I may be slightly addicted to Brain Pickings lately. The site is like a file cabinet of interesting and helpful things for creative types (which I believe we all can be). Most recently, in addition to lists of writerly advice from people like Vonnegut and Fitzgerald, was this article on a Joan Didion essay about keeping a notebook.
I write in so many different places and I often wonder why I scatter things around like that. I have this blog, I have the other blog—and basically just copy/paste between the two. How this came about I don’t recall, but I get more traffic now at Red Room than I do at WordPress, though I still prefer WordPress’s interface. It’s easier to use (sorry, Red Room), but clearly it seems worthwhile enough to me to keep both of them.
I’m rambling. Where was I? Oh right, notebooks. Anyway, I know one of my goals—don’t call it a resolution—was to write here more often, but I also find I’m writing more in my notebook. As in a real notebook, with pages and lines on the paper and everything.
I’m using this one to keep notes for my various workshops, as well as bits of stories that I’m working on, and lists of all kinds. I’m also trying to do, more or less, a writing prompt every day. Sarah Selecky has a daily email that goes out with a prompt to get things rolling (“Write for at least ten minutes. Write, by hand, in your notebook.”). That last bit—by hand, in your notebook—seems to be the key for me. I’ve been regressing technologically in my writing, to the point where a pencil seems like the right write thing.
I know, I’ve written about this before. (Last week, in fact.) It’s a subject that I keep coming back to, especially when I try to write new material using a computer. I don’t want to be a luddite on principle, but I seem to be becoming one by accident.
But here’s the thing about keeping a notebook: I don’t write in it because I think my thoughts are particularly noteworthy or profound or special. In fact, sometimes looking back at things I wrote in my notebooks even just a couple years ago is profoundly embarrassing. (“I really thought that? Seriously?”) That bit of humbling is useful, I think. Sometimes it shows me that I’ve made progress in my thinking, or in my life. Other times, it shows me that I haven’t changed at all, or that I’m repeating things I should have already learned by now.
It can be a reminder also not just of things that have happened, but of how they happened. It’s funny (not in the haha way) to look back and see what I wrote about a certain event and realize that I don’t remember it that way at all, even though I’m the one who wrote down that account and I’m the one reading it now and thinking, “Wait, that’s not right. Is it?” A reminder that the memory cheats.
And then there’s the fact that it’s all I this and I that. Always, I, I, I. I hope that I get a lot of it out of my head there, in those pages, so I don’t come off as quite so self-absorbed elsewhere.
Do you keep a notebook? What do you get out of it?