My friend Sejal Shah recently published an article in the Kenyon Review blog about handwritten postcards. Simultaneously, a discussion has been brewing on a similar topic at Cafe Blue Writers, a group I've been part of since 1998.
Poet David Graham posted about his notebooks. What he said was so similar to what I planned to post that I was able to embed my few changes, in green:
DG: Like many writers I guess I'm kind of obsessive & ritualistic. So not only do I have notebooks, I have, to be specific, 82
DG: more or less identical notebooks, all filled with words written in black--never blue, green, red--ink.
J: mostly black or blue, occasionally red or green
DG: Always 2 or 3 blank ones on the shelf ready to go. Began doing this in 1975,
J: 1981 at age of 11
DG: and probably will continue till I die or become unable to write. Each notebook is 6x9", college ruled; and for the past 15 or 20 years I've favored the kind with plastic covers, because these notebooks often travel in backpacks, suitcases, and duffel bags, and cardboard covers sometimes fall off. The best are Mead 5-Star, and if they ever stop making them, I'll no doubt shrivel up & turn to dust.
J: composition notebooks, college ruled if I can get them, in early years black notebooks, in recent years green if I can get them.
DG: I go back & revisit old journals less & less often, I find, but from time to time I do some excavating.
J: I excavate journal while I'm still in it, waiting usually a month or more to see what might be worth further work. I frequently go back to older notebooks, more and MORE often, by which I mean maybe twice a year where it used to be once or nonce.
DG: Mostly the journals have been where I beginthings--poems, essays, lectures, even letters sometimes. Not much is diaristic: very little about my travels or what I ate or who I talked to on a day to day basis. It's raw material for my "finished" writing, random, and for my eyes only. Practically everything I've ever published has started as a daily scribble in my notebooks. First draft in journal, sometimes 2nd through 4th; but at some point it moves to the computer when I think I might have a real fish on the line.
I like the low-tech nature of writing by hand; the slowness of it; the physicality; the quiet; the portability. I don't like the fact that my handwriting has gotten steadily worse, so that sometimes I have trouble deciphering what I've written.
DG: Storage is a problem. 82 notebooks take up a lot of shelf space. Not sure what I'll do with them once we are forced to downsize out of the rather large house we've been in for going on 30 years. . . .
J: I keep the older notebooks in a box in my closet. I'm actually surprised at how LITTLE space they take up. One moving-box size carton of notebooks, plus another carton filled with diaries, letters, and odds and ends, all handwritten. I hope that someday a library will be willing to accept my papers as a donation, but I'm a ways away from finding out. DG, if Ripon's library doesn't want your notebooks, I will eat my hat. Contact the archivist/curator and see what happens!
Writer Dwain Kitchel had this to say:
DK: i have about 30 first one is a secretarial notebook of 80 pages for 39 cents titled creative writting (yes spelled like that)and dated to 72 am sure this from a class i took in school. first entry is:
Traffic Court 8/30/72
The round faced man
slaps down my hand
and smiles at me
in his greed
'More than you can' this section has a notation by the teacher What does this mean?
answers the fan
sure of the guilty
'Sometimes it's better to forget rhyme if it restricts clear expression of thought'
dear teacher, thinking back i have lived by these words...thank you
On a related topic, the editors at Menacing Hedge have a side project, Scary Bush, where MH authors can share their juvenalia, much of which is handwritten. As you can see, I've contributed a couple of embarrassing scans over the years.
And by the way, I'm not the only person in the world who loves green composition notebooks.