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Friday, October 14, 2011

More Notebook Notes

You may recall a month ago or so  I mentioned that Kay Ryan doesn't carry a notebook around, while other writers (I cited Will Self) find  constant access to a notebook to be a necessary part of their writing process.

Now Charles Simic has weighed in on the notebook issue at the New York Times Review of Books blog. However, Simic is more interested in the place of actual paper pads in this age of digital notebooks and phones that record any information we want to keep.

Simic writes: "...on a cold January morning, I once asked a fashionably dressed middle-aged woman, standing outside a building on Madison Avenue smoking a cigarette and shivering, whether she had a pen I could use. She didn’t think this was an odd request and was happy to oblige me. After she extracted a pencil not much bigger than a matchstick from her purse, I took out a little notebook I carried in my pocket, and not trusting the reliability of my memory, wrote down some lines of poetry I had been mulling over for the previous hour, roaming the streets. Today, she’d probably be staring at an iPhone or a blackberry while puffing away on her cigarette and it would not cross my mind to bother her by asking for a pencil."

Like Simic, I am a big fan of notebooks. I always have one in my bag, and  I shop for those based on durability, since they get banged up quite a bit on my travels and outings. Then I have a notebook at home for my poems, and another notebook for any commercial writing ideas that I have, and a notebook for notes on novels I have partially written. And I have all my notebooks going back to college, one a year or so. I have lugged these overseas a number of times, stored them at actual expense, and now have them under my bed. Why? I don't know. Every once in a while I think about tossing them out; I hardly refer to them ever. I fully intend to have them all destroyed before I die, so why do I hang onto them now? I couldn't say, but I suspect Charles Simic would understand my inclination.

How about you? Do you use notebooks, or have you gone completely digital? Do you store old notebooks or do you jettison them eventually? Thoughts on notebooks welcome.


Karen J. Weyant said...

I'm still a notebook person! Although I do my heavy duty revising on the computer.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Once I get a poem in what I think will be its form, I put it on computer to see what it will look like, and then I print it out and write all over it until it's barely legible. Then I go and make the surviving changes on the computer, print it out, and do it again. I still prefer working on the actual paper as much as possible. I don't keep all those drafts though; I've been told I'll be sorry, but I haven't been yet.

Mari said...

I used to journal quite a bit, but have only been an intermittent notebook user. I mostly (and rarely) use them to jot down ideas I'm considering for future poems/projects. These days I seem to go straight to making a poem (in long-hand and then on the computer) without relying on my notebooks. And I rarely journal anymore, only record notes from my travels and occasionally jot down a thought or significant event. I wonder what this shift means?

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Interesting, Mari, that you can go straight to making a poem. I have gone the other direction--used to go straight to making poems (only when "inspired") to now trying to write more regularly and thus, needing notebooks to get started. I don't journal though, unless you count scribbling down interesting words or ideas as journalling. Nothing about my personal life shows up in my notebooks (except that which words and ideas I'm thinking about is intensely personal), but no diary stuff. But lists. How I love lists. Lots of them.

I wonder what moving away from notebooks means? Your mind is getting more organized, more focused???

Mari said...

I still need a notebook to jot the odd bit down. I've also noticed how, over time, my notes toward my second book reflect a kind of distillation process, a refinement of my initial idea(s). Lists are good! They're a way to concretize, organize, and focus. My process seems to be letting things (poems, ideas for poems) "cook" internally, sometimes for long periods of time, so when I finally begin to write, much of the alchemy of the poem's coming into being has already happened. Which doesn't mean I don't obsess over my revisions like anyone else!