I love writing in pretty notebooks.
I once had a leather-bound journal, and filled all 600 pages in a matter of months.
I am the nerd who gets excited about paper nestled between two beautiful, solid covers.
I love writing in pretty notebooks. Except … I kind of don’t. I love filling pretty notebooks and putting them on pretty shelves. I don’t actually enjoy writing in them — because to me, any writing that goes into a fancy notebook has to be perfect, to fit its delicate canvas. Well, as close to perfect as it can be, anyway.
Writing with the aim of perfection isn’t a healthy way to write. And as I slowly begin weaving together ideas for a few new projects I’m already nervous about, I’ve realized I keep getting stuck staring at a Google Doc, afraid to write anything down — just in case it isn’t “good enough” the first time.
As you read earlier this week, I dove deep into Mur Lafferty’s new book on writing. When discussing a writer’s toolkit, she briefly mentions notebooks (I don’t remember the context, and by now, the book is packed away in a box). That gave me an idea.
What if, instead of sticking to fancy paper and virtual documents, I went back to my roots — and tried laying out all my ideas in a cheap spiral notebook?
Well, I didn’t have any college-ruled spiral notebooks. But I did have one of those really cheap composition notebooks — you know, the ones you might have used in a creative writing class in high school (or am I just old?).
Something weirdly amazing happened.
I got SO MUCH DONE. On CHEAP PAPER. REALLY.
And while, yes, I’ll have to type a lot of that out later — it got my ideas flowing in a way I honestly didn’t believe they still could.
Here’s what happens when you start writing on cheap paper.
You realize that if you mess up, if you write something bad, if you hate everything you pour out onto that page, you lose nothing tearing it out, tossing it away, and starting over.
You feel a sense of freedom you may have never felt before. Because suddenly, you’re allowed to take your very rough draft of a story anywhere (figuratively, and I suppose literally too). There’s nothing stopping you from taking your characters to places you never would have dared guiding them before — because what if it went wrong? You’d have wasted so much pretty paper.
Except now, if things go wrong, it doesn’t matter. Cheap paper is meant to be thrown away. Just like the handful of ideas you’ll have throughout your time as a writer that just aren’t going to work.
You might feel differently. But when I’m writing on throwaway paper, I stop worrying about whether or not my writing is any good. Perfectionism ceases to distract me from my craft. On that paper, I’m allowed to make all the mistakes I want. I’m allowed to be bold, to insert phrases I probably wouldn’t while in a WordPress draft, just to see if they work.
It has completely changed the way I write the content I’m most nervous about starting — in the best way possible. Maybe it might have the same affect on you.
So go get yourself a cheap composition notebook — or pluck one off your shelf (does anyone else have at least a dozen just chilling on that one shelf you don’t know what else to do with?) and start working on that idea you’re not sure you can pull off. Go all in. Take the story in any direction your brain and heart tell you to. Because it’s just cheap paper. If you never end up using it, it’ll just get recycled — maybe for another writer to scribble out their own shaky drafts on someday.
Hey — you never know until you try.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.