Notebook Neurosis

A perfect example of the right color of blue lines.  Admittedly, the horizontal line is a scoch too maroon for my tastes.

A perfect example of the right color of blue lines.  Admittedly, the horizontal line is a scoch too maroon for my tastes.

I don't usually think of myself as a neurotic writer. Disorganized, eccentric, prone to edit my work until the second coming of Christ, yes, but neurotic? Definitely not. I read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and it was like reading a field guide to a foreign country: informative, but hardly familiar. When I sit down to write, there are not voices to ignore, no thoughts about success or failure or other people's opinions. Just me, my pen, the page and the call of adventure.

The page is the fly in the ointment. When it comes to the physical paper I write on I am cagier than a zoo. I'm not alone. I seem to remember there being something about it in Bird by Bird. I'm not really that sure, I read it a while ago. In my own life my mother also displays a paper-related psychosis. She will only write her books on a yellow legal pad.

Clearly she's a sick, sick woman. The very thought of it makes me shudder. That terrible yellow burning its way into my eyeballs, the red line a knife in the consciousness. The subtle horror of the lines–are they grey or blue? Blue–printed on yellow–looking grey? Or green? Let's not even start on flipping the page up instead of over.

If there were nothing but yellow legal pads in the world I would write my novels on napkins and bed sheets before succumbing to their canary-colored tyranny. The correct thing to write on is a spiral bound, five subject notebook with a blue cardboard cover. Purple will suffice in a pinch. I must have white paper. White. Not that weird beige-y grey-ish giant fiber paper that disintegrates at the hint of an eraser (Not that I would use an eraser. Novels must be written in pen. Pen. We'll talk about my pen hang ups some other time). The vertical line must be red, and not maroon. Maroon is an abomination to God and man. The horizontal lines should be blue, not grey, or grey-blue. Grey is for accountants. Of course I'm not unreasonable. There are different colors of blue, and as long as they're blue they'll work. Some are better than others, but I'm flexible.

Alas, nothing is perfect. Not even this, my beloved notebook. The wire inevitably works free and snags things, or things get tangled in it. My hand runs into it when I write. A five subject notebook is large, and with my blog stuff, novel writing, and any other ideas that might pass through my head, I have a bugger of a time finding the page I want when it comes time to type.

Why don't I just type? I'm glad I pretended you asked. While my preference in notebooks is personal, I think most people should handwrite their first drafts. With pen. It reduces the ability to edit as you draft. A draft should be a free place, like the rough sketch in an artist’s notebook–catching the outline and the spirit and not worrying about perfection. The physical act of writing as opposed to typing is much more personal and powerful. Also, notebooks don't have Twitter or e-mail. Transferring your work into type is a natural way to do a second draft without thinking too hard.

Most importantly, I like to throw my first draft away. I don't want to entertain ideas about keeping drafts for posterity. That's nothing but vanity. Throwing it away helps me move into the way the story is, not the way it was, or I thought it should be at first. It reminds me that even writing, arguably the longest lasting human art form, is transient. My work will probably not be passed down through the ages. No matter how popular, groundbreaking, and beautiful any novelist’s work might be, someday their language won't be spoken. Their culture will fade. Even if the text survives, the meaning will erode. That's fine. I'm not speaking immortality through art. Anyone who does is courting heartache.

I've begun to contemplate moving my writing into composition books. They almost always have the right sort of paper and line colors. They've got cardboard covers, but no spiral. They're small enough to have one for my blog and one for my novels and one for my new, super-secret (except for all those people I told about it) project. The covers freak me out though.  I know they're supposed to be "marbled" but to me it just looks the hides of a million tiny cows. 

Don't let my joking tone fool you, this crisis is real. I've been debating the change for a good six months now.  In another six months I might spend the two dollars it takes to buy one and give it a try.  I need to work myself into a state of hysteria first.