Monday, April 27, 2009

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."--Joan Didion, from the essay, "On Keeping a Notebook"

My first notebook came to me as a Christmas gift from my sister when I was six. She had made it in a crafts class at the junior high, and it was pink, with multicolored paper pages and the word "diary" stamped in gold on the front cover. Though I wrote in it sporadically, I didn't start keeping a faithful journal until the winter of my freshman year of high school. Writing in a notebook is a practice I've kept up with, more or less regularly, since starting that random February day. I keep twelve years' worth of notebooks in a large red storage bin in my closet here in Boston. About once a year, on some rainy Saturday, I'll pull one out and start reading. Half-forgotten memories can pull me in, sometimes for hours at a time, but mostly I tire of myself quickly and put it all away in disgust. But I would never throw them away.

In her essay, Didion says she doesn't keep a notebook as any kind of attempt to record the facts of her daily life or to fossilize the events of the world around her. So then, why? Why bother writing random snatches of thoughts, imagined encounters and half-remembered lines of dialogue? "Remember what it was to be me: that is always the point...our notebooks give us away, for however dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implaceable 'I.'"

I had never questioned why I keep a notebook before reading this essay several weeks ago. It's just something I've always done, for better or worse. A compulsion to write things down, as Joan calls it. Though I now write for several blogs, once kept a livejournal, and can type faster than I can write, it's always been a notebook and pen that I come back to. Something about having a physical record gives me comfort.

It always surprises me to learn that some writers don't keep personal notebooks or diaries. There's nothing much of note or interest in my notebooks, except to me, but writing there helps me sort out my thoughts and get out my angst.

How many of you keep journals or notebooks? Do you have a routine or schedule?


Kyley said...

Oh, I just found my high school/college year journals last weekend when I was home. God, it was embarrassing!! But in a really entertaining way.

Spunk361 said...

I've kept a journal since I was 9 and I'm 25 now. They are all horribly embarrassing. Even the journal I finished just a couple of months ago is embarrassing but I'd never throw them away because they are me, for better or for worse, and they are a record that I am and I lived.

Julie said...

I've never been able to keep a diary, per se (I'll usually write one entry, then forget about it), but I do keep notebooks full of quotes I've read and liked, as well as a few original random thoughts. For me, a notebook or journal is the perfect receptacle for all the "deep" insights I have that don't really have a place anywhere else in my life.

Cindy said...

I've been in more of an on/off relationship with notebooks. At times I do a lot of first and second drafts of poems in them, save interesting quotations or thoughts, and keep track of recommended books, cds, and films. Sometimes I'll use a notebook to brainstorm feelings when I am unsure what I feel or what the feelings mean. But maybe a year will go by when i've hardly used them at all, then suddenly there I am with one notebook in my purse, one by my bed, and another in the laptop bag. I save my old ones because I hate to throw all those ideas away. said...

"Though I now write for several blogs, once kept a livejournal, and can type faster than I can write, it's always been a notebook and pen that I come back to. Something about having a physical record gives me comfort."That describes me perfectly. I began keeping journals in my early 20's. I'm now 64, and despite having written professionally for many years, I still seem to journal the same sorts of things -- the ordinary ones that no one would care about, not even (after the fact) me.

I used to rough out articles and essays by hand, but have used a computer since the early Macs. Still, my Moleskine follows me everywhere, to record the mundane, yet strangely intimate details of one life.