A method for the unruly
Oh wow this was amazing to read. I have a very different relationship with mine. Hmm, how to sum it up? I view mine as the third person in my life after my son and lover. For so long it was just me and my very beautiful but chaotic journal (it’s always been a journal for me) but then my lover came followed by my son so now when I can carve time together with it it feels a little like an affair would (I imagine—having never had one) and I suppose now I’m in a tricky predicament as I know I need to incorporate my journal - the third wheel- back into my life to the extent it once was able to occupy but I have to find a way to do that alongside a family and ridiculous working hours. So I suppose I am redefining my relationship with a very important thing in my life, so this glimpse into another relationship with one was very moving!
I have notebooks going back to 1996. A real hodge podge of designs and styles but all with a mix of personal ramblings, poems, and thoughts. I completely agree with you about the more basic the better and feel offended my moleskin ones. My husband was struggling for Christmas gift ideas for me last year so I told him to get me a notebook and he asked which one (very astute if him to know I probably cared about this). I told him I didn’t mind and it didn’t matter. But it did matter and I definitely did mind, I just didn’t realise until he bought be a moleskin! I use it for boring meeting notes and bought myself the same hardback notebook I always buy for brain downloads. I use an A4 pads (same design for years) for project ideas and client notes. I also have obsessive searches for a note I KNOW I made SOMEWHERE and generally find it after getting distracted or sidetracked by other interesting notes along the way. So Evernote sounds great. Thanks for the tip. One question though. Do you always bring yours out and about? I am mildly terrified I will lose mine (probably because I have a tendency to lose things) or someone might read it, so I rarely let it leave my desk.
Everytime I eye a pretty moleskine, I walk away shaking my head because I don't need that kind of negativity in my life or in my writing!
Katherine, I love this. I love people talking about their notebooks. I’m wondering if you have a plan/instructions for how those notebooks will be handled in the event of your crossing over (an event I wish for you only in the far, far future)? I asked the question to another writer friend of mine, much more accomplished than me. He has journals stashed all over his house so that he may jot notes and daydreams and various anything should he be moved to, and he says he has left instructions for their destruction upon his demise because he doesn’t want anything published posthumously that he isn’t around to approve of. “Just look at Hemingway,” he said. “The work they published after his death was awful.”
I was having coffee yesterday with a friend a few years older than me. He has just finished his term as Montana Poet Laureate (if I may not so humbly share with you: I am the new Montana Poet Laureate). He was in charge of the papers of a poet friend who died some years ago and has just delivered a final stash to the university, which led to a discussion of his papers being housed there as well. It made me think of my own relationship to my “papers.” I burn my journals after they’re full. I’ve saved nothing, not as a writer, nor as a rock guy who could have certainly accumulated quite a stash of show flyers and sundry memorabilia if I’d cared to. I am a serial deleter of letters and texts and emails, almost to a fault. Maybe it is a petty response to my own opinion of narcissistic writers I’ve encountered (I’m not speaking of either of the friends I’ve mentioned here) who think someone down the road is going to be interested in their every grocery list or enemies list (I’d read a book of those, though), etc. and I’ve just swung as far as I can in the opposite direction. I find all of our proclivities in this so fascinating!
Your practice of leaving the left page blank may be the key I've been needing - how to engage and expand on with what's caught my attention, especially after some time has gone by. Thank you.
So fun to have a tour inside your brain! For a long time, I wanted the “one notebook to rule them all” where all thoughts and ideas went, but it’s never suited me.
I have one I write completely freely in, and it’s not a fancy notebook, but expensive and amazing quality- I was both delighted and horrified at writing on just one side in this one, as the ones I use - Tomoe River blank A5 - aren’t made anymore as the paper was discontinued for a year. It’s back, but these notebooks haven’t returned and I’m working with a panicked stash I bought when I thought they’d be gone forever. They work with fountain pen ink- you could dump a bucket of it on there without bleed-through and yet the pages are still thin like onion skin. i do go back, but I annotate in different colors and highlight bits when I do. Perhaps I can try one side once I have a suitable successor.
I keep other notebooks for writing projects and like have sections and I bundle them
together in covers. It works.
Wow- I’ve filled a whole notebook here with this comment. What a delicious topic- would love to hear about your research methods. Thank you for sharing all this!
I loved reading this, especially about the notebook as a feral space. Apart, usually, from business notes, I’ve gotten much more expansive with my notebook as well, which can now include quotes and plans as well as processing the day-to-day. I agree on the pretty notebooks (although my preferred one is a Leuchtturm-notebook which is not cheap but I love the paper and the smell 😅)--pretty notebooks are often also not very pleasant to write in, with their thick paper. I need paper that shows the writing, that incorporates the writing, rather than just having my words lie on top of it, if that makes sense. Thank you for this, I loved reading it!
“They make me feel like I have to say something meaningful in perfect cursive.”
Ha! This resonates for me. I have a stack of gorgeous journals, mostly given as gifts but some I’ve inflicted on myself, with maybe a page or 10 filled in each. I always get such performance anxiety when opened them. They had to have a theme, or be some set of sentences lovely enough to be worthy of their perfect pages. They sit in a stack and roam around the house as I clean, just waiting for me to be brilliant enough for me to fill them. I didn’t really realize I was doing that to myself. Now that I see it, I’m amused at how silly I’ve been.
I’ve also been garbage at keeping up with using a journal, so maybe I should call it a notebook. I also have a stack of stickers I haven’t used because anything I want to stick them too feels too fleeting. Time to ruin some perfect journals with some precious stickers and get on with it.
Oh dear, first to comment. Probably because I'm in Finland at the moment. Anyway, I'm writing this on a tablet using the handwriting to text feature. I originally started to do that because my handwriting is completely illegible, even to me, and I thought this might improve it. It didn't. The tablet just got better at reading it.
I keep my notebooks - all 225 of them - in Evernote using the same feature. Every thing is in there - a journal, research notes, post drafts, web links, snippets, the occasional audio and picture, and yes, packing lists, wish lists, to-do lists, lists of lists...
People occasionally give me pretty notebooks. I give them to my wife to draw in. When I was at Portsmouth Grammar School, my desk had a hole for an inkwell and a sticker that said "Due to wartime emergencies, please write on both sides of the paper." That's where an English teacher told me "you yourself write with the hind leg of a spider, and when it's worn out, you give it to your brother." I still feel like I'm wasting paper if I use a real notebook. The tablet and stylus have been liberating for me.
This sounds very, very familiar. Do you know what I rediscovered recently? Some lit prof used to have us fold pages of whatever we were using lengthwise—on the left, write the quote that moved you; on the right, write your reaction. I wish I could remember whose class it was.
I can't journal this way. This is only a *research* notebook. Right now, I question whether it endangers my general process of underlining 78% of a good book, which everyone hates but I still find endearing about me.
I love absolutely everything about this piece. Like you, I am deeply connected to my journals, so much so that a therapist once commented on it as "just another addiction" which, I suppose, is accurate. Like you, I could never (ever) write in one made with fancy paper, and the marbleized/burl-endpapered/cream-papered one I bought in Florence in 2000 during my first trip to Italy is still sitting on my shelf, taunting me. Over the years, I've become very particular: Leuchtturn A5s (nope). Soft-sided Leuchtturns: nope. Spiral-bound school notebooks: nyet. Rhodia: too fancy schmancy. And this is where we part ways: I see what you mean about Moleskines, but I love my 2013 journal, which I took to my first Tin House workshop, and is filled with wisdom from people like Debra Gwartney and Charlie D'Ambrosio, and is falling apart. It would horrify you because it is wrapped in a (Moleskine-branded) pan holder, which I don't use anymore. My favorite notebook though is the soft-sided, lined, top-stained (in blue) one I bought at Heffer's in Cambridge in 1983, 40 years a go. I should have bought ten of them. And I do love my little Japanese notebooks that I buy from The Amazon Monster, and use as my commonplace book. We should have a public conversation about this. Also, I love @kerri's relationship -- a third person.
Yes to a post on handling research! I feel like my notebook system for research isn’t working for me. I like to have separate spaces for that, but I’m curious to hear more about how to handle it.
I loved reading your piece, and all the comments. I only started writing this way about a month ago and I'm 70! Wish I'd started decades ago. Anyway, I'm very gently encouraging early teenage granddaughters to write. One of them loves writing. In a family of 4 girls, privacy can be an issue so I've bought each of them a lockable box where they can keep personal items ... it is also big enough for notebooks, if they want. I'm also interested to hear how you manage research notes. Thanks, Katherine.
Such an affirming read. As an artist and a writer, the added layer of feeling I'm not doing it right is seeing all the amazing art journaling among peers in that community, beautifully painted pages and sketches to adorn their thoughts. I have a similar relationship with my journals as you've described and mainly only use student composition notebooks and decomposition notebooks now. I call them my dump book, but weirdly have limited myself to mainly writing in them in the morning as "journaling time". I'm giving myself permission to carry it with me throughout the day after reading your post.
My notebooks are my besties - my abiding friends I can count on to listen and walk with me no matter where I go. I gravitate to blank pages because I find when I'm feeling good about life my writing takes up more space on the page than when I'm feeling down, (something about permission to take up space in the world no doubt).
I love the idea of going back to read them but rarely do even though I am often pleasently surprised by what I read. In this moment it feels like a gift - to say to myself that my writing is worth taking time to reread and hang out with. And, with this, to keep a bank page beside each that I write is a nod to my future self and telling her that she is worth making space for too.
Thanks for the many snippets in this feed. I find this group a wonderful part of my days.
Thank you for this! I keep wanting to jump into writing, note taking, etc. on a more regular basis, but I haven’t. It’s almost as if I’m waiting to figure out a way to do it the “right way”, instead of just doing it. Reading about your process is a reassuring and encouraging nudge to just jump in and do it. This is exactly what I needed to read this morning.