I am writing 100 How-To essays. It is a big project. Here is why I am doing it. This is essay 27 of 100.
A long time ago, I stopped being seduced by brand new notebooks. People who write make all kinds of financially irresponsible notebook decisions, so this is a pretty big feat.
You know what I’m talking about, right? You’re at the bookstore you Yelped while on a three-day vacation (it’s so quirky how you always manage to find a bookstore wherever you go), and you’re thinking, “Man. I already have all the books I need. A holiday or my birthday recently passed. Five people I admire gifted me books. Plus I have that best-of-list-topping-novel I FINALLY got on hold from the library. Plus there’s no room in my suitcase right now for another book. I simply can’t justify buying even one more book to read.
“But lo! What’s this? A rack of kitschy, neatly stacked BLANK books? Well, this is a horse of a different color! Wow. Look at all these journals, alluringly wrapped in Japanese-seeming cellophane. If only I had a notebook like this. But I should really save my money. I HAVE a notebook. I’ve gotta stop buying new notebooks.
“Wait. Hold the phone. Take a look at THIS specific notebook. THIS one is so UNBELIEVABLY MY EXACT AESTHETIC. I’m recently into mushroom taxonomy, and, incredibly, unbelievably, HERE is a notebook that has, ON ITS COVER, a whimsically illustrated chart of mushroom taxonomy!I mean, this has got to be a SIGN, right? Who else is this notebook FOR, if not for me?
“And besides, I think my old notebook isn’t working for me anymore. At first I wrote in it a lot, but I was taking notes for that short story about the strangers in the coffee shop, and I’m not sure I want to write that, the more I think about it. I had this different and better idea, connecting whale song to human longing. The coffee shop idea wasn’t getting anyone anywhere. So maybe that old notebook will just be for the coffee shop idea, and this new one will be for my REAL writing ideas. The good ones. The ones that are going to start this year.
“Because I think what I really need is a fresh slate. Yeah. A fresh slate, because I’m in a rut. A new notebook is the perfect platform to declare that THIS is the first day of the rest of my life. Those old notebooks (plural because, I guess if we’re being honest, there’s also the dream journal I haven’t really done much with; and then that nature / prose book I was going to do little watercolors in) represented a past self. A WORSE self. A self who knew nothing of mushrooms and their vast mycelial networks and the true metaphorical ways of the soul. I DESERVE to start again. Let’s just check the price of this thing, shall we?
“OK. Hmm. Fifteen dollars. Well, sure, you know, fifteen dollars is kind of expensive for what is essentially just a pile of paper. But then again, I was at that horrible sandwich place last week — what was that place called? Something awful with an ampersand in the middle. Something like ‘bone & carrot.’ I don’t think that was it but something like that — and they had a sandwich that was TWENTY dollars. For a SANDWICH. And that place was crowded, and tons of people were buying twenty dollar sandwiches all willy nilly like it was no big deal at all. And let’s be honest: that sandwich was pretty horrible. The bread was damp? THAT DAMP SANDWICH cost more than this BRAND NEW SPIRITUALLY SATISFACTORY NOTEBOOK.
“Also, I have been meaning to watch that Marie Kondo show about getting rid of all of your hats or whatever, and I imagine she’ll convince me to ‘release' a bunch of my stuff. She will convince me that at least fifteen dollars worth of the stuff I currently own is ’no longer serving me.' I could probably sell that potential stuff if I really wanted to, and then I’m essentially MAKING money by buying this notebook.
“Plus, look at that bookseller. She’s gazing at me with a grimace, like she feels like I’ve been spending too long here without buying anything. And I did read half of that graphic novel about ghosts, and I decided I’m not going to buy that. It’s just not that good. The drawings are medium good and the writing is medium bad and altogether it doesn’t merit a purchase. I could get it at the library if I’m still thinking about it in a week. I like the IDEA of a ghosts graphic novel, but in practice it’s kind of a hit and a miss. But I’ll say this about that book: it makes me see how easy it really is to get a book published. Publishers will put out all kinds of crap. Most books aren’t as good as the book that I am going to begin in the notebook I hold in my hands right now.”
And then it’s settled and you go to the counter and you buy the notebook, and the bookstore is one of those places that also sells candles, so they have a really cute bag with raffia handles to put it in, and you feel no regrets for a little while about this decision to buy this notebook.
But then a week passes. The notebook is still in its painfully cute little bag that maybe has a whale on it or a type-written phrase like, “books are my lifeblood.” And now you’re sitting at your desk side-eyeing the bag and you’re thinking, “I guess I don’t really know about this whale songs essay after all. I mean, this notebook is just SO NICE. I don’t want to fuck it up by writing something dumb in it. Maybe I should save it? I want to make sure I get the writing that is going to go in this notebook right. I’ll just take it out of the bag. I’ll just take another look at it.”
And you take it out of the bag and you’re thinking, “Wow, it’s even prettier than I remembered. Do I dare write in this beautiful thing? Here. I’ll stick it in a drawer with all the other lovely thing I own but am not ready to use yet.” And in it goes with the cardboard box of kitsch watercolor greeting cards you got at an art market, and the as-of-yet unstamped rubber stamp of a fern, and the set of five brush pens from France that your aunt gave you as a graduation present like twelve years ago. The new notebook becomes one in a museum of things you own that are too nice to actually use; things you should save for when they “really count.”
But then ten years pass. You still haven’t unwrapped the notebook (or the clock movement set, or the sun print paper, or the little vial of ink for a special dip pen, or the special dip pen itself). You’re not all that into mushrooms anymore, even. And you’ve started (but not finished) plenty of other, less interesting notebooks on other quests to do something new and different and exciting with your writing this time. And then you think that maybe you should just give this notebook away as a present. But who would want it? So you close the drawer and move on with your life, and you buy ever-more notebooks, and you never send off that manuscript for the book that is going to be better than the graphic novel about ghosts like you always swore you would.
You’ve made a few crucial, but understandable mistakes. Don’t despair! They’re easily fixable. As you move forward in life, simply follow the following rules about notebooks:
Treat nothing as though it is precious. Lovely things are meant to be used. I’m talking about guided journals, books of stickers, embossing powder, all of it. There is not ever going to be a better day to use the nice thing than today. The nice thing will not be more satisfying in ten years. Use the nice thing and break it if it comes down to it. At least then you’ve done something. Kinetic energy is more interesting than potential energy. Fill the damn notebook, and let it be full of dumb, stupid lists. Let it be full of terrible drawings. The only way to get better at anything is to practice, and as for nice things: you can’t take them with you. Tomorrow a piano may fall on your head, and your family will wonder what to do with the tiny cellophane bags, old collage books, and gold foil wrappers you’ve amassed over the years, waiting for a day to use them.
Disregard all the silly rules you have imposed upon your notebooks. In the past you have thought, “This one is for drawings, that one is for ideas, this other one is for story beginnings, and that’s my journal.” You’ll never keep track of all these boxed-in notebooks. Go ahead and make a list in your diary. Write your weekly schedule in the one where you were going to make comics. The only rule for your notebook is that you intend to finish writing in it. You are going to fill every dang page of the thing, and you don’t get a new notebook until you’re done.
To that effect, you will need to promise yourself that when you get to the last page of your notebooks, you will earn a sticker. I don’t know where you’re going to put these stickers — personally, I have a sticker chart that hangs by my desk. I get a sticker prize every time I accomplish anything that no one but me is going to care about. Did I go to the gym today? Sticker. Did I manage to shave my legs even though it’s winter and no one will ever see? Sticker. Cleaned the oven? Changed the sheets? Finished a skincare regimen? Sticker sticker sticker. It’s easier to get to the end of a task when you know that you will get a pretty sticker to stick wherever you want after you have done the task. Your first grade teacher who used to do this for you when you were six is too busy now to give you the stickers, but you are not too busy to give them to yourself. Be a grownup and create your own G-D sticker chart.
Use the notebooks you already have. Just use them. I don’t care that you already wrote in them eleven years ago when you were keeping a food log; those pages aren’t tainted, and you have my permission to move on and use the thousand blank pages following the three calorie-counting ones for whatever you want. Friend, you may not buy a single new notebook until you have filled up all the ones you already have.
And once they’re all full (!!!), the next new notebook you buy is going to be a no-brainer. It will be such a delicious gift that you give yourself: a single blank notebook that is as buttery and smooth as you’ve ever imagined a notebook to be. And it’ll never go in a drawer, because you need it now! A person always needs a notebook. Just one. And you’ll never feel guilt around notebook-related finances ever again.