Monday, 8 March 2010

Tell me how you write - Part 5 - Jessica Patient

Here's Jessica Patient, award winning short story writer, with a very notebook-specific response to my questions about how she writes.

Three Kinds of Notebooks

Being mid-way through a notebook is my favourite place. A relaxed spine, comfy pages and a fraying page-mark ribbon. Routine has settled. Meeting the middle is like finally breaking in your work shoes and finding them to be the best pair you have ever owned or will ever own.

Draft zero always starts life in my notebook. I currently have three notebooks on the ‘go.’ One is a pocket, spiral bound, hard cover affair. He lives in my bedside drawer and comes out for free-style writing. Usually twenty min blasts before bedtime. The recommended dose for him is usually three to four times every month. My second is for the novel. The retro cover of a 1950s housewife inspired me to have a similar character in my near future plot. Notes about planned changes, vocabulary and character sketches are within the covers. The third notebook is the busiest. My A5-sized Moleskine was a prize from an online competition. I resisted ripping off the plastic film until I had finished my previous one. Everything else belongs in this notebook.

Starting a new notebook is the scariest part. I always end up putting the notebook on a pedestal and tell myself that THE best stories will happen in this book. Perfect first drafts, beautiful sentences and punchy paragraphs. I make a promise to myself to use my neatest, tidiest handwriting. ‘Be my best,’ as they always say in Dollhouse. The mantra weaves its way through my ideas and stops me from writing in my notebook. There are always quotes from famous writers on the first couple of pages. It helps break the fear of the blank page.

Once I get going then it becomes home to phrases for short stories, more novel scribbles, a few recipes, a checklist of my weight, quotes, light-bulb thoughts and even a doodle or two. I usually write with a mechanical pencil (it saves me having to sharpen it every 15 mins) but at the moment it’s all about the free, promo pens. Anything you can click. I click faster if I find myself stuck for a word. It’s like having a comfort blanket. My Parker fountain pen is redundant but I always go back to him. I am also partial to a Bic Biro too. They really know how to slide across the page.

I would avoid finishing notebooks when I was younger. The end was scary. What if I story was too long for the book? Would the words drop off? I would stop half way and then grab another exercise book. I still get nervous. What if I can’t find a notebook as good as this one? Around this time I usually find myself buying several replacements or spending my lunchtime walking around stationery shops until I find one that doesn’t too much of glue, has lines (I tried plain paper but I just stopping writing) and has a hard cover too. Plus handbag sized – But I tend to have big handbags so this one is optional!

I used to find the idea of notebooks bizarre. Writing tutors would rave about them, saying they were essential, the best thing since sliced bread, blah, blah, blah. Their preaching put me off for a while. I simply used scrap paper for plot ideas or just dived straight in with the story. I didn’t need character sketches or theme bubbles. But when I finally gave a notebook a chance, well I feel like my writing changed. No more rushing or sparse short stories. Since then I have never gone straight to the computer for writing draft zero.

Jessica Patient is 25 years old and lives in Bedfordshire, England. She has had several stories and poems published including 3:AM magazine, The Beat, Sleepy Orange and Ink, Sweat and Tears. Links to her writing can be found at her blog -


Rachel Fenton said...

I like knowing about all the funny little routines and rituals we writers get into! Lovely interview.

La Belette Rouge said...

Fantastic post. I so relate. I am always afraid to start a new notebook. It seems that the first sentence and page set the tone for the entire notebook. And I too rarely finish a notebook.

Teresa Stenson said...

Hi Rachel and Belette - glad you enjoyed this, thanks for stopping by. When I started my first ever Moleskine notebook just last year, I wondered whether the date - 9/9/9 (UK emergency services) would make the words in it dangerous, or edgier in some way. Or maybe safer, more controlled and orderly.

essygie said...

It's an A5 Moleskine for me, anything else is too small to properly write in, or too large to carry around. Oh, and I use my phone for emergencies (when I overhear something good that I just have to write down!)

Jessica said...

Thanks for all the lovely comments :)

Essygie, I have also used my phone for those writing emergencies too!