Monday, March 29, 2010

Keep a Notebook

Writers should keep a notebook with them at all times. The notebook isn’t meant to be a journal of your day’s events or a collection of complete writings, but rather observations, ideas, lines, moments, interpretations and more. As something comes to you or you observe something interesting, write it down and save it for later. Invite interpretation into your lines or through your presentation.

Joan Didion writes in the essay On Keeping a Notebook,“The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself.”

Writers write to understand, to remember and to make connections. I’ve been teaching this Didion essay for years in beginning and advanced writing classes. Didion offers clear prose and insight into the writer while crafting a moving and even useful essay on the subject.

The notebook keeps the writer’s mind alert. I keep a small notebook in my purse and I know others who do the same. (Of course, it can be an electronic version, too.) The purpose is to train your eyes and ears to be attentive to the surrounding world and your inner thoughts. These lines will process themselves later, or perhaps not, into a final piece of writing. If they don’t, don’t worry, but do continue on. Not everything you write will be a part of the final, but it will be a part of the process.

As Joan Didion writes, “So the point of my keeping a notebook has never been, nor is it now, to have an accurate factual record of what I have been doing or thinking.” The notebook is a vehicle for the reader to enter into the world through recording, as Didion suggests in this line, “How it felt to me: that is getting closer to the truth about a notebook.”

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