On Journals, Perfectionism, and Creative Clarity
I am 65. I have kept notebooks and journals since January of 1971, when I was 13, when my very young teacher in his very first job in education, told us all to get notebooks and, "write. Just, write." He said not to worry about outlines, structure or spelling. He would check to see that we were doing this semester-long assignment, but we could get an A by just doing it, and any rewards we could reap were entirely up to us. I have been reaping the rewards of that first assignment for 52 years. Keeping journals gave me joy, an island of sanity in a world full of upheaval, and eventually a profession. I have crates and crates of notebooks and have new ideas all the time for more notebooks. Currently I have three going: My day-to-day journal, a meditation insight journal, a writing idea notebook. Often I don't even go back to read them, but they help me in the moment. Keeping notebooks is a process that is meaningful, perhaps, only to me, and when I die I imagine my burdened children can have one hell of a bonfire with all of them!
I just love this so much. I'm working on returning to note-taking and handwriting, practices that buoyed me as a child and got taken over by the efficiency of typing. I sometimes wonder what I lost when I replaced the art of writing in a notebook with the tendency to go toward Scrivener or my computer instead; slowly finding my way back. Thank you for sharing.
I LOVE this. Especially the idea of feeling cornered by my words and thoughts. I live for notebooks of all kind, but often I favor the Rhodia tangerine goal books with the dots. My first memory of buying a diary is a treasured one... I was 8, it was the mid 1970s, and I got it at the Sprouse-Reitz drugstore just north of San Francisco. It was yellow and it had a KEY... which made it all MINE... perfect for secrets. I could not believe such a thing existed! 😂
Thanks for this lovely bit of inspiration! I have wanted to get in the habit of writing in a journal on a daily basis, I think about food and wine all the time, coming up with ideas for my photography. This story lit the fire, hoping I can keep it lit!
I remember, as a child, sitting under a tree during summer holidays writing stories for my own amusement. I guess I still do that. I wish I still had all those old notebooks--duotangs were all I could afford then (holdovers from the school year.) Now I have an odd assortment I used to take to work with me where I would sit in my machine and scribble notes to myself: Stories, ideas, plots. Who doesn't like a good notebook?
I absolutely adore this whole piece. I’ve been doing morning pages for over 200 days now after a couple years of inconsistent journaling and the practice has been one of the best additions to my life. So many of the seeds for my best ideas are born and watered on those pages, and so much therapy (a la “every creative fear that we have might be diffused — or at least clarified — in the pages of a notebook”) happens in those pages. Whispers of ideas that aren’t loud enough to be heard in the chaos of my mind have the space to quietly creep onto the page, and they’re often my favorite ideas. Thank you for this ❤️
There is something umbilical about writing in longhand (can I, in passing, give a shout out for the Lamy rollerball when doing this?) Writing by hand comes from a deeper, messier place, the heart, and comes across as more natural, halting and conversational than what streams out of my fingers at the computer (as now). Writing by hand makes me braver, stronger and just a bit more willing to take the risks that we need to take if we're to say anything of value for others. Substack, in particular, is full of this kind of writing. Thanks Elissa for the reminder!
I think as an artist I try to extend the inner realm. Yes in notebooks, on scraps, physical reminders of dreams and analogies. And this extension takes place on the writing desk too with all the gathered stuff, representations of connections made. So my workshop is to some extend my inner realm. The movement is from inner to outer. And the more finished work is nothing less than exposed innards. Shards put back together to form a new impermanent whole.
The world does the same but from the outward in. It tries to invade. The brain, the skin, the ratio, the gut blocks that, inhibits the incoming, filters it, seeks out the nourishment and excretes the rest. The world needs to be broken down to bits to be processed.
Puzzling the pieces back together is done by play. Reconnecting the inner with the outer. Life is a notebook....
A few years ago, without much thought or planning, I began to mark on a planner the days I had worked out; this was more for the sake of accountability than anything else. I remember I started with an old planner from a previous year I had found in a cabinet. I grabbed it and opened it to a random month and crossed a line over the old year, month, and days, and then I proceeded to write down the current month, year, and number the days. Fast forward to today, and this simple act that began as a form of staying accountable has morphed into a planner/journal where I write, in short form, my thoughts, what's going on in my life, the countries I visit, and the goals I want to accomplish. These planners have become deeply personal.
Great piece! <3
There’s something about writing in a notebook that helps get out what’s on my mind.
It might be the method I use for writing my Substack posts. I rather get it out on paper than sit in front of a keyboard where I miss out on something I could’ve added, or where fear and writer’s block creeps in.
I return to notebooks again and again. To document my everyday as it’s the one place my thoughts matter and I can be any age and at any point in time . They are mini memoirs , ragged recollections sometimes just a mess of words - yet looking at my own handwriting makes me lighter somehow . Now merging sketchbooks with writing has become a new discovery and thrill . When complete there is something so very wonderful
About adding it to my little treasured pile. Thanks for this lovely post
Thanks for writing about notebooks. At 61 I still carry my pocket notebook. Writing, ciphering, drawing, clearing my mind of one grandiose idea (my wife’s term) to start another. It keeps me aligned on my path, to where sometimes I know not. But it is the home of my mind. Keep writing and stay safe. Regards, Jude
As I was reading this very infectious piece Elissa, I wanted to show my huge scraggy pile of notebooks I’ve amassed and I almost scribbled my reply to you in the current one! Then I realised I was using my phone. How people cannot have notebooks for just about writing everything down, I don’t know. The absolute joy of starting a brand new one, special or otherwise, takes me right back to the new exercise books given out at the start of a new school year. So stuffing them with new information and learning every day beings sheer joy and now I need to learn to make something from them all!
Keeping all those notebooks is like a testament of the time that passed, the life lived and the experiences that brought us here.
Reading this piece made me think of my own stack of notebooks. They are scattered about the house, and maybe I need to show them more love and find a good spot to keep them, and see them all, like I do with my favorite books in the bookcase. ♥️
That’s how I used to start. I started at age 13 writing in small notebooks. Shot little snippets, stories and mostly little rhymes. By age 16, I had a leather bound lined paper notebook everywhere I went. It’s a great way to work out ideas on the spot. Nowadays I use my phone in my Notes App, which works great for voice to text capture but not for focused ideation. However, I agree the convenience of spell check and word lookups is a real boon to avoid hang ups that can stop a mind moving to the next line. I find a laptop is best suited for my intense morning writing sessions. It encourages versioning and keeps everything dated and separated into categories for easy searches. There’s no one best way, but there is one best way for every writer.
"Perhaps this is a fetish understood only by writers and doodlers alike, that we would ascribe such importance to the container for early work in a manner that is as important to us as the finished work itself." I love this - a fetish! Thank you.
Your note made me think of Walking. I'm about to read 'A philosophy of Walking' by Frederic Gros... about when walking (without earphones!) your feet do the work and that frees to mind to go anywhere at all - often surprising places.
To me using notebooks and writing by hand has similarities. Thanks for the reminder - I'm off for a walk to sit under a tree and write in my notebook.