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What You Might Find in Your Old Notebooks

Categories: MFA Confidential Blog.

As I finish the final revisions on my thesis, I’m eager and
anxious to get started on new work. I
have many stories that are in their early stages. They’re on my desk, begging
to be finished. I also have notebooks full of free writing. And this is one of
my favorite things: going back to those pages and rereading them, trying to
find golden morsels, words and sentences that just glimmer on the page. Words
and sentences that pop. My friend and I did this last summer. We sat on my deck
and free-wrote for hours… and then we went back at the end of the week and
actually switched notebooks and circled the sections that we felt were the most
alive in the other’s work. It was fun and it provided lots of new, promising material.
I plan to do some this again soon. It’s like a treasure hunt.

Here is author Natalie Goldberg’s take on rescuing old
material as a part of the rereading and rewriting process:

you reread, circle whole sections that are good in your notebooks. They often
glow off the page and are obvious. They can be used as beginning points for
future writing, or they might be complete poems right there. Try typing them
up. Seeing them in black and white makes it clear whether they work or not.
Only take out the places where there is a blur, where your mind wasn’t present.
Don’t change words, because in this practice you are deepening your ability to
trust your own voice. If you were truly present when you wrote, it will be
there whole. We don’t need to now have our egos manipulate our words to sound
better or the way we want to sound: perfect, happy, on top of everything. This
is naked writing. It is an opportunity to view ourselves without manipulation
and aggression. “I am unhappy”—don’t try to cover that statement up. Accept it
without judgment if that’s how you felt.”

Goldberg, Writing Down The Bones: Freeing the Writer Within


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2 Responses to What You Might Find in Your Old Notebooks

  1. I find I often surprise myself with what I’ve written weeks, months, even years ago. The distance puts a fresh perspective on it. I like Natalie’s advice; thanks for sharing it. :)

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