Saturday, September 18, 2010

On Notebooks

Following on from her great celebration of nature documentaries, Kate Holden has a nice piece in today's Age on handwriting.  Holden writes:
One of the nicest gifts you can give — and one of the increasingly most bloody useless — is the deluxe notebook. As in the blank pages kind, not the miniature computer.
Concomitant with the expansion of notebook manufacture that sees every bookshop in the land stocking at least several thousand beautifully made, exquisitely decorated and heinously expensive bound beauties, people are forgetting how to write by hand. Handwriting! It's exhausting!
Holden's right that deluxe notebooks are often useless.  But handwriting deterioration is just part of the problem.  They're also useless because they're usually over-decorated, cheaply-made gift-items, which aren't designed for really writing in.  They're for giving, receiving, looking at, then putting away.

For example, the paper's often flimsy and rough.  It bleeds ink.  It's scratchy to write on.  The binding's rarely made to lay the book flat - it cracks during long sessions.  Then you add a ballpoint: more pressure's needed, cramping the arm.  And the ink coagulates, blots and skips.

I don't know Holden, but I know she's a professional writer.  Her mates might like to skip the deluxe, Tibetan monk-blessed notebooks with Klimt prints in gold leaf, and shout her some writerly tools: a well-made pen, some reliable ink, and a proper writing journal.  The pen might be a Pelikan M215 with an EF nib.  The notebook might be a Quo Vadis Habana.  It depends on Holden's bent.  The point is this: as I've argued for fountain pens, the right tools add to the craft.

Yes, we can write with computers, flimsy writing pads, or chalk on asphalt.  And there's no need to be precious about it. But there's nothing wrong with appreciating fine tools - and being encouraged or stimulated by them. It's part of the job.

6 comments:

Gondal-girl said...

sigh - post makes me realise it has been two years since I sincerely made handwriting my daily writing ritual - however my handwriting does diminish into made Stravinsky like leaps and dashes, like a possessed ballet dancer - I do like to commune with a good paper...

Damon Young said...

I find a fine nib helps stops the pirouetting. It encourages a tighter, more specific hand.

But this is because I lack discipline. I need the nib to provide it for me.

Kate said...

Hi Damon and thanks for mentioning (and liking!) my column (I enjoy yours too). You're so right about the correct paper and ink -- should have included that -- all the difference between scratching hopelessly on that pretty-but-awful Tibetan paper, and a nib sinking in sweetly to a fine paper stock.

You've inspired me to buy a fountain pen again -- like my will to handwrite, the last one was lost.

Peter Fyfe said...

And let us not forget the ink that fills the pen... that miracle liquid that possess what Gaston Bachelard calls "an affinity for paper". It also has indelibility - the permanence that seems required to truly reveal our hand.

Damon Young said...

K: Groovy. My proselytising scores another spiritual victory for the forces of good. I'd be keen to hear what you pick up (and how it writes). And then there's ink...

PF: You know Noodler's makes 'eternal inks'. A chemical concession to permanence.

Sid said...

I have wasted so much money on notebooks that turned out to be good for anything but writing in, that i now use 32lb grade laser-jet printer paper to d almost all my writing on. It is a good, cheap , alternative. In a pinch, I will use 28lb or 24lb grade printer paper. These papers work very well with my wet writing fountain pens,with no bleed-through or feathering of the ink.
-Sid from Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA