A reader recently asked if I’d consider writing a post about how I use my notebook. Since then, I’ve been paying closer attention to how I use my notebook — or notebooks actually — and the answer is: pathologically.
Because I have too many of them. So I’m going to break this up a bit. Today: my reading notebook (there is also my writing notebook, and notebooks for lists, orphan lines, craft, lexicon, and… some other stuff).
The reading and writing notebooks are the ones I would take if the house were burning down, though I would hate to lose the rest of them. Really hate. Oh… I can’t even think about that.
Longtime readers know that reading is crucial to my generative process. As I read, I circle and underline, check and star, make notes on the poem’s architecture. I jot down words that seem important, complex, or rich in some way, or that are just beautiful. For many years, I wrote lists of words from what I was reading on a sheet of looseleaf, and then dropped it in my file folder called “Wordbanks.” Then the nature of my jottings grew. I began copying down lines that were especially interesting to me maybe because of their syntax, or because of a particularly stunning metaphor. I’d take little notes about themes, elements of craft, signature moves of the poet I was reading. After a while, I’d end up with all these looseleaf pages, and then my clipboard where I kept them while in-progress would disappear (ahem, children), and it all began to feel unwieldy, so I started keeping my jottings in a notebook instead. Thus: the reading notebook.
I still take the same kinds of “notes” — lists of words, lines that I want to pattern on or practice, points of craft, etc. — but now they’re all together. Genius (ha, ha). I use the lists of words for wordbanks — selecting 10 or so randomly and attempting to use them in a poem and/or freewrite. Or, I’ll look for a line that makes my small-lightning-zap-of-poetic-intuition light up, and do a freewrite on that line (more on freewrites in an upcoming post).
The reading notebook is also a resource for revision. Many times, when I need just the right word during revision, I’ll page through lists of words in my reading notebook (and/or the file of wordbanks) and find that word. Or I’ll go back to the jotted-down lines and look for a syntactical pattern that might help unstick a stuck poem.
Sometimes I feel silly writing down lists of words and copying lines. Except that it helps me write poems, so I keep doing it. For me there’s a mysterious power to writing something down on paper. It lodges in me in a way that it can’t if I’m just reading it. It becomes, I think, a seed. And not every seed grows into something, but as Thoreau says, “Convince me you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders” (thank you, little calendar I have on my kitchen counter, for the Thoreau quote).
So, that’s how I read poetry and use my reading notebook. Next up — maybe later this week, or maybe next week — the writing notebook. Happy reading and writing to you.
“…there’s a mysterious power to writing something down…” YES, holy yes. It matters. It makes a difference.
Loved learning about your reading notebooks.
I forgot to mention that you are the Source of Wordbankery! Thank you forever for that.
Wordbankery is really close to Wordbakery…yum. (You’re welcome forever!)
Wait, I’m not the only one who has a brazillion notebooks for different Literary Purposes? I have one for Things I Collect (lines, words, inspiration, etc.), for SFDs (very rudimentary not-quite-even-a-draft drafts), for actual first drafts (neater and more thought through but not yet ready for the Official Type-Up) and another for To Do Lists (an account of where I am in the writing/revision/submission process on a working, day-to-day basis. Not to be confused with actual computer-ized “Submissions” spreadsheet).
There’s also a notebook in which non-literary items are permitted, like day job stuff and shopping lists and so on. And, of course, printed out poems with revisions scribbles all over the place.
You are not alone. 🙂
Pathological notebook-users, unite! My approach is different from yours, but definitely relies upon too many notebooks!
Always good to know we’re not alone… 🙂
Reblogged this on The Writers' Room.
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