What does your notebook say about you?

If I die tomorrow, I will leave a pile of notebooks that could fill a small office.  Why I keep them, I have no idea.  Perhaps I’m under some misconception that in them might lie the secret to the greatest novel of the 21st century, or some poetry of undiscovered genius.  In fact, it’s more likely, if anyone ever manages to decipher them, that they will learn more about my eating, exercising and listing habits than my writing.

Recently I discovered a stash of notebooks that date back to when I was about fifteen.  Once I’d got over the embarrassment of bringing myself to look at some of the teenage drivel that was in them, something struck me, something that was very different in these notebooks to the ones I keep today.  In fact, there is an interesting progression in ‘notebooks of my life’ which would almost make a novel in itself.

Early notebooks contain largely poetry, or collections of words I like. There are snippets of poems that have struck me, song lyrics, some interesting and some appalling attempts of my own.  It’s pretty clear that at that stage in my life I was writing for the enjoyment of words (my enjoyment anyway – if not others’!).  And the handwriting is very, very neat.

As time goes on the poetry notebooks begin to be infiltrated by a little bit of journal type writing, about places I have been to, relationships of the moment, and so on.  But what’s interesting now, as the notebooks enter my twenties, is that the listing begins.  Little lists of things to do nestling incognito amongst the pure wordery.   The handwriting is getting worse.

By the time you get to my thirties the listing has become endemic.  There are shopping lists, things to do lists, things to eat lists, things not to eat and do lists, places to go lists, places not to go lists, things to read lists.  There are some plans for how to write more and write better.  There are lots of references to things to read.  The actual writing, however, is few and far between.  And the handwriting is appalling.

Part of the reason for this is technological.  Most of my actual writing notes go onto my computer these days.  And increasingly I find it difficult to read my own handwriting.  But I still love the idea of notebooks.  Consequently, as I enter the latter half of my thirties, there has been a new development.  First, the notebooks have become a lot prettier and a lot more expensive.  Secondly, they have categories.  There are large A4 ones and pocket ones, ones for writing and ones for drawing.  I have notebooks for recording places to eat, places to go, things to do, poetry, fiction, books I’ve enjoyed.  They’ve been organised.  A misguided observer might even be nudged towards the conclusion that I, myself, have become organised.

But if you want a real picture of the state of my brain, you need to look at the only notebook that really matters, the one I carry in my handbag, the one I use for the random thoughts that pop into my head at any time, the one that combines my plans for writing with my plans for shopping and housework, that shows, for any given period in time, where the priorities really lie.  Do other people’s notebooks look like this?  Or is it just a female thing, our supposed talent for multitasking at work, or rather our attempts to do everything at once recorded in black and white.  As I get older, will my handwriting improve?  Will the proportion of writing increase and the proportion of listing decrease?  Or perhaps this kind of disjointed thinking is a good thing, part of the creative process.  Who knows.  In the meantime, the handbag notebook is staying where it is, for my eyes only, and thank goodness my handwriting has now become a language all of its own.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this post