The Uses and Enchantments of the Writer's Notebook

Australasian Society of Writing Programs
Publication Type:
Journal Article
TEXT: Journal of Writing and Writing Programs, 2020, 24, (1), pp. 1-18
Issue Date:
Full metadata record
This paper examines the writer’s notebook to ask: why does it persist as such an effective generative tool? Drawing primarily on the work of Michael Taussig and Roland Barthes, while focusing on the ways in which writers have themselves described their experience of using journals, it examines the notebook as a remarkably polyvalent and talismanic text. In its first part it explores the difference, often strongly marked by writers, between the journal and diary, arguing that it is exactly the notebook’s ‘album’-like quality of fragmentation and interchangeability, which bothered Barthes, that creates its value for writers. In its second half, it examines the different discursive or formal strands typically found within the notebook: its ‘extractive realist’ (Gibson 2009) techniques for briefly recording the ‘real’ in ways that transform it for creative use; its curation of quotes, which descends from the Renaissance commonplace book, as a means of professional self-fashioning; and its appeal as a physical object representing an enchanted promise of creativity. It concludes that the notebook’s longevity and energy derive from the constant juxtaposition of these often-contradictory elements, which create the ongoing quality of ‘something else’ that writers so often remark upon
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