Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Why notebooks are necessary - repost from 2010

Ironic, I thought, coming upon this vintage post as I just, once again, reminded myself about never being without a notebook and writing instrument.  I grabbed one - a miniature composition notebook - and went about my business.  I could easily have obsessed about the ideal mechanical pencil that I do not have.  Today, I kept it simple and relatively sane.  A pen that works.  Sufficient.  And a middle of the night thought about return address labels.

And apropos of nothing other than having seen it in my computer-side Book of All Things, "Despair is a useless way of connecting with the world.  Slow down and love what there is."  The words of William Kittredge from WHO OWNS THE WEST.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


An act of imagination is an act of self-acceptance.

Today's sketched-out posting was going to begin with my wondering why I stopped keeping a writing notebook and when that creative shoelaces-tied-together prank took place. It did happen, why and when are irrelevant. Since I may take whatever meaning I choose from Richard Hugo's quoted statement, found in THE TRIGGERING TOWN,
my interpretation tells me that my fugue state has come to an end, I will resume keeping a notebook and I may reward my imagination-sustaining act with self acceptance.

By declining the chance to punish myself for being un-writerly, for making my job that much harder by not saving quotes or noting observations or ideas as they appear, I am not quite so stuck and may continue in the direction of my destiny. (Sidebar: the name under a tv interviewee this morning was "Monnreal," which my son first read as "monorail." He said, "That's a funny last name. Must be the heir to the monorail fortune." To which I responded, "Write that down. You have a story right there...heir to the monorail fortune...heh heh heh....")

Writers who blog, and who are serious and good, help me remember this is not hocus-pocus and luck. I can give myself real-world help by making notes, keeping track of what comes from dreams or overheard conversations or the mis-read names of missing hikers. As I read, I can keep track of writing that makes me aim higher. Before the world was espressso bars and laptops, I loved to write in my notebook wherever I was. Airplane, restaurant, hospital waiting room, riding in a car. I kept track of things I'd seen by writing them down, not trusting them to memory. And memory was better then.

I have a bad habit of making notes on the backs - or fronts - of envelopes, then shuffling them around depending on what they contain. This is not reliable for information retrieval. There is a notebook, and a pen that works, near each house phone, but it is not always what I reach for first. Tendencies to overcome.

The amount of research, memory, information and, as a friend said today, magic, that goes into writing a story is daunting, if you mistakenly thought it would be easy. I forget. Each week I do a certain amount of writing that comes from my head, maybe supported by checking a fact or two. I grow impatient with what feels like too much research; I want to get to work. But as with the red plaid pajamas, there are no shortcuts to doing it well. Unless one is blessed with total recall and encyclopedic knowledge, and I am not.

My second reading of THE TRIGGERING TOWN will begin my new notebook. I also have Post-Its and a pencil for marking passages. I dawdle along, believing that I take myself seriously, until I look at what the serious writers are doing that I am not. Whether it exemplifies a desirable work ethic or is one ingredient of the magic, I return to something I know to be useful. Finding the right notebook, the right pen, I call that fun.

While Hugo's book emphasizes poetry, it is directed to all writers. He said, "What a silly thing we do. We sweat through poem after poem to realize what dumb animals know by instince and reveal in their behavior: my life is all I've got. We are well off to know it ourselves, even if our method of learning it is painfully convoluted."

When you write you are momentarily telling the world and yourself that neither of you need any reason to be but the one you had all along.


Anonymous said...

i love both books. keep them to read over and over. we could be related...(!)

Marylinn Kelly said...

I have long suspected a sort of kinship. Before the day is out, I may have to order Kittredge's WHO OWNS THE WEST. How do I not have it already? Yes, I'm off right now to do that. Beautiful post of yours,by the way. xo

T. Clear said...

Marylinn, I was crazy-fortunate to take a week-long workshop with Richard Hugo the year before he passed. It was illuminating, humbling, loving, life-changing. He's one of my prime poetic muses, consistently through the years.

You might also enjoy The Real West Marginal Way, which is more autobiographical. The first section, written about his childhood, is the best. If you're lucky, it'll make you leap for joy as well as break your heart.

But then, that's what the best writing does, yes?


Marylinn Kelly said...

T. - I have, and have read, THE REAL WEST MARGINAL WAY also and it is as you say. I am a huge Hugo fan and can only sigh to think of your excellent timing to be part of his workshop. I ordered two Kittredge books and look forward to finding him, further, to be Mr. Hugo's kin, and possibly mine. They both seem to possess a grounded and clear-eyed view of themselves and the greater world. And these days, everything breaks my heart. Sheesh. xo