Being A Writer, Part Two: The Notebook

Ok, we have to have this sidebar... you have to have a notebook with you all the time. And something to write with. Take notes. Doodle. Keep it near.
    And here you say: "A notebook, gorblimey, but I’ve got my phone/pad/computer. You mean paper? Lined paper? Cardboard cover? Bound-pages hard-copy notebook notebook? The kind of notebook will take up room in my bag or get lost or that someone else might read?”
    And this from the distaff side: “A lump of pages that will ruin the perfect curve of my jeans if I put it in a pocket? You can't possibly mean that kind of notebook!?"
    Yes, Millenials (and the rest of you addicted to your devices), a real paper notebook. No electricity necessary. Get back to basics, to your embodied experience. Your imagination is a basic, embodied experience; by making a notebook that is yours and only yours— not identical to everyone else’s device—  you’re signaling yourself that writing is so important, you always are ready to do it in the way that only you do it: handwriting. Writers are ready to write. And you’re signaling your imagination to keep those ideas popping up. 

    I also mean: taking notes, whether you read them or not, is important. Writers write. They write when their imaginations flare. Handwriting notes the moment you feel the impulse to write them, having an image come to mind then working your fingers and eyes in space, that’s how you keep your imagination burning. The active writing reinforces the imaginary energy that will continue burning in your unconscious and in your dreams.
    Writing on your damn phone doesn’t do the same thing, nor will flailing away on your computer keyboard. It’s not as efficient as you think. You might pour thoughts into that computer space, but they’re more mediocre thoughts. Handwritten thoughts are better. And you can find them if you want them. Snip the digital umbilical.
    Handwriting is stronger writing. The act of writing words— your fingers and eyes negotiating all the little micromovements needed to make letters— is manifesting the serpentine space of narrative writ small. The slightly discontinuous line of hand writing traces a tiny map of meaning on the continuous space of the page.
    Handwriting connects more profoundly to more mental/perceptual processes than touching keys, and that means more active imagination.  There is real data to show this.  I’ll have a whole blog on this later, but for now, short term: try to think of handwriting as fun writing; the way you used to ride your bike when you didn’t need a destination, just to ride your bike because it felt a little like flying. That’s notebook writing.
    You need a notebook to be a place for instant fun writing whenever you want to. It doesn’t matter what you write, but that you write. Get a good pen. The notebook will help stimulate associative energy in your unconscious, so even if you don’t read your notes, when you’re in full-blown writing mode, that residual energy will be there.
    Be clear: 
    Digital writing is weaker writing. It “feels” efficient because, once written, it’s ready to be cut and pasted. But I pity the fool who thinks a first draft of anything is worth saving. 
    Or maybe you’re guessing that typing fast seems like the speed of thought or “the stream of consciousness,” but story-thought is slow. Your storytelling thinking has evolved over the past 60,000 years of tale-telling evolution to come out a little more slowly, at the pace of speaking, rather than 120 words/min. You want the deliberative slowness of writing by hand because your best ideas will pop up, not just the fastest first ideas. 
Take away: Poking out keystrokes on a pixilated screen is a shallow process in which you are dependant on your device; if you wonder where all the bad writing comes from (even from good writers) seek no further. However, pen-ballet along ever-fresh and wide open space of your notebook puts your writing in your control; fires up the imagination when it’s burning; makes the statement: writing is important to me.

    Codicil: So yes, a hard copy paper notebook. And for those of you who are so svelte in your jeans that even the tiniest stapled-together Moleskine (the brand favored by Hemingway, Picasso, van Gogh) would bulge your hips too hideously, take a tip from the amazing and beautiful Annie Lamott — recalling the days when the sway of her behind mesmerized men from a quarter mile away, she said: "Ok, sometimes you don't need the whole notebook, but two 5x7 note cards, folded in half and tucked into your back pocket are undetectable to the admiring eye but ready to be written on with that golf pencil (just as undetectable) in your front pocket. Keep a supply of 5x7 cards because if you're ready to write, you'll write!"

Patrick McCord, PhD
The Editing Company, Write Yourself Free, Write Yourself Free Works