I Hate Blank Books

Coffee and Notes

I’ve been in love with reading ever since I can remember, and in love with writing since at least the age of five, if not earlier. For the sake of the argument, we’ll say five, because that’s when I “published” my first work: a collection of poetry that my mother mimeographed and send ’round to all the relatives. Somewhere, some aunt or cousin probably has a copy of those purple-stained pages covered in my childish scrawl, and I just know it will come back to haunt me someday, but that’s not really the point.

This is: for as long as I’ve been writing, people have been giving me blank books. Well, okay, sometimes they’re not entirely blank. Sometimes they have lines in them, or grid squares, but even when the insides are completely blank, they all have one thing in common: they have been presented to me with the expectation that I will fill them.

There are three problems with this:

  1. I’m not a diarist. If I want “something sensational to read on the train,” to borrow a phrase from Oscar Wilde, I have a Kindle full of books. I have no interest in writing down every tiny detail of my life, and even if I did, I don’t believe in writing things with the intent that they remain private. This blog is the closest thing I’ve ever had to a diary that I’ve managed to sustain, and it’s both open to the public and infrequently updated, Holidailies notwithstanding.
  2. They’re never what I would choose. Honestly, if I were choosing a blank book, it’s more likely to not be a book at all, but a spiral notebook (college ruled, green lines, 500 pages preferred, but I also like those top-bound ones). But no one ever gives me those. Instead, I get gilded pages, stiff bindings, and once a picture of cats. I am so not a cat person.
  3. They won’t get used. Even the moleskines that I did choose are rarely touched anymore, first because I do upwards of 90% of my writing on a computer, and second because anything other than a spiral notebook makes me feel like whatever goes in it has to be good and perfect and ready for publication. To me, those pretty books mean that I’m banned from writing what Anne Lamott calls a “shitty first draft.”

Despite this, and despite the fact that blank books and journals are never on my Christmas wish-lists, I keep receiving them, and then I either have to pretend to use them, re-gift them and hope I don’t give them back to the original giver, or keep them around and call them “art.”

If you really want to make me happy, instead of a blank book, give me candles, bath bubbles, and lotions, because I write better when I get to enjoy long soaks in the tub. Coffees and teas and the associated paraphernalia are always welcome, as are baked goods and homemade art. I’m also a sucker for pretty pens and stationery – I still write actual letters from time to time – and I never turn down chocolate.

Look, I know it’s rude to refuse gifts, but I just can’t handle any more blank books. If you must give me something to write on, a ream of printer paper would be much more sensible, and I promise, it wouldn’t get tucked away in a drawer until the paper crumbles. It would actually get used.


This year, I’m actually PODCASTING my holidailies entries. Go HERE to listen to yesterday’s selection.

Holidailies 2014

Image Copyright: karandaev / 123RF Stock Photo

CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 I Hate Blank Books by Melissa Bartell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

4 thoughts on “I Hate Blank Books

  1. I had a period where I did like blank books, but mostly I preferred to buy my own. Any I got as gifts were always terrible. Sometimes evening disturbingly, weirdly terrible (I’m hardly even exaggerating at all). At least in the abstract, I like the idea of a private journal, just as a sort of reminder of what life was like at a particular time, what I was thinking beyond what I was writing in a more public forum.

    But in practice, I blog more often than I write in my journal (and you’ve seen over the past year how much I blog…). So I guess I’ve shaken out somewhere in the same neighborhood, though if I don’t like receiving blank books, it’s more because 1) I prefer unlined, and people tend to buy lined and 2) getting a new one just reminds me how much writing I haven’t done. So thanks for that, hypothetical gift-giver.
    JohnSherck recently posted..In the midst of feeling lousy, frustrated, and unhappyMy Profile

  2. Like you, I much prefer to do my writing in a spiral bound notebook, and I have a huge stack of those in my closet (because personal writing that nobody ever reads seems to work for me, for whatever weird reason!)

    I’ve also got a pretty decent stack of those oh-so-pretty blank books. I’ve taken to using them for my daily lists, so they include everything from book titles to check out at the library, quotes I run across that I like, to what I need from Walgreens. They’re usually small enough to fit in my purse.

    On another note, I’m so happy it’s December because I get to read your writing on a daily basis! That’s a gift for me :)
    Becca recently posted..A New ChapterMy Profile

  3. I loved buying fancy blank books for myself – I always had the best of intentions to fill them, too. The best I ever did was when I was in the throes of writing “a shitty first draft” (I love Anne Lamott, by the way) and jotting down various notes and scenes. Now I use my purse-size blank book to draw (badly) – it seems to be a better use.

  4. Pingback: Holidailies 2014 #04: I Hate Blank Books | The Bathtub Mermaid

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