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I Feel a Character Coming On; Time to Make a Notebook!

I always have about three notebooks going at any one time: a tiny one (palm sized) for taking notes and making lists and schedules; a medium-sized one for blog entries or ideas, articles, all my rough drafting for nonfiction writing; and another medium-sized notebook that’s a little bit thicker for my journal. These notebooks have come to feel like an extension of me, and I put a lot of effort into picking them out and decorating them.

I’ve gone through stages where I liked certain notebook brands—there was a quad-ruled spiral notebook that I favored in college with green-tinted pages. I could make these notebooks last forever with my cramped, microscopic writing, and I still find those written-out pages to be a thing of beauty. These days, though, I like Clairefontaine and Moleskine notebooks because they come with quad paper (a requirement for me) that’s thick enough to take fountain pen ink without bleeding through to the next page. The Moleskine notebooks are a bit stiff and formal, and I find I have to dress them up a bit, break them in, before I can commit to writing in them.

Along with my usual three notebooks, sometimes I have a fourth when I’m working on a novel, and there’s quite an intimate ritual involved when I make one of those.

I’ve been using origami paper for decorating recently. I’m attracted to the bright colors, the tiny three-inch shape of the paper, and the memories behind it. I’ve been obsessed with origami for most of my life. When I was little, maybe five or six, my mother showed me and my sister Kristi how to fold cranes out of sparkly silver wrapping paper. I’ve always loved paper and drawing, but to be shown a way to make something three-dimensional out of paper—that was revolutionary. And maybe that’s why I chose to decorate my notebook for The Foot Book with origami paper—after all, I’m trying to make my character a three-dimensional person.

While crafting this particular notebook, it reminded me of the opening scene from Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (probably my favorite of the whole series), where the main character Kristen keeps herself awake by crafting a replica of the house that she sees in her dream. I chose a humble composition book for this notebook, and shockingly, the paper is lined.

The first thing I do is number the pages—just in case something gets torn out or I get another idea and turn the notebook upside down to work on something else. When I’m deep in a project, my notebook can start to look like football diagrams so it’s good if I have page numbers to refer to. Then there’s my favorite part—scissoring, deciding where everything should go, and gluing. Finally, to preserve my notebook design from coffee rings and cat slobber, I use clear adhesive tape that’s an inch and a half thick to tape over my glued-down cutouts. Shiny!

Another thing I’ve started doing since the iPod revolution began is to create a playlist of all the songs that remind me of my character or the story that I want to tell. One of my first choices for my character Maggie was CSS’s “City Grrrl.” I’m always humming this now.

I can’t listen to music while I’m doing the direct writing, but when I’m typing it up later or doing some light revising, I like to listen to the playlist. It’s a work in progress, and I’m constantly adding songs or deleting them while the novel progresses. Also, sometimes when I write myself into a corner or I’m psyching myself up to write a big scene, I’ll take a long walk around Prospect Park and listen to the playlist, trying to think through something.

So now I have my notebook, and interesting things are starting to creep in. Like this jotted on one side, and I have no idea now what it was about: “I will kill on Monday! Kill!”

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