When I was in my teens and twenties I bought notebooks of all kinds. I saw these as the workshops for my ideas. Much of my thinking was (and is) connected with the act of writing. I liked notebooks because I could take them with me anywhere, they came in different sizes and styles, and I could even choose the sort of paper they contained — the colour, lines or no lines (or even what kind of lines).
Nevertheless, with all that freedom, I often found myself paralyzed when I poised my pen over the paper and got ready to write. Would the thoughts be good enough? Would I want to see them there later when I read through the contents of the notebook? The formality of the structure of the notebook itself added a sense of importance to what would go inside of it. Most days, I carried around a notebook and never wrote in it. The pages would get wet when I was caught in a sudden rainstorm. They would be coloured by splashes of coffee. But the words written came slowly.
Being so sparse in the words I chose to commit to those notebooks became a problem for me. The formulation of words was the process of incubation for ideas and stories. Reticence was a hindrance to growth.
I came upon a solution: I started taking five or six sheets of paper and folding them in half into an unbound booklet. I carried these (amusingly enough) inside my notebooks and wrote on the looseleaf paper. If it wasn’t what I wanted I simply tossed it out. My ideas began to flow again. I did this for a couple of years. Then, I started getting annoyed that these loose bits of paper were harder to keep track of, often getting misplaced. I eventually abandoned the folded paper for the more secure (and less easily lost) notebook. This was a game I played with myself to help me write. Back then, it applied to class notes, the simple exploration of ideas, and the writing of fiction.
During my life, I have had many occasions when I’ve maneuvered around obstacles I placed in my own way with attitudes and fears. In teaching, I invite my students to ‘trick themselves’ when they feel blocked. Now, of course, it is sometimes about suggesting they take notes or compose an essay on a mobile device instead of their computer. Or, since many of them don’t use paper — I suggest they try it out as an alternative playground for their thoughts. One middle-aged woman said she hates pens and pencils. I asked her what she does like to use for writing — she said crayons. I said for her to write her term essay using crayons then. She did. She even turned it in to me that way; with at least a dozen glorious colours (and appropriate citations and a bibliography). I wanted her ideas. She got them to me. And those ideas were brilliant.
There is a playfulness and a child-like stubbornness to both intellect and creativity. I find it a virtue when we are willing to be flexible in our expectations of how something is accomplished in order to make sure the goal is achieved.