Old school exercise books – that’s the first place I used to write fiction – overwrought poems and scraps of prose which never went anywhere much. Then later on I used stationery pilfered from work – A4 sheets of paper which I kept in bundles in supermarket carrier bags.

I’ve written on the odd beermat too when I was younger – scrawling what I thought were witty and incisive prose-poems, which magically transformed themselves by the morning light into drunken gibberish.

I first started buying notebooks because I needed to keep material together properly rather than have it floating around the place where I couldn’t find it when I needed it. By now the notes in these books were the first drafts of proper stories which would later make it onto a file on the computer ready for rewriting into something which made sense. Those first notebooks were the cheapest I could find, gaudy looking tat from pound shops, spiral bound with pages which kept falling out.

Buying the cheapest available was more than just a way of saving money – it was a kind of inverted snobbery – I thought fledging writers who bought expensive notebooks were deluding themselves into believing that the posh book made their writing better. Not me though, oh no, I would rather have pages which fell out and got lost.

These days though, I’m a proper notebook snob. Moleskine I use. They are the preposterously expensive ones which have their own rack in stationary shops. They come with a leaflet full of PR copy which attempts to convince you that they are worth the fancy price tag because Ernest Hemmingway and Bruce Chatwin used to use them when they were adventuring their way round the globe, scribbling down bon mots. I suppose using them is the writing equivalent of buying a certain brand of football boots because Messi wears them.

In my defence I would say – they are the right shape, the right size, they’re light and portable. They feel right and look right. You can use them on the bus without drawing attention to yourself. But yes – they are a tenner a pop – bare minimum – I know, you could get a book with words in for that – you could get my book, when it’s out. Though admittedly that wouldn’t be much use if you wanted to write in it as you’d have to painstakingly Tippex out all the words in it first.

How did I go from the cheapest book available to one of the more expensive? Well it wasn’t an overnight sea-change in behaviour – it came gradually, over a period of years. But I suppose what sparked it was the realisation that, though having a posh notebook definitely doesn’t make you a better writer, having a rubbish one doesn’t make you a better writer either.

9 thoughts on “Notebooks”

  1. Omar Khyyam said; The moving writes, and having writ, passes on’. I think he was looking at a wall in the gents’ at the time.

  2. Great post, Chris. Thanks 🙂

    Though I would not call myself a fiction writer (in that I do not craft the fiction I write), I simply cannot write fiction on the computer, like I can my non-fiction. And yes, I have to confess, I’m a snobby Moleskin man. They are great 🙂 Ta.

  3. I went from writing in notebooks I’d bought from a car boot sale to a leather-bound A4 notebook by Aspinal on London. It was a lot more expensive than the moleskin notebooks, but it adds to the sense of occasion when I do write in it. Shame about my handwriting, though. If I were a notebook, I’d get disillusioned by the scruffiness of my journal-ist’s hand.

  4. Being a cheapskate, I scribble on whatever comes my way, often gifts (what do you give a writer?). Moleskines a happy twice, but mostly A5 notebooks with meant-to-be inspiring covers. Favourite: The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory. Wince: cover full of great, i.e. dead, writers’ names, with Jane Austen misspelt.

  5. I have a few very nice notebooks … sadly, I like ones with glittery covers and lots of wide apart lines… but I do carry round a pack of postits, because I can then stick them to my screen. What I jot down in a notebook frequently stays in the notebook, as I forget I’ve written it.

    1. I know what you mean about forgetting bits and pieces – sometimes I do the opposite and put them in the book twice though – or three times even. Raymond Carver used to do post-its – and Nabokov used to write notes on postcards and keep them in his socks – I’m not making this up.

  6. I have a small notebook for my bag, when I’m out and about. And an exercise book for general notes/diary at home. Then a notebook for each project (one for short stories, another for the novel, another for the travel writing). Which is ridiculous, I know

    And when I’m travelling – I use whatever I can find. Moleskin notebooks haven’t made it to the rural corners of Kerala, nor the jungles of Nepal. But I’ve a great collection of unlikely notebooks that I picked up along the way, and used for all my travelling notes.

    1. Wow – that’s a lot of notebooks! I get confused if I have more than one on the go at a time – but I do end up writing one thing in the front another in the back etc

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