A Wailing Wall, A Laboratory, A Junk Drawer



Everything I've ever published has found its way into words in a notebook first.  You  already know I'm a fan of longhand writing:  the bodied rhythm, the intimacy, the slowness, which provides the opportunity to compose more deliberately from the very beginning.  Well, I'm also a fan of the notebook:  modest, unobtrusive, easy to carry around.  Having a notebook handy helps you catch the fleeting lines that flit through your head during, say, a committee meeting (ahem).  Moreover, drafting things first by hand automatically forces you through another revision, another step of choice, when you decide whether to bother to type them up or not.  (Laziness, with which I'm afflicted, helps me be choosy.  Oh, the mediocre crap I've written that's never made it into the world of fonts.  Oh, the implied and inherent dangers of blogging . . . but never mind about that.)  

Anyway, I'm always pruriently curious about other writers' processes, especially writers I admire, which is why the arrival in the mail of Writers and Their Notebooks (U of South Carolina, 2010) this week was such a gleeful occasion.  Edited by Diana Raab, it includes short essays by a variety of writers about how they use their notebooks.  It's divided into sections:  "The Journal as Tool," "The Journal for Survival," "The Journal for Travel," "The Journal as Muse," and "The Journal for Life," and includes writers as varied as Kyoko Mori, Dorianne Laux, Michael Steinberg, James Brown, and Sue Grafton (yes, of detective-novel fame).  I really enjoyed essays by the lovely Wendy Call, whom I'm lucky enough to know, and Mark Pawlak, whom I don't and to whose work I'm happy to be introduced.  From Wendy Call's essay:

Every writer has her obsessions--one of mine is nest building.  I'm fascinated by the ways we create the physical and emotional place called home.  It is built one stick, one glinting thing, a single thread at a time.  Dorothy Allison calls her writer's journal "a witness, a repository, and playground."  My journal has a similar range of purpose.  It is a wailing wall, a laboratory, and junk drawer.
The introduction and apparatus promise to be helpful, too, and the book as a whole is a good model for me (as I continue to plod through the process of editing a collection), because it's well organized, clearly focused, and useful. 

If you already use a notebook, Writers and Their Notebooks offers a variety of new ways to employ it.  If you don't, it might convince you to give notebooks a try.

 
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