What Do You Write On? (Or: The Joys of Journals!)

For many, many years, I wrote everything on lined, 3-hole punched notebook paper. After all, that is what teachers require, right? The REALLY picky ones ban all paper with messy, spiral-bound edges too! I wrote everything for work and school in blue or black ink because, again, that was required.

But somewhere along the way, during high school, I started writing poetry and fiction. I wrote literary forms, snippets, limericks, notes to be passed in class, love lists and hate lists, favorite things, and diatribes. I wrote on napkins, paper bags, walls (though not very often…), my hands and arms, the back of wrapping paper, greeting cards and stationary, and lined paper of all sizes. I started writing in colors with gel pens, ball points, felt tip pens, and calligraphy pens. But my favorite writing instrument was the mechanical pencil.

In grad school, I wrote fiction almost exclusively. I used top-bound pads of lined paper and mechanical pencils for all of my rough drafts. I have found over the years that I cannot type the first drafts of my fiction work.  I open a nice, clean, empty file and stare at the screen. For hours!  Finally, I get up and walk away. Sitting outside with a mechanical pencil and pad of paper in my lap could launch a happy, 2-3 hour, fiction writing spree.

Recently, however, my go-to pad of paper and mechanical pencil failed me. I set up my notebook, filled it partway full with research and historical notes, drafted a brief, 1-page synopsis for a series of novellas, and…


What happened? I’ve never had writer’s block before. I actually don’t believe in it- I haven’t since I decided to write for pay. One of my mentors said, “Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block; bakers don’t get baker’s block. Writers write; it’s what we DO.” When one’s passion is also one’s livelihood, then she just can’t afford to get blocked. So, now what?

A writer friend mentioned casually one day in her blog that she writes everything in journals: pretty journals, inspiring journals. Hmm. I wondered if the fix could be that simple. But I LOVE my pads of lined paper! They “fit” me; or rather, I fit them.  I knew how many words of my writing fit on an average page (250 words/page- the exact standard manuscript page of the now nearly-defunct traditional publishing industry). I had to write in pencil on one side of the page, because you never know when I’m going to want to cut apart and rearrange the paragraphs or pages. (No, I never actually have- I use crazy arrows and insertion points 3 pages later to reference back through the draft. Yes, it’s confusing; and yes, it works for me!)

Then I remembered reading the book, How to Think Like Leonardo daVinci by Michael J. Gelb, years ago. I was fascinated to learn that Leonardo daVinci kept all of his notes, drawings, sketches, stories, research, inventions, etc.- EVERYTHING- in his journal. Volume upon volume, containing all of his brilliance! Yes, he was a little crazy and wrote every other line backwards so that modern-day historians and scholars have to use a mirror to decipher his brilliance, but still! If journals are good enough for a genius like daVinci, they might be worth a try to house my newest series of novellas.

So, I dug through the collection of empty journals in my closet (did I forget to mention my long-standing journal fetish? Ahem. Yeah, I have a few… dozen… to choose from…) and found the perfect moss green, leather-bound, lined journal. It even has leather ties to keep it shut (in case it gets left in a windstorm or something?) And as crazy as it sounds, I simply sat down with a mechanical pencil in hand and wrote. For over an hour. Actual fiction! My main character, CoraLeona, Is actually speaking to me again now that I’m taking her as seriously as she does!

So, what’s the point? It’s what I tell all of my composition students: find what works for you and your brain. It doesn’t have to make logical sense to you; it simply has to work. Something as simple as using different tools, sitting in a different place, eating or drinking a different treat might be exactly what you need to destroy the block and get the brain moving again.

So what works for you? Do you have any writing rituals that help you get started and break through blocks? Any special tools, locales, or treats that get your creative juices flowing better than others? Tell me about them in the comments!