You know the ones: the ones with the creamy paper, the ones with the little envelope built into the back cover, the pre-printed index, the dot grid, or the lined pages, or the smooth blank pages where the website showed an artist’s delicate watercolor rendering of a fern.
The ones with the pristine covers with muted, sophisticated colors, or vintage renderings of wilderness scenes, or the ombre effect.
The ones where the makers include a tiny brochure telling you how awesome this notebook is, how sustainable the paper is, or how they are fifth-generation stationers from a storied seaside town.
The “fountain pen friendly” paper ones. The ones with the coptic binding, the skinny grosgrain ribbons.
The ones that seem too good to use. The ones where you wince a little inside, when you realize what stashing it in your pocket just did to it. (Now it’s all bent up!)
These are the notebooks you need to mess up.
These are the ones you need to write in with your scrawly handwriting, and cross stuff out in, or get eraser marks grubbing up the finish of that once-pristine page.
Listen up: notebooks are alive, in a thingy-sort of way. Or, they could be alive; much more alive than they are untouched on the shelf or in the drawer, but they need you to bring them to fully living status.
Until YOU MESS UP your notebook by actually using it, it is just like any other blank notebook by that maker. It is interchangeable. It has no uniqueness yet. It is waiting. It is in limbo. It is passed by, over and over again, because you think you are not good enough to use it.
But what if it thinks it’s not good enough for YOU to use it? Don’t make your beautiful notebooks sad.
Okay; I just noticed that you’re looking at me funny.
So let’s think of it this way, then:
What about those fifth-generation stationers who go to great lengths to source wonderful paper, to find skilled craftspeople who will bind it just right, so that the binding lies flat when you open that notebook?
What if you were the notebook maker? If you went to all that work to design and manufacture a notebook you thought would be totally awesome for someone to use, what would be cooler to you, five or twenty or fifty years from now:
A) Someone gives you back one of the notebooks you made; and it is pristine, untouched, still in the wrappings.
B) Someone shows you one of the notebooks you made that they used; or that maybe their grandparent used, and it’s a mess. Writing. Doodles. At some point maybe ?? Somebody dropped it in a bathtub? Or was that a coffee spill? And dried it out again, and kept using it.
Yeah: you don’t get that used notebook back. That one is special! It’s unique.
And it’s no longer the stationery company’s notebook anymore, is it?
The maker of the notebook manufactures it. But the joy of making is when someone else USES what you made!
And the ultimate maker of the notebook is the one who messes up a blank notebook, and transforms it into something else. A journal. A log book. A writer’s notebook. A sketchbook. Jottings. Scribblings. Musings. False starts. Mundane reminders. Seeds of greater things.
Now that notebook no longer belongs to the manufacturer. It belongs to the one who messed it up.
So give your notebooks life.
Use them. Use them! Literally: it was for YOU to use them, that they were made!
Mess them up!
That is the best thing that could possibly happen for these beautiful notebooks.
Only then, after YOU mess them up, do they become unique and irreplaceable.
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Re the notebooks in that photo above? I’m totally going to mess those up.
To Greg Morris, whose post, and its subsequent discussion, inspired this one.
Chris Wilson shares some great ways to start messing up your new notebook.
Morris, G. (2023) Greg Morris - A New Notebook, 12 February. Available at: https://www.gr36.com/2023/02/12/a-new-notebook.html (Accessed: 13 February 2023).
Wilson, C. (2020) ‘7 ways to start a notebook,’ Sketchy Ideas, 5 May. Available at: https://sketchyideas.co/7-ways-to-start-a-notebook/ (Accessed: 13 February 2023).
Havron, A. (2022) ‘The Souls of Things: Decluttering and Disposal as Sacred Acts,’ Anna Havron, 3 February. Available at: https://www.annahavron.com/blog/the-souls-of-things-decluttering-and-disposal-as-sacred-acts (Accessed: 13 February 2023).