Are your notebooks grease-spattered?
Dirty, dog-eared, crumple-paged, coffee-ringed, or soda-stained? Do they have sand stuck between the pages from a trip to the beach, or maybe a grass stain or two? Perhaps you’ve even collected the footprint of a wayward beast.
If none of the above resonates with you, maybe you should ask yourself if you’re doing it wrong.
I say this as an ardent admirer of beautiful notebooks. Take me to the Renaissance Festival and I find the leatherworker who crafts hand-bound blank books with leather covers, At the bookstore, I gravitate toward the Moleskine displays and the shelves of journals–of which there are now versions for every purpose, I should add: notebooks designed for recording thoughts, sure, but also wine lists, city notes, travel diaries, spiritual journeys, and more.
And yet…I have several of these lovely notebooks sitting on my shelves, untouched by pen. A few have the start of something, an idea for a poem or story or intimate essay that couldn’t possibly live up to its beautiful wrappings.
Here’s what I think: all those journals are wonderful and beautiful and cool, and since they look like great presents for writers, most of us writers have a few of them on our shelves, but they may not be the best place for actual writing. There can actually be such a thing as a too-beautiful journal, because once a journal moves past a certain threshold of quality, I feel too much pressure to fill its pages with perfect prose.
As you probably know, there’s no better way to squash creativity than to demand perfection on the first go-round.
Every writer needs a way to record ideas, inspirations, snatches of dialog and description that can be mined later for story material. However, an idea notebook needs to encourage you to capture those thoughts that flit through your head as you interact with your world throughout the day. That means you need to be able to live with it. Take it places, get it dirty.
In fact, it doesn’t need to be a notebook at all. It could be a digital recorder you carry on walks; your mobile phone, used to leave idea “messages” on your answering machine–or used with a recording app (my personal favorite: …). It can be a spiral notebook from the dollar store, an index card (Anne Lamott prefers index cards and a pen in her back pocket), a homemade folio of paper tucked up your sleeve, or even something fancy. The key is to have a place to record those nuggets of inspiration and, in so doing, capture the gifts of your subconscious.
Am I saying you shouldn’t buy yourself that lovely journal that you’ve been dying to possess? Absolutely not! A beautiful notebook can tell your muse that she (or he) is valued and special and worth treasuring.
Just make sure that notebook doesn’t also deliver the message that your muse needs to live up to that notebook’s beauty.