‘The Write Tools’: a blog series featuring authors, artists and their favourite tools.
Today's guest is UK author, journalist and editor Jean Hannah Edelstein. American-born Jean is the author of Himglish and Femalese, and contributor to publications including The Guardian, The Independent, The Australian, Conde Nast Traveller and Glamour. She has also published short fiction.
My Jean Book came from Mexico City, a gift from my then-flatmate Ben on return from a work trip. Ben handed it to me with a flourish upon his return (our other flatmate got a terrifying leather wrestling mask) and I beamed and declared: this notebook will be for my most important thoughts.
It’s a modest notebook. Adolescent, too. It reminds me of the ones I’d buy when I was in high school in an attempt to inject a little sparkle into the drudgery of math class (no coincidence that there’s a space in the front to write down my name and colegio), albeit with a special eponymous touch. The Jean Book has a thick cardboard cover that could withstand abuse in a knapsack and paper crosshatched with blue lines, essential for giving some order to what one friend at uni called (while cribbing from my lecture notes) ‘your goddamn loopy handwriting’.
It’s now been about two years that my Jean Book has lived on my bedside table, waiting with the utmost patience for my important thoughts, ageing with the grace of a favourite pair of Levis. My stamina for writing longhand has decreased precipitously since I got top marks for penmanship in the late 1980s, and as such the Jean Book serves more as a launch pad than a volume for real drafts. I start writing in it when the blink cursor on the screen is too daunting, scrawling out a few paragraphs until I feel confident that I’ve got something worth taking further, or when my brain starts thinking faster than my hand can move -- the surest sign that I’ve broken through to the other side of writers’ block.
The Jean Book is thus a collection of unformed thoughts, a launch pad rather than a proper home for first drafts. It feels like a bit of a dirty secret: I spy the orderly Moleskines of other writers who I know and admire and imagine how they’d shudder to glimpse the chaos of my notebook. And alongside ideas that did launch, when I flip through the pages of my Jean Book it’s impossible not to notice all of the ones that failed to thrive. I’d no doubt delete them if I’d started them on my laptop, but in the Jean Book they are committed, painful little reminders that my most important thoughts are not always my best ideas.
Half a dozen times a year, I swear that I will be more disciplined: start projects long before their deadlines, make outlines, write proper drafts. In longhand. I never do. When I’m honest with myself I admit that it’s unlikely that I’ll ever be as prolific or diligent or successful as my heroes. But on the days when it feels like I will never write anything of merit again, I can flip back through the gridded pages of my Jean Book and see a sentence that blossomed into a newspaper article or a scrap of description that became a short story. Plotting the course of two of the most important years of my writing career, my Jean Book always provides the reminder that I do have the ability, at least once in awhile, to turn my most important thoughts into things that other people might like to read. Which is why I know that I'll keep it forever.