Thursday, 25 January 2018

What is it with Authors and Stationery? by Jo Franklin

It is a truth universally acknowledged that authors are totally obsessed with stationery. I mean seriously, hopelessly, dangerously obsessed.

Notebooks and pens are the tools or our trade. Even with computers, tablets and phones, authors often need a piece of paper to scribble something down on. An overheard conversation on the bus. A curious conjunction of a piece of litter and a park railing. A cute dog watching the world go by from a seventh floor window. Writers are curious and observant and need to capture those observations before they vanish into the ether. So every author carries a notebook around with them.

My favourite handbag notebooks are like a passport and come from Muji. They are slim and easily slip into my bag. I use them to make notes if I go to a seminar, scribble plot points that come to me as the tram hurtles round the bend towards the next station or even to write the latest list of items I desperately need from Rymans.

I also try and keep a notebook for each project I'm working on. These are the well recognised hardback notebooks made by Moleskine or Leuchtturm. I use the A5 size as they are big enough to fit lots of words on the page but not to big to be intimidating. An empty page can be very frightening for an author. The larger the page, the more words are required to fill it, so in most cases I stick with A5 maximum.

My project notebooks often don't get filled to the end. I begin religiously making notes in the way that I think proper authors do - yep, seven books in, I still have to convince myself daily that I am as much a proper author as Stephen King or Michael Morpurgo. Notes on character, notes on setting, research notes. To be honest, I rarely go back to them. But like writing down revision notes, the act of putting pen to paper ensures that the information seeps into my brain in some form of other, ready to reappear in a different form at a later point.  As my project progresses from being a bundle of ideas to an actual piece of work, I forget about my smart hardback book and move onto something cheaper.

I use a disposable notebook to write my first drafts. I always write long hand in the first instance and once I get going, my thoughts tumble out of the tip of my pain at great, illegible speed. I cross things out, leave sentences hanging unfinished and write the same thought six different ways at times. I find a spiral bound A5 notebook is best for this phase of writing. For some reason, I like the continental grid style so I tend to buy these notebooks from Lidl. The paper is good quality but the books inexpensive (99p) and I get through about twenty a year. As soon as I have typed up today's chapter, I rip the pages out so that I have a blank page ready to write on the next day.

Larger format notebooks feature in my life too. I use them when I want to make BIG plans. I use BIG writing and draw scruffy pictures that could be buildings or people or arrows or anything or maybe nothing. I think visually even though I have no skill as an artist. Expressing myself in big writing seems to unleash my creativity when an idea is still tiny and new.

My passion for stationery, led me to set up a website with Anita Loughrey where we explore the relationship between writers and their stationery. Everyone has their own quirks and preferences and the articles make fascinating reading.

Do you have a notebook obsession? Which brand? Format?  Or is colour your thing?

My name is Jo Franklin and I am a stationery addict.


Lynne Benton said...

Oh Jo, so am I! I just can't resist spiral-bound A5 notebooks, and have a huge stack of them (all slightly different, so they're just right for different things) Never thought of tearing out the pages I've typed up, though - maybe that would reduce the amount of space they all take up... Thanks for a really interesting post.

Jo Franklin said...

Hi Lynne,
Spiral-bound notebooks of the world unite! If I don't rip out the pages, I get muddled up with what I have typed up.

Sue Bursztynski said...

I buy my exercise books during the summer school holidays when they’re going cheap. And display books to hold printouts and research materials.

I remember reading an essay by Stephen King in which he recalls being given a ream of green paper during university and drooling over it because for a writer stationery is like a fifth of Scotch.