Ode to Paper

Happy 4th of July!

In my previous blog entry, I wrote about keeping journals as a way to stay creative and focused. 

There’s another benefit beyond feeding the muse, and that’s the joy of collecting journals themselves.  Do you journal on your computer or any old scrap of paper that comes your way?  Are you trying to be creatively practical by journaling on the back of junk-mail envelopes?  No good!

My first memory of becoming persnickety about the paper I write on stems from first grade and the first week of school.  Pre-school didn’t exist when I was a child, and I didn’t attend kindergarten, so my formal education began at age six. 

My mom assures me that I was keen to go.  All I remember is that within the first hour I was tired of being cooped up, especially when I learned–the hard way–that I wasn’t allowed to leave the room or the building whenever I pleased.  By lunchtime, I’d had enough!

But this is about paper, not my early disillusionment with the educational system.

After that first day, Mom and I went to the store to buy pencils and a spiral notebook.  I remember wanting an aqua-blue one because it had silky-smooth paper.  I instinctively knew that the paper quality was far superior to the red notebook Mom favored.  She chose the red one because it cost less, and nothing I said convinced her to buy the aqua one.

That first notebook launched a year of disappointment as I scratched my laborious way over the rough, cheaply pressed fibers, practicing my letters and the rudiments of arithmetic.  I became a paper snob. 

To this day, when I purchase writing paper or journals, certain little subjective tests have to be passed.  It always starts with the paper.  How smooth is it?  Has it been coated?  Does it have a texture?  Is it flimsy or thick weight?  Is the ink going to glide or smear?

Are the pages blank or lined?  If I’m going to make work-in-progress notes, I want the pages college-ruled.  Wide-ruled turns me off, and always has.  If I’m going to write in a journal, I want blank pages with no lines at all.  Lines are regimental and force a conformity that has no place in my free-writing entries.

How tight is the binding?  In spiral notebooks, I want to flip to the center and see the pages slightly sticking together along the perforations for the wire binding.  That tells me the notebook is new and hasn’t been over-handled before it comes to me.  The pages are clean and very, very fresh.  They will receive my ideas well.

In journals, I dislike spiral bindings that lie flat.  I like a journal that’s sewn or glued like a hardcover book.  I want to have to wrestle a little with it to write deep in the central gutter.  I want it to be stiff, like a book that hasn’t been opened before.

I prefer these two journal types over all the rest. The blue one is a hardbound sketchbook covered in buckram cloth, small, durable, and acid free. The black one is much fancier with a leather cover that goes over soft-bound refills.

Last, but hardly least, I mull over the cover.  Cheap composition notebooks–admittedly flimsy and designed to be disposable–now come in snazzy colors and graphics.  I use them as I develop new fiction ideas.  I can list potential character names and work out their spellings.  I can draw maps, inject paragraphs of description, figure out my protagonist’s family tree, and draft a few pages of character introduction. 

These notebooks are easy to carry. I hate that their pages are wide-ruled, but the colors inspire me.

When purchasing composition notebooks, I pick colors and designs that are fun and make me happy.  I figure if I smile when I see them, I’ll be more inclined to pick one up and work.  Each idea-in-development is assigned its own color, so I can reference them easily.  And if I happen to have the wrong idea book with me when inspiration strikes and I scribble notes anyway, it’s no trouble to tear out the page and stick it in the correct notebook later.  After all, these are working books and far from cherished.

When it comes to a journal, however, the cover is very important.  It has to be beautiful or stately, worthy in some indefinable way of my most secret musings.  In other words, I don’t want cute bunnies cavorting on the cover, or Mary Englebreit designs however appealing, or glitter.  That isn’t to say I don’t have such journals, but they’re for other purposes in my life than my innermost thoughts.

For example, when I got my first dog–a feisty little Scottish terrier–I kept a journal of his first year.  It was his baby book, if you will, and bound in gray, black, and scarlet plaid cloth.  The appropriateness of that cover to its subject still makes me smile.

When I got my current pair of Scotties, I was determined to keep a journal of their first year as well.  Someone had given me a handsome journal with a cover that looked like braided leather.  It looked good, but the binding glue was weak.  Before the puppy year ended, the wretched thing was cracking, with pages falling out.  It was unworthy of its purpose.  I hate even opening it.

I use the cute little Mary Englebreit book to make Christmas lists in.  Another gift journal with a pretty scenic cover serves to record my triumphs–or defeats–in piecing quilts.

These small journals are superb. The red one went with me to England. The brown one went with me to Greece. The paper edges are gilded to keep out dust. They haven't faded in all these years. I wish they were still available.

But for my important, personal journals . . .  for a long time I used cloth-covered hardcover sketchbooks.  They were slim, had good-quality acid-free paper free of ruled lines, and cost very little at Borders.  They came in an assortment of colors, and their propensity to catch dust helped remind me to keep my private journal tucked out of sight.

This journal looks pretty serious, doesn't it?

Then I strayed, and purchased a large leather-bound journal complete with place-marking ribbon.  It’s black with a classy ribbed spine.  In fact, I consider it a tome.  There’s nothing about it that shrieks “Diary!”  I’ve used it for several years now, and as its contents are over an inch thick, it can pretty much last a year before I run out of pages.  It’s designed to be refilled.  Eventually I discovered that Levenger stocks refills that fit okay. ( Thanks, Steve! )  Handsome, excellent quality, and practical.  Call me satisfied.

These refills happen to fit my leather cover fairly well. They're expensive, but they hold a lot.

And then there are the silk-covered journals.  I have two.  They shimmer with a depth and richness of color that makes me sigh each time I hold one.  These have also been gifts.  One is bold, luscious red.  The other is a Moleskine in the most divine hue of bronzed apricot. 




So much so that I’ve never written a word in either.  I keep waiting for the muse to let me know what they’re for.

A friend once advised me to get over such beauty by putting a scribble on the first page.  I can’t bring myself to do it.  I feel that these books should hold the plans and ideas for my Great American Novel, the story of such genius it will wow and astonish the world.

I know that’s absurd and even unprofessional, but if writers, artists, and children do not cling to folly at least part of the time, what will become of us?

Hail set the morning glory vine back to a tiny stub, but aren't the flags pretty in this urn? I got the idea from Mr. Cottrell's Memorial Day display. Check out his blog at myoldhistorichouse.blogspot.com.


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3 responses to “Ode to Paper

  1. Love those flags in that urn!!!!! Thanks for coming by to visit. Richard at My Old Historic house.

    • How kind of you to come to my blog. I used to stick those flags along the edge of the front flowerbed, but the urn is so much better. Thanks for giving me the idea!


  2. CurtissAnn

    Well, I love the flag drape on the fence. And the wisdom about journals. I have everyone for uhmmm…years. I’m not certain I could live without a journal- paper and pen- now. I am reading this on my iPad. I bought a reader app, and dang but I cannot not comment with it. What good is that? Live and learn. So good to read your writing.

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