Donkeys and pristine notebooks


I have a beautiful  ‘Paperblanks’ notebook that is dedicated to first drafts and notes for the War collection of poems that I am currently working on.

It was a brave step to start writing in it because I am one of those peculiar people who loves crisp new sheets of paper and collects unusual or beautiful notebooks but actually writes on old envelopes or tatty scraps so that I don’t mess up the pretty stuff!

When I’m writing fiction, or should I say prose as opposed to poetry, I write directly on to the computer. With poems however I always write longhand and only generate an electronic version once I have stopped editing and fiddling and searching for just the right word or phrase.

Not only do I write longhand, but it has to be in pencil – I can only think poetically in pencil. I have often wondered why that is and have decided it is so that if I get it horribly wrong, I can rub it out.

I have also noticed that the handwriting I use for poetry is much fatter that that I use for say shopping lists, though not as exuberant as that I use when signing a birthday card. There is undoubtedly a science to all this but actually what I am doing – or rather what I am not doing – is writing!

So, back to the notebook. I am pleased with my progress this week in that I have headed pages for 4 new poems  – What Price Pomegranates, BFPO Parcel Shopping Basket, Roadworks and Female Cricketers. An idea for a fifth is percolating. It comes from the discovery that the Afghan insurgents call our soldiers ‘donkeys’ because they carry such heavy loads. I’m not sure where that one is going yet, so I have not risked writing it in the notebook.

Roadworks is about soldiers being tasked with completing over 100 metres of road building per day, which they have to undertake whilst wearing full body armour and headgear. The cricket one is about the dreams of the national Afghan women’s cricket team – yes there really is one now – to compete in and even win the Asia cup – they train in a stadium that until recently was used by the Taliban for punishments and beheadings.

These four headings are written in pencil, fatly, at the top of four double page spreads in the notebook. They look good. The lines beneath the headings are crisply, cleanly empty. Unsullied, because all the notes and free-writes and clusters of ideas and words I would like to use in the poems are scribbled on odd scraps of paper in an envelope tucked into the back of the book!

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About SallyJ

I am a writer and a poet.
This entry was posted in Afghanistan, inspiration, poet, poetry, Uncategorized, war, writer, writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Donkeys and pristine notebooks

  1. Sue (Byfleet) says:

    I had to respond to this blog. I completely identify with the beautiful notebooks being too precious to write in…I do have cheap notebooks that I scribble in, but it takes a tremendous effort of will before I sully the best!
    Looking forward to reading your latest poems.

    • Sally j Blackmore says:

      Oh I’m so glad I’m not the only notebook freak out there. Have you investigated the Paperblanks books? They are very beautiful. Thanks for reading and commenting Sue.

  2. All of my writing notes and the such go in cheap, cheap notebooks… A beautiful notebook is too good for me to muck it all up with my terrible chicken scratch! 🙂

    • Sally j Blackmore says:

      Hi…that is the problem, but I still buy the beautiful ones. I have forced myself to use them…though as yet only for headings.The next step is to be brave enough to actually scribble and doodle and experiment with word combinations – the very thought of it is making me dizzy 🙂
      Thanks for commenting. I am now going searching for your blog. Have a good weekend.

      • I have several very beautiful and very empty notebooks in my office… along with lots of very ugly and very full ones! 🙂 And lots and lots of scraps of paper with notes jotted down in a hurry when I wasn’t near the office!

  3. Jolyrat Jill says:

    Sally, rather than tucking or hiding scraps in an envelope at the back of your beautiful book – how about sheets of paper, or postcards hung somewhere in full view with a pencil not too far away. Every time you pass by with a thought, special phrase or word you could scribble it down. A visual daily reminder of how to progress your poems perhaps? My beautiful books are still in hidding while I work through the mountain of scrap left from my son’s studies!

    • Sally j Blackmore says:

      I’m probably a bit too ocd for that Jill.It’s a good idea but I just know I would spend all my time lining up the notes in straight lines. A whiteboard could work maybe. Thanks for jogging me to work smarter.

  4. Sandra says:

    Hi Sally,
    You and me both! I have two beautiful blank books, one I bought myself and the other a Christmas gift from my son. My New Year’s resolution was to use them for the Wednesday writing class but I couldn’t bear to sully them – my handwriting being truly awful. I kept urging myself to write a couple of sentences to start off but so far have been unable to. Perhaps it’s a Freudian thing.
    The Afghan women’s cricket team on the former execution site sounds an absolutely riveting subject for a poem. I look forward to reading it.

    • Sally j Blackmore says:

      So many of us with the same hangup. I wonder if it is a writers’ thing or a woman thing? Oh…was that sexist…not meant to be!

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