What to Give a Writer? Notebooks Say “Go For It!”

Writers have this thing for good paper and pens.

My brother, a mathematician, liked nothing better than to sit beside a stack of yellow legal pads and a “bouquet of newly sharpened pencils.”  My own obsession is hard to explain without sounding a bit neurotic. My personal fetish for notebooks was indulged over the years by gifts from my husband and students who have occasionally splurged on luxurious Italian journals.  I remember with great appreciation those that came from a shop called Il Papiro on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan.  The covers were made of marbled paper, and my favorites had pages that were blank.  On one occasion I was given a journal with a soft leather cover that trailed a tether that wound round the tablet of paper and tied in a knot, a Florentine design that has been handed down since the Renaissance.

I often carry a notebook, but usually it’s the humble school supply favorite, the marbled notebook. It’s always there.  When I lived in New York, I used to go to Chinese grocery stores to stock up on beautiful black or red notebooks, with opposite colored triangles on the corners, that came in all shapes and sizes.  I bought the ones that sold for a dollar. For the doodler, the free thinker, the art sketch books are gorgeous, and of course, there’s my son’s favorite, the graph paper Moleskin just the size of your pocket.

To a writer, the gift of a journal is a vote of confidence, an encouragement to be creative and think, to fill up the pages for the sake of writing itself.   Jack Kerouac once wrote up a list of imperatives to the modern writer, called “Belief and Technique of Modern Prose.”  His first on the list: 1. scribbled secret notebooks and wild typewritten pages fr your own joy.”  The notebook is a first tablet where the writer’s mind view can find its most honest expression, uncensored, un-judged, unedited.  Kerouac urged modern writers to go with the heart and in the spirit of jazz, follow the associations to emotionally honest and daring points of epiphany.  Uncensored writing is personal and it is private and that is what makes it real.

The point of carrying around this notebook is to have it handy at random moments of inspiration, the kind of process where you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s already written. As Kerouac said, “something that you feel will find its own form.” It’s footage.  Later, you can take down these ideas and brew them into something unexpected, a letter to the editor, an article about what to give writers during the holidays, you name it. Whatever the source, however humble, when you give a writer a notebook, it’s a gift that says “Go for it!”


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