I’ve made a lot of grand declarations and new starts when it comes to writing. Yes! This will be the fresh, new beginning of all fresh new beginnings. It’s momentous! I need a new notebook! Man, I love those things. A new notebook, its perfectly lined pages and smooth sheets beckoning, has always felt like a promise to me. “You and I, magic notebook—we’ll live, we’ll travel, we’ll commune in coffee shops, and you’ll be the dream catcher that holds mysterious images filtered by starlight.”
It’s one of my favorite fantasies. Just repeating it makes me want to head out on a hunt for another of those amazing totems.
But here’s what reality looks like. It’s a dozen gorgeous notebooks lined up on a shelf, the first page of each one dated “January 1” or “July 2” (my birthday). If I’m lucky, there will be ten pages of notes, a good number of which have to do with how excited I am to be writing again. And then: Nothing.
That shelf was the evidence of my terrible flaw as a writer, a secret shame I held close for a long time. I was so predictable. So gullible. Such a failure. When I began mentioning my “notebook collection” to other writers, though, I learned that there were a lot of us clinging to the fantasy, and watching it pop again and again.
Here’s what I’ve let myself admit: Writing is a process. It’s everyday. Sometimes it’s romantic—usually after it’s done—and mostly, when it’s working, it’s small and undramatic, not tangoing flamboyantly all over the plaza. Parisian cafes, fireworks and many of the other images that populate my “magic notebook” fantasy don’t often have much to do with it. For me, writing hardly ever even involves paper. I learned to type in fourth grade, and I think through my fingers, as do so many people who write for love and money. I don’t need the notebook, which I can’t search for lines or themes, and which, more than anything, is a constant reminder that my handwriting is 85% illegible.
I still love the fantasy though. And when it tugs me in once more, I pull a notebook off the shelf and start anywhere, on any blank page. I pull a line or two from my collection of “seeds” (click on the nearby link to the free e-book for more on that). Then I walk into the middle of my process, sinking into the opening I’ve worked to make, letting the drops of my newest enthusiasm deepen the beginning I already have. I think a lot, these days, about drops of water on sandstone that wear away paths for streams and their intricate carving.
I let myself create one more drop, then another. And when the work begins to look interesting, I type it into my computer and get to work.
(Oh, and if you’ve got a gently used notebook you’d like to trade, maybe we can work something out…)
Image by Alexander Levin, via Flickr.