Blame the nuns at my elementary school, but I have a passion for copybooks. After all those years of using them for religion notes and sentence diagramming, they feel like home to me. Â And when I have some time to scribble freely, they are my go-to notebook of choice.
There’s a lot to be said for these books. Â They don’t have those annoying metal spirals that get flattened and then stick out at crazy angles, catching on fabric and tender forearms. Â Their pages are lined, which helps me keep my terrible handwriting somewhat in check. Â (My penmanship is one area in which the Â nuns did not leave a lasting legacy.) Â The copybooks naturally lie flat, so I don’t have to lean an Â elbow on the pages as I write. Â And I find they are just the right size to tuck into a bag — they’ll even fit into my purse.
And though I sometimes write directly onto my laptop, there is no denying that my writer is often looser, more daring and more edgy, when I am filling pages in my copybook. Â When it doesn’t look like something that I will send to an editor, I’m freer to write what Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird, memorably calls “shitty first drafts.” Â It is a fact of writing that sometimes you have to write a lot of dross to get to the really good ideas. Â It is also a fact, at least in my world, that it is pretty easy to get obsessed on the details when I’m writing my first draft on the computer. Â I go back and re-read and polish endlessly, and the writing gets a little stunted from too much overattention too early in the game. Â Far better to let my thoughts and handwriting go wild and loopy, and then to stop and come up for air and look back and go, “Wow. Â Some of that is actually good.”
Plus the nice thing about these notebooks is that they invite decoration. Â Over the last few years, I’ve taken to gluing pictures onto the covers. Â It’s a great way to use pretty cards that people send me, cards that I want to keep but don’t want to stick into a box somewhere. Â Since I am a visual learner, I can often remember the contents of a notebook by what’s on the cover. Â (“The red cover with the Nancy Drew postcards on it — that was when I was back at school after Matthew’s birth.”) Â These copybooks work, on lots of levels.
But maybe that’s just me, with my own Catholic school background and unruly handwriting and random assortment of cute cards.Â Â Every author is unique, and in the end, the best writer’s tools are the ones that get you writing … and that keep you writing.