Why Martha McPhee Carries a Notebook Everywhere

The novelist, writing in Wirecutter:

‘As it turns out, my notebooks—with their pressed flowers, theater-ticket stubs, different colors of sand glued onto the page, the shells, old photographs that have tumbled out of drawers—are like that red wheelbarrow, beside the white chickens, upon which so much depends. William Carlos Williams, as poet and medical doctor, would have appreciated what neuroscientists call the efficacy of writing on paper. Besides offering a sense of control, paper and pens and anything else we take to it helps us make sense of things. Students who take lecture notes by hand retain and understand the information more deeply than those who take notes on computers because something beautiful and mysterious happens when we relinquish speed to the human pace of thought, physicalized on the page.

But that’s not why my notebook comes with me everywhere. I take it with me because it helps me track the uncharted territory of the present moment. In this act of gathering—scrawls about things noticed on the way to a store, the playbill for my son’s brief acting career, glue-sticked to the page—I’m forced to slow down and tend to the parts that evoke a whole. Sometimes they plant the seed for an idea that I might write about later on. But mostly, I relish in the quiet engagement of pen on paper, my hand working with my brain to create something concrete and real, something that can’t be deleted in an instant after it is read….’