Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Why keep a writing notebook?

Why keep a writing notebook?

Because when you leaf through it you find things you have absolutely no memory of writing. Like this:

Once upon a time, in a little cottage at the edge of a village, lived a girl with long braids the color of gingersnaps. Her eyes were brown and her freckles were like a sift of cinnamon sugar on toast, and she had a secret no one knew, not even her best friend, who was a cat named Murder.

The secret was hidden in a hollow tree trunk and she visited it on Sundays after church, the only time she could be sure Murder wouldn't follow her. (Murder hated church.)


That's all. That's all! But I want to know: what is in that hollow tree trunk??? No idea. Dang it.

On the next page of the notebook, this:

My new neighbor plays the harpsichord in a fairy band. No, not real fairies. This isn't that kind of story. I mean the kind of band that plays at fruity solstice festivals in the woods where everyone is barefoot and even the babies have dreadlocks. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Ahem.

But there is something wrong with a harpsichord-playing neighbor in a building with cardboard walls (practically).


I'd keep reading that. But I can't. Because that's all there is. Again, I have no memory of writing it.

In college I used to keep notebooks that I called "Attic Notebooks" although they had nothing to do with attics. They were notebooks that I would fill with *writing* -- writing of any stripe. Little passages like those above, rambles, poems, whatever. The only rule was that there was no looking back. Once a word was written you do not even glance back at it -- just keep on moving forward, until the notebook is filled. Then you're not allowed to read it for a month, by which time you're guaranteed to have forgotten everything in it. So, reading it is like finding a notebook in an attic, but all the ideas, all the sentences are your own. It was always so much fun reading those notebooks!

The above, I suppose, are a sort of unintentional attic notebook, brought on out of sheer absent-mindedness. Anyway, I'm a fan of writing notebooks. I have lots of them. You?

I'm still working on "the discipline of fun," by the way. Right now, I'm working on it in the form of a short story. I'm also trying to become more of a night-writer. It's a matter of survival, really. I've always been a morning writer, but I have found my mornings to be less than productive lately. I spend my mornings trying to resist nibbling Clementine :-) So. I have to change my ways. Hello, coffee! It is quarter to ten now, and I'm going to work on this short story. Here I go . . .

[added later] Question: Do people still get perms? I was casting about for a 7th grade hair disaster for the character in my short story, so I naturally thought of my own middle school hair disaster, which was a perm. But that was a couple of decades ago and I can't even remember the last time I even heard perms mentioned! Remember when they were super common? ha ha!

27 comments:

a cat of impossible colour said...

Those snippets are so seductive! I find them in old notebooks, too. In a way, you wish your past self had turned them into something, just so you could know what happens next ... but I guess there's a reason some ideas take root and grow while others don't.

Have you ever picked up an old idea from one of your notebooks and turned it into a completed story? Or a book, even?

Andrea xx

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Your notebooks are treasure hideaways. Can't wait to see what you do with those.

Mimi said...

Oh perms! I had a couple of those. However, I haven't noticed very many frizzy or spirally teenagers (I'm at a university). Maybe 7th grade is different? I don't think they are as popular with the youngers as they were in our generation.

tanita davis said...

My fear is that I'll write all of those things in notebooks -- on paper -- and never go anywhere else with them and/or lose the notebook. That hasn't happened yet, but it's a weird irrational fear.

Ah, perms. I haven't seen one of those in yearsandyear, but I know African American girls still get their hair relaxed. People still get their hair colored (badly) and cut (worsely). Lots of hair fodder there.

JenniferWalkup said...

I love those snippets. You should develop those into something, at least short stories, maybe? I also keep writing notebooks. I love starting things and it's fun to look back on. Attic notebook - clever idea.

I'm not sure there are many perms nowadays. My best friend is a hairdresser and they don't even do them at her salon anymore. I can't speak for the masses though.

Anonymous said...

I,too, had a frightful
perm disaster Fatty! I don't think kids get them anymore but maybe I'm wrong. I am treating you to one for the holidays!

Anonymous said...

I love your blog! I also keep a writing notebook. I have several from when I was a teenager that I have considered turning into something! Thanks for all the inspiration!

Amber Lough said...

Pink spirals will be all the rage come January, so you should obviously go get yourself a perm. Now.

I wanted wanted wanted a perm, but my mother never would allow it, so I had very un-cool super straight hair.

Jacqui Robbins gave me a great idea yesterday---have a secret notebook in which I should write a super secret novel that NO ONE will EVER read. It's fantastic to write in it because there is absolutely no pressure and my internal editor is bored.

Nerd Goddess said...

Those are fantastic! I remember being inspired to keep my own "Attic Notebook" after reading your notes on Not For Robots. I ended up not writing a whole lot in it, but I did slip in some sappy love poetry from when my husband and I first started dating. I found sometime during the summer, and it was really fun seeing those poems that I wrote, especially since our relationship has changed so much since then. I wonder what else is in that notebook...

KJ said...

What great snippets from your notebooks.

I have a box of notebooks in the basement that haunt me late at night when I can't sleep.

Nevermind remembering girls' perms, I remember when guys were getting perms.

Myrna Foster said...

I was the victim of a ghastly perm right before my seventh grade pictures. Are you picturing the sexy poodle that stood in for my yearbook photo?

I have unsightly stacks of writing notebooks. I keep thinking I need to organize my ideas better, instead of having scattered snippets, but that isn't what you're advocating, is it?

Some mothers get up before their children, but I write after mine go to bed. Good luck with that. Every now and then, Ben takes the wee tyrant (Gwenyth is two now) to the park while a write during the day. Hurray for good daddies!

Emilie said...

OMG, PERMS!!! I had the Shirley Temple look going late in elementary school, that's for sure, and one friend spiral-permed her hair for five years, but I think now girls just use mouse and "scrunch" their wet hair to get waves. I'd say make your character a blonde who's going through a goth phase and dyes it black--that's a disaster I've seen more times than I want to remember:)

Speaking of notebooks, I was flipping through mine the other day and found a note about a picture book I wanted to write a few years ago but had totally forgotten about. Maybe I'll have to try it now...

Dani said...

Hey! You might remember me, my name is Danielle and I asked you a question about writing to which you gave an excellent answer. I'm in 9th grade and everyone I know using straightening irons/curling irons, instead of perms..to answer YOUR question. :)

Commander Kip said...

I have a LOT of notebooks, but I almost never have enough self-restraint to wait an entire month before reading what's in them. ;) But yes, I make it a personal rule to carry at least one (if not two or three) notebooks and a sketchbook with me at all times, should inspiration strike in the car or at a restaurant or something.

missalister said...

Yes, writing notebooks are great! I started in 2004. In the beginning years there were more rants and whines than writing ideas, but now I’ve settled down and my current notebook is mostly writing ideas. Trouble is, whenever I look back, I’m torn with a hilarious mix of surprise and fear: Hey, this stuff is really great! Oh dear, it’s better than what I do now. Oh god, my brain cells are dying!!!

I love your discipline of fun idea, btw—got a kick out of the opposing concepts of discipline and fun—and I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with. I’m ready to become a discipline of fun disciple : )

Jordan E. Rosenfeld said...

I would read both of those stories, too Laini!

The novel I'm working on now began as one of those crazy little bursts of inspiration, a voice so plaintive I couldn't help but listen. We best heed them! A National Book Award might be hidden in one :)

justsomethoughts... said...

you sound rather organized.
that is good.
as far as my writing is concerned, i keep many scraps of paper.
most of them are in one place.
thats about as organized as i get.

Chels said...

I'm only sixteen and I used to get perms when I was younger. But maybe I'm just weird. I tried to peroxide bleach my hair once (I'm a dirty blonde) and that combined with something else I did (I can't quite remember what it was) turned my hair a faint tinge of pink. I just kept it like that. It kind of reminded me of Howl's Moving Castle. You could do chlorine-greened hair?

Alysa said...

My 16 year old sister has chlorine green hair right now. It looks odd. I did get a perm in seventh grade, but that's been a while. The way shorter than we all intended haircut is a good disaster. Or something could get very very tangled in long hair, necessitating a cut.

Mel said...

I think the idea is that when you're in 7th grade (and beyond!) you want your hair to be exactly the opposite of what it is....I had/have (don't know, it's super short now) the poker-straight hair that everyone covets with straightening irons now but I wanted it to be curly...so I did the perm thing for a while..way back in the day..

...oh! does anyone remember the Farrah Fawcett 'sausage-curls'...the Charlie's Angel-esque 'feather'? Am I dating myself too much? Maybe it was a Canadian phenomena....oh, like big hair in the 80's..I'd say there's a wealth of unfortunate hair decisions out there.

I get up before my kids to write...I've had to change it up a lot over the years, adapting to their schedule....but I'm naturally a morning person so the night-writing was really hard...

Shveta said...

Oh, gods, perms. I had this crazy idea in sixth grade to get my bangs permed. Yes, just my bangs, and then it turned out what I thought was a perm wasn't what I got. Bad, bad idea. (Good thing there are no pictures. . .and if there are, there soon won't be.)

Re: nibbling on Clementine, I found this recipe the other day when I was looking up the history of chutney and thought of you.

Finally, I would love to read the rest of the first story. Are you considering writing the rest?

a cat of impossible colour said...

Speaking of perms - I thought you might like this New Zealand ad dealing with the subject:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wIdZFTPK2wE

'Get a perm' has become a bit of a catchphrase over here! :)

Katie said...

Oh perms... hilarious! They were a disaster weren't they? Maybe your character could get a "body wave" cuz her Mom suggested it. haha!

My daughter is in 7th grade and we don't know a single child with a perm. But now EVERY single one of them has a flat iron or two.

Deb Lund said...

Your sweetie just commented on a comment of mine that led me here. I can't remember why, though. I just tweeted this, but take a look at

http://thetyee.ca/Video/2008/03/26/YouTubePoetry/?utm_source=mondayheadlines&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=310308

I was going to say something about perms. I'm sure I'll think of it later...

Anonymous said...

I think home hair dye kits provide a lot of fodder for hair-related disasters. Like dying your hair blue and having your mother freak out about it. Or having your mother freak out about the hair dye you've gotten splattered all over the bathroom walls. Related to my own hair disasters, I've discovered that leaving blobs of toothpaste on the hair-dye-y bits of wall overnight will make the hair dye go away... :D

Love the idea of Attic Notebooks, I may have to borrow that idea, start keeping that practice myself.

-Jamie. said...

I had a perm in the 7th grade, and at the moment, I am in 9th. I suppose It happens.

D.F Jules said...

I've always been a journal writer. I have since I was a kid. But the day to day journals turned into poems and them to stories.

Nowadays, whenever I write, I don't write my day to day journal but when I'm blocked, I write in my journal.

I do keep an idea book though. Sometimes and idea slaps me upside the head and in order to keep it with me I write it down.

Sometimes, a poem drifts my way; words or emotion and I quickly just let my pen move.

Sometimes it's a trivia I hear that is interesting and I could use in a story someday.

I also have a dream journal because my dreams are often where I get the ideas for my books.

I laughed at the part where you wrote that you didn't remember writing what you were reading. Funny, that happens to me too, but that happens to me when I'm rereading a chapter. Sometimes I don't think about what I'm writing, it just comes out like a flood so I don't really notice the words I'm writing.