Back in the days before smart phones were invented I used to keep a collection of small notebooks. At the time I was, among other things, a freelance journalist and had a regular column in a Sunday newspaper. I used the notebooks to scribble down ideas for the column so that if something occurred to me I would have a permanent record of it. The only problem with this arrangement was that I quite often I forgot to look at my notebook and spent hours pacing, trying out new ideas, and sweating as the deadline for my article loomed closer and closer on the horizon, while the notebook hid, inert and forgotten, in the inside pocket of my jacket.
I also used the notebooks for taking notes of practical household matters that I needed to attend to and for ideas for novels, short stories or novellas that occurred to me during the day or sometimes, rather inconveniently, in the middle of the night. In the late 90s I was working on my first novel, Lab Rat, and I was quite often to be seen scrawling in minuscule handwriting in a corner somewhere as ideas for the book occurred to me. The notebooks themselves were tiny, 3” x 5”, and came with a their own Lilliputian pencil. I usually replaced the pencil with something that would leave a more permanent mark, such as a stainless-steel refill for a ballpoint pen, which you could buy fairly cheaply in second-rate newsagents.
Notebooks became popular several years ago when Moleskine produced their own high-quality version. I seem to remember that the advertising played on the fact that all the great figures in the literary world had relied on notebooks, the implication being that you too could become a colossus of letters by owning one. And they weren’t cheap either, yet people bought them by the bucketful. I do suspect that possibly every home in the western world contains at least one Moleskine notebook lying unused in a drawer somewhere.
Nowadays, I rarely use notebooks. What I tend to do is take notes using the Notes app on my smart phone. I own an iPhone and a Macbook Air, so whenever I take a note on my phone it backs it up immediately by sending the text to my computer as an incoming email. Of course, I do miss the tactile quality of a physical notebook. Come to think of it, I rarely physically write anything these days, other than my signature on checks and on those little screens at cash registers that always produce a signature that makes you look as if you were drunk when you signed it. I’m beginning to wonder whether I will eventually lose the ability to write altogether and only remember how to type!
I came across a couple of those old notebooks of mine recently and was astonished to find whole outlines for novels and detailed descriptions of short stories and even the opening chapter of a novella, all written out in tiny handwriting that only a gnome could read. Some of it was just outlandish brainstorming or wittering drivel, but some of it was usable. Maybe I should go back and reread those old notebooks. It might give me an idea for a blockbuster novel that will make me a millionaire overnight. As I say, some of it was wittering drivel…