In February 2011 I signed up for The Fiction Project run by Art House Co-op. You paid a fee of $25 to participate (plus 20 more if you wanted your work to be digitized, which I did) and were sent a blank Moleskine notebook which you were to fill however you wanted. On signing up you chose a theme for your project from a list of about 20 or 30, I went for 'Inside/Outside'.
Here's my blog post from June 2011 on the experience of creating my notebook story. I'll post the link to the digitized notebook at the end so you can head over and read it if you like.
It's a few weeks since I completed my notebook for Art House Co-op's Fiction Project. Right now it's somewhere in the US amongst thousands of other notebooks getting ready to go on tour.
I wonder what the other notebooks are like. I wonder if my notebook is getting on okay with all the other notebooks. It's very lo-fi. I hope no one's making fun of him.
Having a blank notebook to fill was a really exciting and different way of writing a story. Different because the physical-ness of having the book, the end 'thing', gave focus as well as freedom - all these pages (80 sides) to fill with anything... could have been almost too much freedom. It would have been easy to get too distracted by all the ways you could fill these pages. Having a theme and a deadline helped with that.
I chose the theme 'Inside/Outside' when I signed up, and it inspired some early ideas before the final story I went with. And what I didn't expect was that I would re-work an already existing story in a really new way. Crazily, it's one of the first stories I ever wrote once I decided to 'be a writer' about 5 years ago.
'The Box' was about two just-broken-up-lovers who meet to go over the contents of their 'box' - a shoe box - that held all the mementos of their relationship. It was, as is common for new writers to do, written about a real life personal experience. But it wasn't really a story, it was me working through some old but resonant feelings from being dumped when I was 17. But I've often gone back to have a look at it, to see if something will click and I might be able to make something from it.
So - you know where this is going - but I'll lay it out anyway. I was writing out some notes, thinking about 'Inside/Outside' and it lead onto the idea of love - how we are fall in it, fall out of it, and when we're dumped it's usually because the other person suddenly isn't 'in' anymore, and it's baffling, hurtful, but wtf does it mean? It just means they've changed their minds really, but the effect on the dumped, the trying to make sense, and failing, appealed to me.
And I knew what it felt like, but I didn't want to write it from my POV. So I wrote it from a guy's perspective, a boy who has just been dumped out of the blue. Suddenly all this energy and comedy came to the story, and I got to use my own experiences, and see them, in a new way. The whole tone changed, and 'The Box' morphed into...
See, I said it was lo-fi. That's the girl being sick on the front, not a metal detector. There are a few drawings in amongst the words. I didn't fill the whole book, but I've invited anyone who reads it to write on the blank pages, to tell a story about a time they were dumped, or dumped someone else. It's nice to think the book could be added to.
It will be soon be available to read in full online, until then I'll leave you with a few more photos of the process and of some of the words.
It takes several notebooks to make a notebook - different drafts in different places ready to be copied up into the blank book on the right.
A slightly neater version than this made it into the end version. But I think the scruffiness of the drawings work for the story.
The back of the book showing my unique bar code so anytime someone 'checks it out' to read it I'll get an email notification.
Me and the book just before I sent it away. We will never be reunited. Unless I go to Brooklyn Art Library where he will live out the rest of his days post-tour.
So yeah, a really free-ing way to put words together. And it's very 'fulfilling' that an old piece of writing from an even older event has found a new way of living.
I'm still not sure it's a 'story', it's probably a slice of life, but that's what I love about this project - you can do anything with your book, and I know there will be some amazing works of art around my offering, but I love the connected-ness of it, all these books with a bit or a lot of heart poured into their pages being read by total strangers who can scan their fingers over the pages and feel the dents I made with my pen.