I spend a lot of time evaluating the relative value/usefulness of things. I want just the right tool at the proper time–but it shouldn’t be extravagant or wasteful. Comparison and criticism are nasty bedfellows. In the past I have silently judged infrequent cooks for buying $300 dutch ovens, when I know my pretty, red $60 enameled Lodge tested nearly as well and cooks like a dream. (Okay, it can only stand a 400 degree oven, rather than 500, but I’ve never needed it to be hotter than that.) And don’t even get me started on generic prescriptions and what a rip-off department store mascara is. I have opinions, oh, yes, I do.
At the beginning of every new project, I tell myself that it shouldn’t matter what the journal I use for it is like. Seriously. It’s a stack of paper bound together for convenience so the papers don’t get scattered everywhere in the way that my thoughts often do. A tool is a tool, and a notebook is a writer’s tool. Because I’m a writer, people often give me small notebooks as gifts, but they’re not big enough to be useful for story-planning. I probably have around 100 now and could start an ebay store, except they’re all just so darned cute that I could never let them go. And as the parent of one grad student and one teenager, I have a stockpile of composition books, spiral notebooks, and just plain odd notebooks I picked up at Staples so we’d have them on hand. (Don’t worry if it sounds like my house is a fire trap made of paper–it’s almost all in my office, so we could probably keep it contained.) For BLISS HOUSE I bought a wonderful, big, hardcover spiral notebook, then lost it after about two weeks, and grabbed a 10×7 composition book from my stockpile. By the end of the project I had the spiral, and two composition books going. In 2005, I began ISABELLA MOON in a decorative journal with a fabric cover, but there were alreadythe beginnings of several other stories near the front. (There’s one story I swear I don’t even recognize, but it’s definitely my handwriting. It’s rather overwrought and must have been written in the sleep-deprived days of my son’s toddlerhood.) I have a small, red leather-bound journal that floats around the house. Sometimes I can find it, sometimes I can’t. It’s a kind of meta-journal, with long-range plans and story ideas and strange bits of wondering. It always shows up when I need it.
But the heart wants what the heart wants, yes? Aesthetics make a difference. And while I have no proof, I believe it’s possible that using the wrong journal could jinx a book. (Was BLISS HOUSE jinxed by the journal kerfuffle? No. Because the book was already well underway, it could stand a minor journal shuffle at the time the first was temporarily misplaced.) I swear I plundered my stockpiles looking for a journal for THE ABANDONED HEART, which I’ve just begun writing. I told myself that–surely–one of the many notebooks lying about would suffice, and would even be sturdy enough for travel. There was even room in the CHARLOTTE’S STORY notebook to give it a good start. But all I could come up with was a stack of spiral school notebooks that sit in my closet, rejected by my son’s school because their tiny paper frittlins litter the school’s carpet. Sadly, their paper covers are too delicate for my hard use. Plus, I get a weird high school vibe when I write in them and it makes me uncomfortable in a way that the old-fashioned composition notebooks don’t. So I had to go in search of a journal.
I looked for my THE ABANDONED HEART journal at Barnes and Noble first. I think that’s where I bought the CHARLOTTE’S STORY notebook. But the only one that appealed to me out of the five or six that were a suitable size had flowers on it. So, inexplicably, I bought one that I knew was going to be too small just because it had a peacock on it. Peacocks are important in the Bliss House world. I spent a little time looking online for a journal, but that search, too, was futile. I had to be able to touch the thing. Buying a kind of journal online that I’d never bought before felt crazy to me. (I like a Moleskin, but they don’t lie open flat enough.) It would be kind of like buying a bra online. That would just be weird.
We live in a small town, so WalMart, Staples, and B&N are my only decent office supply sources. Off I went to Staples. They had a good selection, and I was able to touch everything. (I also got to eavesdrop on a conversation between two sisters who were looking for a journal for their elderly mother, so it was like a shopping and research trip all in one.) I settled on the Èccolo World Traveler model pictured above. It’s faux leather, and perfect bound, with a marker ribbon and ivory pages. I confess that I was drawn to the one with the lavender cover first. I held it, opened it, imagined writing in it. But it didn’t work. It was too pretty. THE ABANDONED HEART is about a man, and a very troubled man, at that. Though his story will be told through the eyes of women, it needs a dark, serious cover. It’s a frightening, tragic story. It won’t be a lavender kind of novel at all.
Does all this sound a bit superstitious to you? It does to me. But writing a novel is a kind of alchemy, and alchemy always has a hell of a lot of wishing, hoping and dreaming attached to it. It helps to have a sturdy notebook in which to keep it all from floating away.
P.S. That sexy pencil with the flat top/eraser is a Palomino Blackwing. My true love bought me a box of them for Christmas. You can find them here.