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Creativity Blog: A Writer's Notebooks by Nancy Springer

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

 Photo by Nancy Springer


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!


Reader Comments (60)

love the analogy!

May 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterscribbles

Awesome :)

May 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHayley D.

Missed the creativity blog posts! :) This one is great; and totally relevant to my notebook-esqe writing, too. I've got tons everywhere. I love the way you compare this to the jeweler's art, too.
Thanks for a great post!

May 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKathleen

that is soooo like me. my notebooks are a epicly disastorous mess. but i did manage to get one book seperate for story ideas and starters so i dont have to pore through every single book i own to find an idea!
unfortantly, i have so many notebooks,and most of them are filled with one page of stuff. then i make myslelf finish my current one, which now happens to be a super fat one, and i just got FIVE new notebooks for my birthday! (my friends know me well!) what do i do????
overwelmed by notebooks

May 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersomeone

fyi, i LOVE the notebook with the dragon on it! WANT! :)

May 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersomeone

Question... I just noticed that the picture shown on this post that says, "Photo by Nancy Springer" is the same photo as the previous post had, in which it says, "Photo by Haley."

I'm a little confused.

May 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLucy S.

Lucy - Thanks so much for noticing that! Something strange must have happened on the website, because it wasn't there a day or two ago. Will try to fix it tomorrow! -- Anne

May 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Mazer

Haha yeah I noticed that too :) ( it is of me after all ) x]

May 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHayley D.

There are some glitches on that post about story starters O.O Like, two.

May 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHayley D.


June 9, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersomeone/ mariesa

HELP!!!!!!!lease tell me someone thought to come here after the other post on story winners was stopped all comments! rawr! samantha! scribbles! lost! green eyes! newperson! ANYONE!!!!!!! i never got to post my snippets!!!

i shall save thee!
its horrible! is anne and ellen giving us a hint??


July 5, 2012 | Unregistered Commenternewperson

I'm here!!!

July 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSamantha

maybe this is some sort of sign telling us we should find a way to share our stories after all...

July 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSamantha

Oh my goodness! What the heck happened?! Comments OFF? I'm here guys! o.o I hope Lost goes here too! I'm about to leave and go to Waco, but I'll be back Saterday, and I might find a way to talk to u guys on my mom's phone. Bye! Love you all! <3

Yours truely and worriedly,

Hayley aka Rawr

July 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRawr

i'm here!
holy shish kebabs, what happened?!
LOL maybe we over-commented.......
well i'm glad we found each other...and i hope lost and green eyes find us too
peace, love, and crab cakes,

July 5, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterscribbles

@scribbles I was thinking we might have over commented too...It said we had 119 posts.

@Rawr about your music thing, have you ever heard of Drew Seeley? His voice is pretty real too in the way that he has very little computer fixing to his voice. I know that the way I phrased it might be a little confusing, but I couldn't figure out a better way to put it. I hope you understand what I mean :) But he's a great singer

July 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSamantha

just found huge black spider.
in the fridge.
i am officially grossed out.

July 6, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterscribbles

No I haven't heard of him but I'll check hi
Out :) I think I understand what you're saying :) thanks!

July 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRawr

Guys!!! =D I found y'all!! And I concur, I think we mighta commented just a liiiiiiiiiiiitle too much. ^^;

Bur I missed you guys!!! I had to talk to my real world friends and be productive! It was horrible! T_T +sniffle+

for Rawr, Drew Seeley was in the Disney movie Another Cinderella Story and played Joey Parker. I'm forever a Joey Parker fan now :)

July 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSamantha

thank the kangaroos you guys are here! wow. sorry anne and ellen!
do you wanna hear my snippets?
m soooooooo happy you found us!!!
i saw no more comments and i was like WHAT??
it felt wierd not being able to talk tomyou guys! very wierd! so then i thought.... hopefully everyone thinks to comehere!!! this should be our fall back plan. thanks goofness you all are sooo smart. of course... i knew tha anyway.. but... oh whatever.
wow. now i feel so bad for commenting! maybe its once it reaches five pages of coments! well... we did do a lot of blabs
green eyes will come to thepost and dsay... uh... what is happening.... you huys have been busy!
think we should minus excess talk and just do blabs writing related things and snippets. unless you just wannacontinuee as we are... i dunno. im still in shock.
i have to say.... i thank my lucky dictionaries that you guys found me andnewperson. lost.. cuz you just got here! nice welcomeisnt it?
hugs! (>'.')> <('.'<)!

July 7, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersomeone

so happy u found us, lost!
y'know, the 'comments off' thingy might be anne and ellen giving us a hint that this is their blog and not a social network......
but i would miss you guys!! and your blabs! *melodramatic sniffle*
peace, love, and roller coasters,

July 7, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterscribbles

You could be right, scribbles.

Someone!!! (>'.')> <('.'<) !!!! Please send us your snippets! I'm dying for something to read that isn't fanfiction T^T

Oh!!! And I got over my writer's block!! For my current project at least ^^;; but I got this absolutey HORRIFIC idea of the greatest kind. I'm just scared cause I only have like 73 words left in my budget u__u so I can't get all fancy and long-winded like I'm prone to.

You could be right, scribbles.

Someone!!! (>'.')> <('.'<) !!!! Please send us your snippets! I'm dying for something to read that isn't fanfiction T^T

Oh!!! And I got over my writer's block!! For my current project at least ^^;; but I got this absolutey HORRIFIC idea of the greatest kind. I'm just scared cause I only have like 73 words left in my budget u__u so I can't get all fancy and long-winded like I'm prone to.

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