I got back into using notebooks a few years ago, when I cracked open a beautiful, untouched leather journal Jason brought me back from Italy as a present for my 23rd birthday. It took a lot to write in that journal because I, like most writers who are gifted with beautiful journals, panic “It has to be perfect if it’s going in such a beautiful journal!”
But I got thinking about the notebooks I kept when I was living in New York City, these wild things filled with magazine clippings and pictures and fold-out pages of articles I wanted to save. I thought about how good it felt to physically write, pen on paper, how much I enjoyed going back through old story notebooks from high school and after college, reading false starts, pithy observations and scenes that didn’t make the final draft. I could trace the what was going on in my life through those notebooks even better than I could my own diary. Fragments like What is a poem to a creme brulee? told me what I was thinking and feeling at an even greater depth than scrawling I love a man who will not tell me he loves me in my journal.
So I wrote one sentence. And then another. And the more I wrote in that notebook — which I nicknamed “Catch” after Ewan McGregor’s playboy in Down With Love— the more I thought about my notebook needs. I loved the freedom of an unlined page. The spine was beginning to crack, so I needed something more flexible. I once had a notebook with an envelope pocket, that was cool.
And as the saying goes, if you want something done, you’ve got to do it yourself.
I began researching how to make notebooks and taught myself coptic stitch. I made a messy first one that I loved anyways. The second was tighter, stronger. I made notebooks for friends. The third I tried to be fancy with ribbon, but ended up going utilitarian with binder rings instead. And I kept designing and sketching new creations, testing and acquiring new materials, plotting and scheming what my next book would look like, what it might represent even before I put the first word on the page.
And with each notebook I created, I felt less and less of that pretty-journal panic and more intimately connected to the page. I began to look forward to opening those notebooks, as though finishing and turning each page had a new surprise in store–a postcard, a new texture of paper, a hidden pocket. I named all my notebooks, the way Tori Amos named her piano, each with their own distinct personality, their own special writing purpose. And tomorrow I’ll introduce you to all of them.