Writers and Their Notebooks

Writers and their Notebooks coverWriters and Their Notebooks
edited by Diana M. Raab
University of South Carolina Press (May 1, 2018), 206 pages
Kindle edition $11.99
purchased during an Early Bird Books sale for $2.99

I had not intended to review this book here. I always keep a couple of books on my iPhone to read at odd moments during downtime or while waiting somewhere. When I saw Writers and Their Notebooks on sale I thought it would fit nicely into this category. It did.

The editor asked several published writers to document how they used notebooks. There were a variety of responses, but some common themes. A few writers talked about having a small notebook they carried with them to write down thoughts. Many talked about having a journal in which they wrote their reflections. Several discussed having a diary as a child or teenager. A lot of the respondents described how the particular format was important to them. They used a very specific type of notebook, and often a particular kind of pen.

The editor divided the book into five parts, all beginning with “The Journal as…” Her categories are tool, survival, travel, muse, and life. The essays in each section describe how the writer used their journal in that particular fashion. Authors in the tool section, for example, turned to their journals to extract plot points for their fiction. One writer in the travel section wrote he was not a regular journal keeper, but when he received this assignment he decided to keep a journal on an upcoming foreign trip.

There was a consensus that these journals were for the writer’s eyes only. One author wrote that her journals were not to be made public after her death. Another writer threw all of his journals into the trash compactor in his apartment building. It was the rare exception who suggested that blogging had replaced journal keeping.

I was a serious journal keeper for the two years I remained in Claremont after I had graduated from college. Those blank books at B. Dalton Bookseller where I worked were just too tempting. (I may still have those in a box somewhere in the garage.) I also kept carbon copies of typed letters sent to friends in a three-ring binder. These days I am one of those people for whom blogging has replaced writing in a journal.

The editor provides some resources in the back of the book. An appendix entitled “Use Journaling to Spark Your Writing” seemed a bit directive and overdone to me. More useful are two bibliographies, “Published Journals and References” (there are those authors who are happy to make their journals public) and “Books on Writing.”

For someone wondering how journal writing might be helpful for them Writers and Their Notebooks might be a useful tool.

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