I am seldom without a notebook at hand – more than one if I leave home – and I have kept a diary for years. Over time I have found the spiral-bound 159mm x 101mm notebooks the most useful size for my regular bird lists and for the notes I make while watching birds – catching those snatches of the ideas that cast about when I am still.
The spiral-bound A5 notebook is the size I prefer for writing down drafts of ideas, descriptions and interesting snippets of information gleaned from lectures, conversations and those picked up on my travels. Really beautifully bound notebooks are for drooling over in the bookshops. They tend to be priced way beyond what I use them for and seem to demand a firm focus and good writing – not random scribbling.
To me a notebook is a useful item to have. Once they are filled, what is left of them – I regularly tear pages out for one reason or another – they are stored on a shelf to be combed through at leisure; sometimes many years later. I am often surprised by the writing prompts that leap out at me; sometimes wonder what I was thinking; recall with clarity where I was at a certain time or the people I had met. I extract what promises to be useful – some pages go onto yet another pile of writings on my desk – and the bones are finally tossed into the wastepaper basket.
Of course, keeping a notebook – and indeed, a diary – is a personal thing to do. It is what I call ‘scribblers’ do. I have met fellow ‘scribblers’ at meetings, seminars, workshops, in airports and at plays. There is no boundary for ‘scribblers’. Like me, the ones I have met use their notebooks for anything from grocery lists, lists of things to be done, queries, interesting words or phrases they have come across, and so on.
I began keeping a diary many years ago as a form of daily discipline for writing and recall. In them are plenty of entries which may bore future readers (if I haven’t got rid of them first) as they cover the trivia of where and what – such entries have nonetheless proved useful when trying to remember the where and what for a specific purpose or when drawing on personal experiences is necessary to inject a sense of authenticity in creative writing. Others show my ‘real’ self: my concerns, my hurts, my joys, triumphs and low points. Interestingly enough I print (by hand) those entries. This slows down my thoughts, urging me to deliberate carefully what I am writing and to focus on what I am doing.
These days I find the practice of ‘free-writing’ both interesting, and cathartic, at times. This is where longhand comes in. I love the process of writing longhand for creative work and even when more formal work is in the planning stage. There is something liberating in the free flow from my thoughts to my hand wherever I happen to be. The very act of putting pen to paper helps to marshal my thoughts in a way that formally sitting in front of a keyboard cannot. There is a certain comfort that comes from writing in longhand; a freedom to cross out, to circle sections with arrows pointing to where they might be more appropriate, to use large asterisks, to add other ideas – or even to doodle – in the margins while waiting for my thoughts to crystallise.
Translating the content of my scribbles to my computer is a maturing phase in the process of writing. Having fermented in a pile on my desk or been hidden within the covers of an old notebook on a shelf, typing the words acknowledges them, gives them substance, turns them into a product worthy of being scrutinised with vigour: pruning words, reshaping them, expanding them and giving them a new lease of life as a story, an article, a presentation – or a blog entry.