How making notebooks is a lot like writing and how it isn’t

H1 I have done little writing these past few weeks but that’s because I’ve been busy with other creative pursuits. Writing has been replaced by a more tangible occupation, making notebooks. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time – there is a story behind that want but that’s for another day – and finally decided to go for it.

When I started doing this, I was more in love with the idea of having the finished product in my hand than actually  making it. If you look online, there are so many gorgeous handmade notebooks made of paper, leather and fabric, I could spend days just looking at them and asking myself how did they do that?
But when it comes to the actual work, the beginning was not easy. And while I was cutting (not so straight lines) and gluing (with too much glue), and folding the wrong corners and many other clumsy things, it suddenly hit me that making a notebook is a lot like writing a book or a short story, because:

  • No matter how fancy the paper or beautiful the color, or how much you fantasize about it, the thing won’t make itself. You’ll have to go home and do the work.
  • Fancy utensils may seem like the right motivator in the beginning, but this won’t hold for long. My favorite story is the one about Stephen King who, at the height of his career and his addiction, bought a fancy desk but in the end got rid of both the desk and his addiction. Simple things are the best. Paper and pen or a computer, needle and thread, and paper.
  • Work space is important – a place where you can go and be creative and where you can keep all your tools, including the needles and that sharp cutter that nearly sliced off my fingers.
  • You have to make time for it because if you won’t nobody will and sometimes you have to give up other things – like I did (partially) with writing and reading lately, because all I can think about now that I’ve pretty much solved the mystery of making a paper covered notebook is how to decorate a cover by myself. I’m not great at drawing but I do have a few things in mind.
  • Using too much glue is like using a lot of unnecessary words in your story – you may think they would be able to hold the thing together better but in the end it creates a mess you’ll have to throw away and start again.
  • A good cutter is like a great editor – it’s important that both of them are sharp because they can get rid of unnecessary parts.
  • Practice is essential. It’s the only way to get better and there is no alternative. The first couple of notebooks I made were OK but the ones I am making now are definitely an improvement.
  • It’s all a question of taste – different people will like different things and they’ll point out details you never thought about.

And it isn’t because:

  • When making a notebook, knowing what you want from the start is important because there are measurements to make; with writing the most important thing is to start and finish – you can go anywhere and do anything with the part in between.
  • Once the notebook is finished, that’s it. You can do minor changes, like add a pocket at the back, but if you forgot to glue the ribbon bookmark, well, hopefully you won’t forget it next time. With a story, you can edit as much as you like.
  • What has been glued cannot be unglued – unless you’re very quick and the paper cooperates and it’s your lucky day (that’s three big ifs right there), but you can go back and unsay as many things as you like in a story.
  • Making a notebook is a lot faster than finishing a book you are comfortable showing to the world. With a notebook, you already know the mechanics, you just need to decide on the size and color. With a book there’s the first draft, and the second, and the third and so on. It may take weeks, months, even years. A notebook is only a matter of days, and that’s because you have to wait for the glue to dry. And the only thing you have to “agonize” over is the cover paper.

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Do you like handmade notebooks?
What makes a great notebook – the pattern, the size, the color, the details (embellished corners, back pocket, bookmark)?
Do you prefer blank paper or lined paper?

Now, almost every trip to the city includes a stop at a stationery store and yesterday after visiting such a place I went to my favorite bookstore which is right next door to it, and bought some of the latest Stephen King novels. I wanted to buy the paperbacks but the writing was so tiny I could not see myself looking at hundreds of pages with that minuscule font so I decided to go for the hardbacks. To my surprise they had a discounted price that I was more than happy to take advantage of. I think I’ll start on Revival soon.


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10 Responses to How making notebooks is a lot like writing and how it isn’t

  1. M-----l says:

    Hooray for hardbacks on sale!

  2. Brian Joseph says:

    Notebook making is such an interesting hobby. It seems very rewarding.

    The Stephen King story is a hood one as notebooks themselves are little bit of simplicity in our digital age.

    I have not read any of the newer Stephen King bit I read many of his older novels. I am looking forward to reading your thoughts on these books.

    • Delia says:

      Hi Brian,
      It can be a lot of fun once you get the idea but there’s a lot of trial and error. Luckily there are some great tutorials on YouTube but even then, watching people put them together seems so easy but when you try it’s a different story altogether.
      I prefer King’s older novels myself. They have a lot more horror in them. I miss that from his work.

  3. Vishy says:

    Beautiful post, Delia! Loved reading your thoughts on making notebooks and writing. I liked what you said about simple things being the best. That is so true. I also loved your observation on too much glue and unnecessary words 🙂 Loved the pictures of the new notebooks – they look so gorgeous! Those new Stephen King novels look so nice – so wonderful that you got hardbacks. I thought you had already read ‘Mr.Mercedes’. Happy reading!

    • Delia says:

      Hi Vishy,
      I had a lot of fun coming up with the comparison, I bet you can tell. 😉
      Thanks for the nice words.

      I haven’t read Mr Mercedes because the story did not particularly appeal to me (a terrorist plot) but it’s King, and he is my favorite writer so I decided to give it a go. Apparently this is set to be a trilogy with Finders Keepers the next one in line. I don’t think I need to worry about the third one, he writes them pretty fast.

  4. Priya says:

    I love that you mention the desk-story. It is very true. You know, I didn’t know where you were going with the metaphor when I read the title, but this is a great list and a spot-on comparison. Some of the things seem like they’d look good displayed in frames in a study or art studio – “What has been glued cannot be unglued.” Such a creative post, Delia!

    • Delia says:

      Hi Priya,
      I love that story too. It’s a great reminder of what truly matters.
      In a future life I will open an artsy place, maybe a cafe/bookstore/guesthouse (3 in 1) and have that framed. And I will remember you. 🙂 I will spend my time writing, traveling, making notebooks, looking at the shapes the clouds make in the sky and have meaningful conversations with strangers passing through.
      Thank you for the nice words.

  5. Caroline says:

    How could I miss this post. I’m such a notebook junky. I buy some constantly. I also fill them, so it’s OK. I love variety. Those I like best are unlined and the paper is important. I write with ink, so it shouldn’t be porous. I’ve got a few nice ones with thick hand made paper but the ink makes blotches. Too bad.
    Your’s look beautiful. I’ve only ever did some very tiny ones but for small paintings, not as notebooks per se.

    • Delia says:

      Finally, somebody answered my questions!
      I prefer unlined notebooks as well.
      Too bad about the ink, that thick paper is probably more suitable for drawing. I didn’t know you made notebooks yourself. Would love to see them.
      I am now experimenting with adding metal embellishments to the cover. I bought some small brass lizards, now I’m trying to decide what color goes with them.

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