book thoughts – writers & their notebooks

Twenty-four years ago I first cracked open a white glossy covered volume with a multicolored heart scribbled on the cover and began to write. Over the years I’ve filled the pages of countless notebooks with words, doodles, and ephemera. The most recent volumes are rigid and formal and I became concerned with their format. I spend time focusing on perfection, turning my entries into ones that look as if all they need are typesetting instead of just allowing myself to write or trying different prompts and exercises to get the words flowing if they’ve become clogged.

I was delighted to receive Writers and Their Notebooks a collection of essays edited by Diana M. Raab as a surprise gift from a friend a few weeks ago.

No matter what you choose to call it — journal, notebook, holdall, shoebox, commonplace book — there is no one true way, no formula for filling the writer’s sketchbook. In this age of published journals and blogs it is sometimes easy to loose sight of the free-form and become concerned about adhering to a proper format. Raab’s collected essays reassured me and reconnected me to the page and its potential. I hope I have rediscovered the carefree journal writing I once possessed.

Over the summer, while cleaning mum’s house, I discovered a composition book from a summer workshop I attended in 1989. While the only entries are exercises from that writing program, it was wonderful to see a carefree pen scribble across the page (my handwriting improved the following spring when it was discovered I was in desperate need of glasses).

In Raab’s collection, the extreme variation in each author’s notebook, their methods of entry and common content, and the resulting essay reminded me that the way I keep my notebooks is right for me. While some essays didn’t captivate me to the same degree as others, all left me thankful for the time I took to read and learn from them. I am appreciative for the glimpse into a few private pages and processes to see how someone else uses the same tool I do in a different manner. It was comforting to be reminded that there really is no one true way to keep this key writer’s tool. I have two minor quibbles with the volume, the exercise list in the appendix is under developed and I’m disappointed that while many author’s published memoirs and journals were included in a resource/reference list, The Assassin’s Cloak was not.

Writers And Their NotebooksWriters and Their Notebooks
edited by Diana M Raab
Foreword by Phillip Lopate
University of South Carolina Press.
January, 2010
203 pages