The Value of Keeping a Notebook

Some of my ever expanding notebook collection

Some of my ever expanding notebook collection

One of the handiest tools I have as a writer is my trusty spiral notebook. I figure at this point, I’ve had more than a hundred such notebooks in the course of my life. (Yup, those are some of mine in the attached picture.) I’ve found them indispensable for capturing certain moments in life. Not to mention the waterfall of ideas that’s always going on in my head.

I first got into notebooks when I was a twenty-something writer in New York City some time ago. I would buy black journals from the art store that were filled with blank paper. And rather than fill them with art and sketches, I’ll load them up with words. Today I buy plastic covered ‘One Subject’ spiral notebooks with handy pockets. They seem to last well and take a beating.

I find the act of writing something down preserves it for me — locks it into my psyche somehow. So when push comes to shove, and I have to get busy creating a character or putting in my pages for the day, that idea surfaces. And in it goes.

Maybe it’s something someone said. My notebooks are jammed with all kinds of quotations, short and long, of impactful things that struck me at the moment. Rather than lumber around with a big note book under my arm, then pull it out and start scribbling, I make a mental note. Then, when I am home with my notebook, I add that idea.

On the other hand, maybe what I capture is the way someone looks at me, or a snippet of dialogue. And yeah, okay — once in a while, I do break down and do this on Evernote, an app in my phone, because dictation is a lovely fast thing and I’m hurrying.

But generally I don’t like to do this on my handheld device with a screen. Mainly because it just isn’t the same thing. There is a certain beauty to words — as they get written by an emotionally charged hand. Maybe a few tear drops stain the page. Perhaps the paper itself has been bent and creased by something that happened in that spot at the time. The different colors of ink can tell the story as well.

You lose that when you go digital. It’s not unlike the ancient art of saving old, treasured letters. But don’t get me started … that’s another matter altogether.

One of the greatest benefits of all of this notebook saving is the occasional rainy day when you finally sit down, open up some of the old ones, and see who you once were. Then you realize that you have, indeed, grown. And that this ramshackle life you’ve built has, indeed, added to something.

As you flip through the pages, you realize … life really is such an interesting mashup of things both seen and unseen. And all of it is right here, in your careful pages.

Suzanne FalterComment