A warm welcome back to the Creativity Blog to one of our favorite writers, Nancy Springer! We were inspired by this wonderful post about the "gutter clutter of daily life" and how notebooks can help a writer to put it all together in just the right way. Excuse us, but we have to go write in our notebooks now.... -- Anne and Ellen
A WRITER'S NOTEBOOKS
At a craft fair, I stopped to look at some eye-catching jewelry, each piece way cool, dramatic, one of a kind, and -- I suddenly realized -- not made out of precious metal or gemstones. These pins and pendants and earrings were put together from bits and snippets of the strangest, most ordinary things: cola cans, Bic pens, golf tees, push pins, plastic combs, rabies tags, salt shaker lids. I picked up a pair of earrings made of paper clips and filing cabinet keys, matchsticks and magic. To the woman behind the jewelery table I blurted, "I do this. I'm a writer."
Then a rare and lovely thing happened: right away she understood. She said, "Of course. You use notebooks."
Notice she didn't say "a notebook." She said, "notebooks," plural; intuitively she knew there had to be a lot of them, and even though I try to organize them, actually their contents are a jumble, probably worse than her craft room where she keeps her pot pie pans and diaper pins and Pringles lids and plastic spoons. She probably tries to organize her collection into piles the way I try to organize mine into lists. Bumper stickers: "Proudly marching to the beat of a different kettle of fish." Friendly insults: "You classic yutzhead, you." Descriptions of mental incompetence: "His elevator doesn't go all the way to the top." Colors: "Kudzu berry blue." Things I have overheard people say: "So I dressed all in green and strapped a pink flamingo to my back and I went as a lawn." Place names: "Cold Bottom." And many more. My lists slop through various notebooks, all spilling together: graffiti, jokes, superstitions, tabloid headlines, nicknames, trivia, slang, fads, things that happen, words I haven't heard before. . . .
Anything that interests me. This is the raw material of my writing, not anything precious or expensive or exotic or imported, but ordinary stuff easy to overlook. To me it is the gutter clutter of daily life that is wonderful and can be extraordinary if put together in just the right way.
But first I have to notice it, collect it. So I keep a little notebook in the glove box of my car, and I have been known to pull over to the side of the road and write down something I have just seen (holding mailbox, unidentifiable concrete animal, perhaps a manatee in a tuxedo?). Other little notebooks go with me when I travel, and some larger ones stay at home, one just for quotes , another for poetry, another for newly discovered words if I find them to my liking, others a hodgepodge (there's a word) of things in lists and things I've seen and things that happen.
Now that I have met the ordinary-looking woman who makes extraordinary jewelry, I understand better what I do when I'm writing. She has tools and glue; I have a computer keyboard with which I put together people and courage and pizza toppings, dental hygiene and deviled eggs and loyalty and toy horses, lawn ornaments and true love and on and on, combining textures and passions, details and colors with heroes both male and female until somehow I create a unity that coheres into a story. If I am skillful and lucky, what I have written will come together, like my new friend's jewelry, into a work that is more than just the sum of its parts.
What's frustrating yet wonderful is that I can never fit it all in, everything that's in my notebooks, my mind, my life. I will always have to write another book, and another. Another gleaming dream with which to pin my scarf, another resplendent pendant to wear over my heart. And of course, I will always need more notebooks.
-- Nancy Springer
Nancy Springer is a two-time Edgar Award–winning author. Her mysteries include the popular Enola Holmes series. Her thriller Blood Trail named an International Reading Association (IRA) Young Adults’ Choice Book, A VOYA Top Shelf Fiction Book, and an ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. She lives in the Florida panhandle. Be sure to check out her brand new book: My Sister's Stalker!