Just before I head off for the latest reading for Two Tall Tales and One Short Novel, I wanted to sing the praises of notebooks. Not snazzy little laptop computers, but the real deal. Paper - and pens.
One of the things that we may be about to lose, unless we're Will Self (who has kept every email every sent to or by him, apparently) is the wonderful raw material from which great writers have crafted their great works. Computers are great, and it's impossible to be a writer without one, these days, but the old fashioned system of writing on paper with pens offers so much more, at least for a first draft.
For example, it allows you to doodle in the margins, to press between your pages the odd bit of ephemera; a bus ticket, a feather, a business card, that may later be all you need to recreate a moment when inspiration first struck. A notebook allows you to travel with confidence; tucked into your bag or pocket it means you can write anywhere, unobtrusively. You can sling down a few lines on the train, halfway up a mountain, in Sainsburys, without having to unpack, set up, power up, check battery, save ...
And a notebook guards the mistakes that may not have been mistakes after all. The novella I'm reading from tonight is the fourth story about Darius and Cecil, and the third to make it into print, but when the two characters first appeared, they were bit players in somebody else's narrative and - in the end - I edited them out. If I'd been working on a computer they would quite possibly have been gone forever, but all I had to do to find them again was dig out the notebook where I'd first written them down and recreate them as protagonists in their own series of stories.
Finally, if you have an eye to posterity, your notebooks may end up being the material of a thesis or the property of a museum, should you turn out to be a writer who is valued that highly. They may be pored over by PhD students or admired by the masses, just like Shakespeare's folios - it's tough to do that with a computer!
Labels: first drafts, notebook, Will Self