“Scribbled Secret Notebooks, and Wild Typewritten Pages, for Yr Own Joy”

by Mark Chmiel

Inspired by Diana Raab, Writers and Their Notebooks

I read Raab’s book right about the end of my time at SLU. Moving on to Maryville University, I found a way to assign Natalie Goldberg’s Bones book in my Humanities classes—mandatory composition (wide-ruled) notebooks. I also started teaching my own classes off-campus, typically with a writing (hence, notebook) theme.

1.
How can we imagine a notebook?

Some possibilities—
Warehouse (not a museum)
Treasure chest of thoughts and anecdotes
Place to collect ideas
Place to practice writing
Place to overcome writer’s block
Laboratory
Mirror
Icebreaker
Wailing wall
Junk drawer
Confessional
Postcard to oneself
Playground for mind
Jump-start cable
Memory aid
Archive
Anthology
Snooping device
Role-playing arena
Observation-sharpener
Survival kit
Meditation practice
Witness Stand
Therapist
Spiritual Advisor
Sound-board
Friend

2.
What kinds of stuff can we include in our notebooks?

Remarks overheard
Fragments
Observations about others
Dreams
Anecdotes
Patterns of feeling
Wonderings
Newspaper clippings
Quotations
Song lyrics
Jokes
Weather reports
Mundane details
Secrets
Minutiae of daily life

3.
What’s are ways of working in/with notebooks?

Always carry a journal with me
Diary = recording external events of day, what I did during the day’s 16 hours
Journal: journey of the day
Give my notebooks a title and a visual on the cover and back, like Hannah Urban
Review old journals and mark them up to find and use material for publication; find material to shape into an essay
Write without restrictions
Glue or tape photographs into the pages
Write wherever and whenever—write anyplace
Write for five minutes
Read what I’ve written
Write about what I’ve just read
Catch myself thinking
My job is to jot
Describe what I see wherever I am
Tell me more
Morning pages: anything goes
Reread morning pages weeks later, and notice patterns
Show, don’t tell
Write in notebooks at night when I am exhausted and my defenses are down
Add photographs like WG Sebald
Multiply 15 minute bursts
Musement = early morning automatic writing in prose poem form, try this for Palestine book

4.
What are some themes for notebooks?

Palestine Notebook
Dream Journal
Journal for working out my ideas on Ophir
Lexicon Notebook (favorite words, vivid words, two rows, 40 words a page, 200 pages = 8000 words)
Notebook on Favorite Books
Samskara Journal
Crisis Journal
Gratitude Notebook
Notice What I Notice Notebook
Novel notebook: collect scenes, characters, plot twists, clever lines of dialogue, outlines

5.
What Else?

The point of an essay: to “awaken the shiver of recognition” 74
Forget the question: What will readers think? Like Pat Geier said in 1985, “You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken shit”
Resurrect hand-written letters to friends
Meditate off of a quotation from someone
Add SR’s emails to Daily Log
Pose questions as an assignment
Story, or plot, is an outgrowth of character
Collect and use my favorite emails and Facebook exchanges
Print out a year’s daily log, and be ready to pay for printer cartridge
Read Sei Shōnagon, Pillow Book
Become cheerfully addicted to hypergraphia

 

–Title is a line from Jack Kerouac.

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