Part 1: the proper tools.
I have a novel idea (in both senses of the word, ha) and over the last few weeks I have set to work writing out plans, thinking out character arcs, and all the other things you are supposed to do before you can convert brain waves into Word documents. The plot for this novel has been knocking around inside my skull for about five years, and though there have been a few false starts before, I really feel like I’ve got the whole thing pinned down and ready to write now. So, itching to get some words out, the first thing I did was, of course, go to every stationary shop in town and stare at the notebooks.
I like to handwrite my drafts, you see – my laptop is too clunky to haul between home and work everyday and is filled with games and Netflix and other destroyers of concentration. From an artistic perspective, it also just feels more creative to write things by hand: the words just flow out a little easier, and it imbues one with a kind of wanky pretentiousness that makes all those infodumps and rogue passive verbs feel positively Shakespearean. So I thought I would celebrate the decision to try and get this novel down by swapping my tatty bits of file paper for a sleeker, spiral-bound solution.
What happened next will blow your mind!
I couldn’t find one I liked. It was a waste of time. However, when I got home later that night I noticed a little black leather bound notebook buried away on my bookshelf. I remembered then that this little book was given to me two years before on my birthday by a group of close friends; I had never written in it, wanting to save it for something special. It occurred to me that this little notebook could be the perfect thing to start writing my novel in – what words are more special than the first proper draft of the novel you’ve been working on since you were seventeen?
That’s when the doubt set in. This notebook is seriously nice – beautiful black leather on the outside, unruled ivory card on the inside, and my friends’ names wishing me well inside the front cover. Could I spoil it by scribbling in stories of witches and monsters? I mean, I am pretty good at making myself barrel straight a through something and leaving the word-cull til last, but my spelling is atrocious, I change my mind on character names all the time, and I never finish anything anyway. I’d only ruin it.
Part 2: the proper attitude.
All I can say to those thoughts are ‘fuck you’. I was essentially deciding that the words I want to write aren’t worth the paper they are written on. Mad at myself for being such a coward, I immediately broke out the fanciest pen I own and scrawled the words ‘Myths and Legends’ at the top of the first page. (This later proved to be a bad idea when the outline I intended to write of the novel’s internal mythology turned into an overall plot summary, but still).
If you don’t have any confidence in yourself, you can’t expect anyone else to. Literally no one is ever going to notice or care that my fancy notebook is full of scribbles – if anyone does ever look at it, they will instead see that it is filled with something important to me: the elusive novel I have spent the last few years going on about.
The moral: always write in fancy notebooks.
I played a game recently called The Novelist. In the game you are asked to make a series of choices on the behalf of the game’s protagonist and his family, and what you choose affects how successful the novelist’s career and family life end up. At one point you are asked to choose whether to spend a bit of extra money you have on placing an advert for your novel in a magazine, or on a family-related matter; in my playthrough I chose the family, and my novelist wrote later in his little journal that his belief in himself was shaken. He took it as a vote of no-confidence in his writing.
This is why I use my fancy notebook now. It is a vote of confidence in myself, and in my ability; something every writer, artist, poet, dancer, or anyone else who is attempting to create something needs to have before they can expect anyone else to believe in them too.
In the wise words of Journey, don’t stop believing.
*Much applause and emotional scenes from the audience*
Edit 13th Nov: As of today I have filled that notebook from cover to cover with my scribblings, and moved on to an equally beautiful and special new one. Who would have thoughts that notebooks could give you such feels?