideas fall away or dissolve out of boredom. The ones that still seem potent – or at least tinged with potential – are starting off points for first drafts.

    It’s not a hard and fast rule. When things jump out at me, like that Milan Kundera quote I’m using at the beginning of my novel, I do tend to write them down.

  4. I so enjoyed this post! I agree, I keep old notebooks too; reading them later makes me cringe, yes, but has something important to provide.

    This would be a great post to submit for the blog carnival of pen, pencil & paper!

    1. If nothing else, their cringeworthieness reminds me of what I don’t want to do/say/be in the future… kind of a nice marker of how far we’ve come. Not to mention the joy of stumbling over great finds such as recommended books, recipes, overheard conversations… oh such fun.

      And thanks for the link. I’ll look into that.

    1. And what does it say about the creative process that so often we can’t even remember having the thought or seeing a thing a certain way… so yes to old notebooks — you can’t make that stuff up!

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