Posted by on Jul 17, 2007 in first drafts, notebook, Will Self | 3 Comments

Notebooks …

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!


  1. TitaniaWrites
    17th July 2007

    Definitely! I just bought myself a moleskine diary, the first time in many years that I am using paper and pen, and I am enjoying it so much, writing notes etc… I also like your point about posterity. I shall assume that one day someone will want to collect my notebooks and proceed accordingly!
    Have a great reading, sorry to be in the wrong country for it!

  2. Kay Sexton
    18th July 2007

    Mmmm, moleskine, the nil plus ultra of notebooks – they’re my one big extravagence too. It’s probably not true to say I write better in a moleskine but I think I do, and that’s the main thing!

  3. Dan Hanosh
    21st July 2007

    An odd little behavior I’ve started some years ago . . . Anytime I’m in one of those convenience stores, I look for just the right steno pad . . . Appox. 200 pages, very hard to find anymore. And then I buy everyone on the shelf. Those empty notebooks I keep in my closet in a small safe. I use them for everything . . . Notes for novels, journaling, etc.

    Dan Hanosh
    Dan Hanosh

    Dreams Are Yours To Share

    Warriors and Wars

    The Moon Also Rises


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