Somewhat continuing the theme from Monday here by pointing out that if you’re serious about writing, or even just moderately enthusiastic, you’re going to wind up doing it longhand at one point or another. Some people absolutely swear by it, and write everything by hand; for others, it’s strictly out of necessity. But the necessity does arise — at train stations, at the relatives’ house for a visit, at really boring parties — and it’s good to be prepared for it.
My father was a Boy Scout and a gentleman; from a very early age my brother and I were reminded to never go anywhere without a pocketknife, a handkerchief, and a comb (I still carry all of them). To his list I have added a pen, which I believe he also generally carries, and a small journal, which he does not. Lest the word should be misleading, let me clarify — the “journal” is not a personal diary, organized record of my thoughts, or neatly-arranged draft of a single specific work (or even several specific works), though it may at times function like any or all of those. It is a small, fat collection of bound pagers, easily slipped into a pocket or the back of the belt that I always (Dad, again) wear, which I fill with whatever I happen to need to write down.
This is just common sense. They are the tools of the trade. I assume that plumbers usually have a few wrenches and things kicking around the back of their trunk even when they’re not on a specific job; same basic principle. I’ll never be one of those writers that has neatly-indexed notebooks for specific projects, though I sometimes wish I could be when I’m rummaging through my last three full journals looking for that one damn paragraph that sounded so good, but I recognize the need to always be prepared for those precious moments of inspiration. They may well get rammed in between a couple of grocery lists, but the lists — and the writing — are in my journal, safe from cats, housecleaning roommates (ha!), stray breezes, or my own careless misplacing. Scratch paper, better than nothing in a pinch, isn’t a reliable tool for the long-term.
As far as the form and function of the thing goes, I expect everyone has their own preference. I hate lined paper; my girlfriend can’t write without it. She travels everywhere with a pack, and can use a full-sized 8.5×11″ notebook; I travel obsessively light, and tend toward the smallest journal that I can still wedge my hand between the pages of. Organization comes out to be a similar matter of taste, from the aforementioned separate-project-separate-notebook types to my own undated, unannotated scribbles, though after a few frustrating events to find what I’m looking for, I think I can put in a fairly well-educated opinion in favor of the more organized approach. Some people will even do all their writing longhand, only transferring the final draft to typewritten or word-processed pages — I couldn’t do it, but the creative process is weird and different enough for everyone that if that’s what they have to do to get a book out, I’m not going to be the one to tell them “no.” I might still suggest a separate, smaller journal for day-to-day life and the occasional scribble, though — you never know when the next inspiration is going to hit, and if it’s a big one, you probably don’t want it sandwiched in between two sections of a totally different draft.
Of course, as with any centralization of data, a certain vulnerability has to be considered, which was recently driven home when I lost a journal full of a great deal of random thoughts, many notes on my shifts at work, months of grocery lists, and perhaps two or three very messily-written pages of genuinely worthwhile writing. Barring the notebook’s reappearance somewhere unexpected, that particular writing is gone for good. Some may reappear in slightly-altered form in something else, if it comes to me; some I don’t even remember writing, and will probably never think of again. But at least I wrote it once, and without the notebook, I couldn’t even say that.