I’ve had a lifelong fascination with stationery. Is it universal, or is it just me? Maybe it’s common to all of us. Something nurtured in childhood by pocket money spending on wacky pencils topped with fantastical critters and cheap, brightly-coloured writing accessories. I remember repeatedly poring over rows and rows of novelty rulers, erasers and scented pens in a certain well-known stationery shop (oh, how I long to get back into such an establishment!) and of, once, buying a sharpener in the shape of an American football helmet - New York Giants, if you’re interested - for my sister’s birthday because she was mad about the game. I knew nothing about the NFL but I secretly coveted that sharpener because not only could it trim a pencil to a sharp-enough-to-be-lethal point, but it stored the shavings inside a pleasingly not-quite-spherical, glossy-blue capsule and it looked amazing!
As I worked my way through adolescence, my interest turned to fountain pens, especially the kind with a squeezy cartridge you could fill from a bottle of real, beautifully spillable ink! (Stained royal-blue fingers were a consistent feature of my secondary school years.)
But the culmination of my preoccupation with stationery ultimately led to an obsession with notebooks. Are all writers similarly obsessed? To the extent they can never have enough of these endlessly marketable wads of paper sandwiched between diversely decorated covers? Notebooks come in all shapes and sizes, colours and finishes and I’m sure I must have one of every size and type available! My smallest measures 7.5cm x 10.5cm. Perfect for a handbag!
My largest ones, as you can see, are A4 sized which means they don’t make for good travelling companions, so they are my self-isolating, stay at home, keep-my-writings-safe ledgers for (a) recording my learning about writing and (b) automatic writing, which is a process whereby you set yourself a timer for maybe, ten minutes, and write non-stop on a particular subject without taking your pen off the page. For some: torture, for others a wonderful source of inspiration for future writing. I’m in the second camp: I love it!
I assign my notebooks for specific tasks. I do have a few that I keep for chucking in my rucksack when I’m going out and about (again. . . looking forward to that old idea) but they are the more ordinary ones. Whereas, I store my stash of ‘special’ ones in a sturdy box ready for selection when I need them.
Here’s what I use them for:
- Submissions to competitions (bright yellow mock leather with tinted page edges)
- Story Ideas (hard back cover with pale blue and white spotty pages)
- Observation of peoples’ traits and behaviours (elastic cord closure with pink tinted page edges)
- Competition pseudonyms (slightly boring, red spiral-bound)
- Imagery and use of language (cover illustrated with otter surfacing from a river)
- Analysis of novels (foil-effect, bookshelves crammed with classic books with, not one, but TWO red ribbon markers)
- Poetry ideas (gorgeous illustration of avocet with chick and pale blue ribbon page marker)
- Current work in progress notes (my absolute favourite: leather-effect, magnet closure hardback with handwritten letter of Florence Nightingale to her colleagues)
If I have ideas away from the safety of home and my stash, I scribble notes in a chucked-in notebook and transfer my notes to the relevant ‘special’ book later. It’s amazing how the process of doing that can spark extended ideas. Often, what began as a scribble while sitting in a café or waiting for an appointment, grows arms, legs and all sorts of other appendages once I’m home and writing up my notes. And while the ideas don’t always meet their intended purpose, such as observation of the sky for a poem about dusk, they will sometimes fulfil a need when I’m writing other pieces, such as a scene in my latest novel, or a snippet for a blog!
I know other writers who obsess over their notebooks but perhaps not all do. So many people rely on electronic devices for their notetaking and scheduling now and as our phones are basically mini computers, it’s easy to make and store memos on them instead. For me, though, I like the palpable reassurance of real paper. I find the act of writing up my notes with a pen or pencil, whether leakable fountain pen or freakable silicone alien-topped pencil, (maybe even one sharpened with an NFL helmet) nurtures and stimulates my creativity.
It would be great to hear how other people use their notebooks. Send me your comments, writers and non-writers alike. Do you love notebooks? Do you have a special one? Or do you have a crate-load, like me? Do you fill one completely before starting another or do you keep several on the go at once?