My blog post yesterday about the stationery thing provoked more responses than I ever imagined it would. Among the talk of the different brands of notebook interlocutors prefer, the main theme to emerge was writers’ descriptions of their process. Understandably so, the emotion underpinning all of them was palpable. Greater than our love of branded stationery, it appears we are even more in love with the creative habits of mind we put into use when we need them.
Which is just as well.
In Anne Lamott’s words, this is the real pay-off: ‘It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.’
This means, of course, that if our specially sourced Italian marbled notebook is not to hand on the bus, or in the waiting room, or even at our desk when we need it that we still proceed with energy and good faith and get it down somehow. As Woody Allen says, 80% of success is showing up. I have noticed over the years how many of my poems have started on the very scrappiest pieces of paper: backs of envelopes, post-it notes with lists on them, and hotel notepaper (confession: I always steal hotel notepaper for this very reason).
My theory of why this should be so is similar to professor of linguistics Stephen Krashen’s theory of language acquisition. He says that to learn a new language with confidence, we need to remove the ‘affective filter’, be it motivational or emotional, which prevents us from making the imperfect utterances we need to make in order to develop.
I think this is why scrap paper, maybe even more than branded notebooks, is such a great place for starting poems. The filter is lowered. It is as though the harsh, judgemental voice of the chief of police inside our heads is silent for a second. What can seriously come of it? It’s only a shopping list. Your family, boss, or critics who glare over your shoulder are out for the day.
Failing that, I doodle on the first page of a blank notebook, to get it out of the way.
Now I can proceed. With energy, and with joy! No one is looking.
I wish you poems.