Between dreams and reality exist whole dimensions.

Inside My Notebook

Hello all! I am glad you decided to take a peak inside my notebook. That’s it right up there, isn’t it lovely? I have been told many a time that keeping a notebook is key to being a good writer. And while I wholeheartedly believe that, I have never been very good at it. I’m still not nearly as good as I’d like, in fact. As a part of my creative non-fiction class we were instructed to get a new notebook to work with for the class. We were asked to try to pick one that we like, that expresses who we are as writers, because that would help us to write in them more frequently. And it has, I love writing in my notebook; it feels more real to me than just jotting in a regular spiral bound, college ruled, school notebook. One other thing that I think kept me from writing as effectively in notebooks before was a sense that I had to adhere to the linear form of the book.So I’d like to take moment here to thank my teacher Kati for introducing me to Mary Oliver and Heather McHugh, who showed me that a writer’s notebook can be as scatterbrained as the writer themselves may be.

What I’ve found this semester is that a notebook is a much more integral part of writing non-fiction than fiction. I think this is because fiction originates wholly within the mind, where as non-fiction is a recording of what is without. For example, this scene of me sitting in a garden:

Warm sun and cold stone, upon and beneath me. A stray strand of spider silk brushes my face. The quiet is broken by distant voices and the discordant hum of cars, like giant mutant bees.  My nose is stuffed up, but if I lean close I can just catch the piney scent of rosemary and almost fruity aroma of thyme.

If this was an imagined scene I could make up any of that sensory detail as I required, filling in info to fit the portrait I am trying to paint. But since it is an actual moment, I must try to remember it. And memory is nothing if not prone to flights of fancy and omissions of convenience. Recording snapshots of time in my notebook allows me to recall them as close to perfectly as I’ll get until someone invents a synaptic recording device. Once I am able to recall the perceptions I had, I am then free to play with them for the effect I’m looking for in a given scene.

Another useful aspect of a notebook is the privacy it affords me to reflect upon my writing. I’m still getting into the habit of regular reflection upon what I’ve written; but having somewhere to put it where I don’t have to worry about other people reading it, and where it is readily available, makes it easier to work through what I’ve done in my pieces. And since this is supposed to be a peak inside my notebook, I will briefly, and with much trepidation share an excerpt of my reflection with you now:

In some ways this [drafting process] has been more difficult for my lyric essay. I think largely because considerations of form are so prevalent and difficult to improvise. This has also been the case for my revision. Revising my memoir was pretty straight forward: cut and clarify. My workshop group made that pretty easy. Revising my lyric essay has not been so clear, in large part I think because my workshop groups suggestions were more about what to play with in the piece, rather than exactly what needs to change.

So a non-fiction writer’s notebook is good for recall and reflection, but it is also important in a more obvious way: as a storage place for source material. Most of the writing exercises I’ve done this semester are in my notebook, and many form an excellent basis for future pieces. One in particular has already been used, in my lyric essay (which will be posted on the site after I finish revision). The exercise was to write about my earliest memory. That tiny piece of recalled memory was the spark which ignited a three-part collage of retrospection on the wonder the night sky inspires in me. Though the roughness of the notebook pages (a roughness which I think is one of the greatest values of the notebook) has been burned away by the crafting of the essay, and the final piece is almost unrecognizable as come from the excerpt I’m about to show you,  there is still a certain joy to the original writing:

[…] I remember no sound. I am absorbed in the sight beyond the glass: in the endless all encompassing glitter of the night sky, and the silver expanse of the moon gleaming off the endless rippling expanse of the Pacific ocean. […] there is just me and the stars and the ocean; and a sense of wonder so vast that it drowns out the jet engines, and the people around me and even my parents talking. and everything else up until my brother’s birth nearly a year later.

It is the tiny moments like these that reveal to me the value of the notebook. In allowing me the space and freedom to unreservedly recall (or record) scenes and play with writing, the notebook is both a valuable tool and a work of art in itself. The fact that ti is organic and portable mans that it can very nearly be a part of me. And with time and habit I hope that it one day shall be. And so with that, I leave with a parting thought from within the pages of this piece of my writer’s soul:

There is a certain sort of silence in this moment, all the more profound for those few noises which do break the stillness: naught but flick of page and scritch of pen. 

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