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. 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. They don’t have those annoying metal spirals that get flattened and then stick out at crazy angles, catching on fabric and tender forearms. Their pages are lined, which helps me keep my terrible handwriting somewhat in check. (My penmanship is one area in which the nuns did not leave a lasting legacy.) The copybooks naturally lie flat, so I don’t have to lean an elbow on the pages as I write. 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. 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.” It is a fact of writing that sometimes you have to write a lot of dross to get to the really good ideas. 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. 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. 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. Some of that is actually good.”
Plus the nice thing about these notebooks is that they invite decoration. Over the last few years, I’ve taken to gluing pictures onto the covers. 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. Since I am a visual learner, I can often remember the contents of a notebook by what’s on the cover. (“The red cover with the Nancy Drew postcards on it — that was when I was back at school after Matthew’s birth.”) 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. 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.