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Blogging the Notebook / Noting the Blog

January 9, 2010

notebooksLast night before the start of our poetry workshop, we got onto the topic of notebooks and how we organise them.

This is something that has really interested me for a long time – notebooks and journals are traditionally the best documentary evidence we have for how people think.  Whether it’s the only surviving complete draft of an Austen novelBlake’s sketches and poems, or the discovery of Woolf’s “lost notebook”, the scribblings of our favourite writers fascinate us.

A notebook is seen as one of the writer’s basic tools, and most workshop leaders stress the importance of carrying one with us at all times so that whenever an idea or observation occurs we can instantly jot it down. Most of the writers I know have undertaken the tasks in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way which advocates writing “morning pages“, three pages of freewriting with which to start the day.

On top of this, we often have diaries stretching back to adolescence. The “teen angst poetry” they contain is even performed, in an ironic, tongue-in-cheek way across the globe.

The physicality of the journals themselves really matters to some people: I know one poet who writes only in cheap school exercise books, while moleskin is a common favourite amongst those in the glamorous, understated know (“Madness!” a close writer friend cried when he saw the price of the smallest size of moleskin in WH Smiths).

What interested me most in last night’s brief comparison of notetaking techniques was the point at which the computer becomes involved. That’s why in the photo at the top of this post you can see my home and work laptops as well  my diaries and notebooks.

One of my friends, poet Naomi Woddis, said that she rarely returns to her notebooks: once something’s on the computer, she drafts from that. Maybe it’s the librarian in me, but even when a poem starts on the laptop, I copy the final draft into my notebook. And maybe it’s the antilibrarian in me, but I don’t bother much about the intervening drafts.

It all got me thinking about the blog as notebook. This is an issue that Karen McCarthy is exploring, with the help of guest bloggers, in her Spread the Word project Open Notebooks and I don’t want to cover her ground. However, one of the research questions I’m asking myself as a historical bibliographer is

WHERE WILL WE FIND THE EVIDENCE BASE FOR THE 21st CENTURY’S WOOLFS, BLAKES AND AUSTENS NOW THEY’RE ALL ONLINE AND BLOGGING LIKE WILD THINGS?

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6 comments

  1. “WHERE WILL WE FIND THE EVIDENCE BASE FOR THE 21st CENTURY’S WOOLFS, BLAKES AND AUSTENS NOW THEY’RE ALL ONLINE AND BLOGGING LIKE WILD THINGS?”

    This is one of the things I often ponder. Really! This is one of the real challenges the library profession is facing with the advent of digital culture. I sincerely believe we are in the midst of creating a Digital Dark Age, and the fact that so much content is saved in ephemeral formats is an example. IMHO, don’t look to cloud computing as a solution. Instead, I think traditional analog preservation methods will be necessary. Ironic, coming from me who has been writing software for more than thirty years.


    • I think this is one of the areas that is most exciting in Digital Humanities, for sure, Eric. Old stuff in new ways and new stuff in old ways seems to be the interim order of the day?


  2. I’ve always been wary of Ms Cameron and her methods. The sentimental religiosity is something of a problem for me. Or am I being too fussy?


    • I like the idea of morning pages, and I can see why some of the other sections of ‘The Artists Way’ are helpful to some people. But I am, and always will be, a dour Scot, so there are bits of the Cameron approach that are *way* outside my personal comfort zone, Tom. :)


  3. I’ve been writing Morning Pages for more or less exactly a year, and find it very useful in clarifying my thinking at the start of the day.
    I write on a laptop, not in longhand. My method is to start when I get on the train and finish when the train arrives at Lewes station, a period of about 30 minutes, usually producing around 1000 words, corresponding to three pages of A4 in my handwriting. I stop at Lewes because there lots of passengers get on, and there will be someone sitting next to me eyeing my screen. Before that stop I usually have enough privacy to write without inhibition. But, just to be on the safe side, I keep the screen font size small.


  4. [...] May Inspiration and a Notebook Always Travel with You Photo: Library Marginalia* [...]



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