On the menace of notebooks

Wintering out now


Hello

I hope you're coping as well as you can.

I've been contemplating the menace of notebooks lately (as opposed to the inexorable sadness of pencils), specifically the fancy kind. People often buy them for me - journals with leather covers in gem colours, or those famous Moleskines with their tiny lines and direct lineage to the beat poets. They terrify me. I never feel the fear of the blank page quite so much as when I'm confronted by the hauteur of a pristine notebook.

I mentioned this on Instagram, and was surprised by how many people agreed. There are so many of us out there, feeling outdone by our stationery. Who else has bought a beautiful fountain pen, only to write your own name twenty times and then 'save it for best'? In my experience, nothing writes as well as a Pilot V7, which costs less than a fiver and has lately become refillable.

Recently, I needed to jot down an idea and the first pen I could lay my hands on was a Bic biro. I found myself writing fluid pages of unusually-legible script. Half an hour in, I realised I was rhapsodising about the way the ink made dark downstrokes and translucent upstrokes; it had so much texture. Quite unexpectedly, I found myself ardently in love with the trashiest writing tool of all.

The problem with beautiful stationery is that it makes us feel that we ought to do it justice, and my writing process doesn't work like that. In fact, my entire practice rests on allowing myself to write utter trash, and to gradually winkle out the decent bits. The first writing book I ever read was Natalie Goldberg's Wild Mind, which urged its readers to just throw everything down, to keep the pen moving, to turn off our editing brains. It did me the most enormous amount of good. Most of my notebooks are filled with blather, mainly consisting of me moaning that I don't know what to write or that I don't have time, or that what I've already written is awful. Also that everyone else is driving me crazy. I'd like to claim it's a step on from teenage angst, but I'm not entirely sure it is.

Yet from there - from the occasional paragraph that sparks; from the odd fascination that I meet along the way - whole books grow. By allowing myself to be terrible, I keep my pen moving. The key is total privacy: no-one ever sees the inside of my notebooks. They are not for public consumption. They are the inside of my head, and that's exactly why they work.

I meet so many new writers who've bought themselves a leather-bound journal and an exquisite pen, and who are now frozen in terror because they've chosen implements that insist they create something beautiful on the first page. I doubt that's even possible. I always tell those people to buy a pile of school exercise books and to deliberately ruin them. You can burn them afterwards if you like. It doesn't matter. But you'll get more done that way. Then take all those glamorous journals and, one by one, use them for your shopping lists. That's the best thing for them: they'll earn their keep, and look nice when you're walking around Tesco. Save the dirty business of creation for something a little more forgiving.

Stay well, all!
Katherine x

P.S. The ebook of Wintering is £1.99 until the end of May, and The Best, Most Awful Job is only £1.66. Bargains abound in lockdown!
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