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Ask Dave: How Can I Deflower My Virgin Notebooks?

The most inappropriate article about writing I have ever written

By Dave Fox
Seattle, Washington

I recently received this e-mail from Tonya, a conflicted ukulele travel blogger in Paradise, who has been feeling urges to write – on paper (!) – but has been repressing those urges out of respect for the paper’s purity. Tonya writes:

tonya_wcuf_Fotor“I seem to have a profound reluctance to sully the pages of my virginal notebooks with my writing. I write all the time on computer, iPad, etc. (and I even get *paid* for it) but I don’t want to “ruin” the blank pages on a new notebook with my less-than-perfect handwritten entries. Any tips to get past this – short of deflowering them pre-emptively by dropping the precious little Moleskines under a four-wheel drive’s tires, running over them on a gravel road and then smoothing out the pages before my pen makes its mark?”

— Tonya in Paradise, California
UkuleleTonya.com

Tonya, when I first read your question, I thought, “This person is a neurotic freak.” I mean, seriously, who buys blank notebooks but is afraid to write in them?

But then, I remembered, “Oops. I have encountered this conundrum myself.” So you and I think alike, Tonya, which (sorry) confirms you are neurotic… just like me!

But hey, all great writers are neurotic, so congratulations for that! Now, let’s fix your scribble-phobia with a three-pronged approach.

Prong One: Lower Your Standards
I too used to feel awestruck by the purity of blank journals. Corrupting them with my twisted and experimental musings felt dirty. I had intense urges to write, however, and I realized I needed to find a healthy outlet for satisfying those urges.

Part of my problem was that my notebooks were too fancy. I’ve canoodled with a Moleskine or two in my days, but the pages have felt just a little too sophisticated. I’ve also received some high-fallootin’, blank diaries as gifts. One was a hardback book with a picture of an antique map and the word, “Travels” on the cover. Another was bound in hand-crafted parchment. Then, there was the book whose pages each contained an inspirational travel quote at the top. I did not feel worthy of sharing my own words in the same six-by-nine-inch space as established travel philosophers.

I eventually realized if I was going to journal, I needed to lower my standards.

So I stopped trying to, as you put it, “deflower” these high-class volumes. I began pursuing cheap and tawdry, spiral-bound notebooks – the kind you can buy in bulk at Office Depot. These books were easy. And fun! They were all like, “Come on, baby. Write in me. Write in me fast. Write in me slow. Write whatever you want, big boy. It’s okay if you’re messy. I just want you to use me, and fill me up with your sweet, sweet words.”

These books did not care whether I caressed their covers tenderly or tossed them recklessly across my desk after a seven-minute speed-journaling quickie. And I didn’t just write in them. No! I spilled beer and coffee on them. I stained their pages with curry. And – think what you will about me – I felt no guilt or shame for doing this.

So you see, Tonya, sometimes it’s best not to be lured by high-quality, high-maintenance diaries such as the expensive Moleskines you lust after. Sometimes, the cheap, trashy-looking notebooks give you the most action.

Prong Two: Show Your Notebook Who’s Boss
That said, sometimes a more luscious notebook makes us swoon. We cannot stifle our urge to have it. Maybe we’re drawn to the glistening pleather binding. Or perhaps the book is an elegant gift from someone who doesn’t understand we like to write hard and reckless – legible handwriting and appropriate grammar be damned! We want, just once in our lives (okay, twice if we like it the first time) to spill our ink in such a sexy set of pages. Making the first move and showing these untouched books the ways of our words can feel awkward, however.

My advice when attempting to score with a high-class notebook: Just go for it. Write something – anything – the second such a book comes into your life, before you develop emotional attachments. What you write does not have to be meaningful or good. It doesn’t even have to be words. Sometimes, our blank notebooks are best broken in by playing a game of tic-tac-toe, or drawing an intoxicated walrus. Hell, you can even take a ballpoint pen and poke holes in the first page of your leather-bound diary. Seriously, Tonya, some notebooks are into that kind of thing. The point is: you must take control without hesitating. Once you’ve placed your mark upon the first page, subsequent pages will not seem so intimidating.

Now, if you are pure of heart, if all of these highly inappropriate innuendos aren’t enough to convince you it’s okay to wantonly ravage your journals, there’s an alternative, new-agey, weirder but less sleazy angle from which we can look at all of this.

Prong Three: Show Your Pages Some Love
What you are telling me when you ask your question, Tonya, is that you feel a need to respect your notebooks by not putting any marks in them. But leaving them empty is not respecting them.

Blank books are not created to be left blank. A blank book – I don’t care how pure and innocent the paper looks – has no soul. If you want to respect a blank book, the thing to do is slather its pages with rambling, brilliantly neurotic scrawl.

Every blank notebook has the potential to be a unique, weirdly wonderful, perfectly imperfect collection of words. Or it can be left empty and neglected. Ask yourself: which way is respecting the pages and which way is needlessly wasting trees? Your notebooks are begging you to write in them, Tonya. They do not want you to be perfect. They just want to feel loved.

So write, Tonya! Write imperfectly because it’s the only way anybody can write. It is what your seemingly pure journal wants done to it. It will respect you in the morning.


Do you have a question about writing, travel, or absolutely anything else? Send it to Dave and you might see it answered in a future “Ask Dave” column.

Want to learn how to write in ways that make your readers shudder in ecstasy? Check out Dave’s super fun online writing classes or hire him as your personal writing coach.

Published on Sunday, December 29, 2013

3 Responses to “Ask Dave: How Can I Deflower My Virgin Notebooks?”

  1. Deborah Reiling
    January 1, 2014 at 12:03 PM

    Excellent points! I especially liked the part about leaving them empty is not respecting them.

  2. January 22, 2014 at 6:44 AM

    Love your sense of humour and your writing style!

  3. January 22, 2014 at 11:39 PM

    Thanks to both of you!

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