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Waste a notebook with your random ideas

One day when I was in the fourth grade, I got in trouble for not paying attention in class. I was scribbling away on my tablet, writing notes that had nothing to do with what my teacher was talking about. She said I was daydreaming. She said I had to go sit in the hallway. I narrowly avoided a visit to the principal’s office.

Writing in a notebook has been part of me for as long as I can remember. In my notebooks, I write interesting words or phrases, the title of a good book recommendation, the date of the next book club meeting, words of a song that sound like poetry.

At some point, I type the notes from my notebooks into my computer so they’re easy to search. I know that in this electronic age, many people type everything on their digital devices, but I don’t enjoy typing with one finger. Mostly I just enjoy the act of writing with pen in hand. And it gives me a good excuse to buy more notebooks.

Little did I know, with all my scribblings, I was creating a “waste book” in the tradition of 18th century German scientist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, who had a habit of collecting aphoristic notes, ideas, and lists. According to a Scientific American review on, in his student days, Lichtenberg began the lifelong practice of recording his observations and reminders in notebooks that he called “Sudelbücher” after the waste books that English businesses used to enter transactions temporarily until they could be recorded in formal account books.

This is one of my favorite of Lichtenberg’s aphorisms: “The book which most deserved to be banned would be a catalog of banned books.” Lichtenberg’s writings have been translated in The Waste Books.

My waste books might seem a morass of random scribblings to some people, but when I look back at them, I find a gem here and there — an idea that may find it’s way into a story, the root of an essay, or a character waiting to be born.

For another take on keeping a notebook, read my previous post, A twist on the writer’s journal: The commonplace book.


3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Reblogged this on Creativity In The Box.

    May 29, 2014
  2. Hi, found you through your reblogged article on the blog:
    I write, and have written forever. It was lovely to find your blog and see that you seem to be as crazy as I am about this habit. I liked the way you have organised the posts on your blog to lead to your older posts.
    It let me read 3-4 of your posts without even realising it. And your posts are informative, share info that you have read elsewhere, so it helps get a slightly larger perspective. Thanks. Will be visiting often.

    May 29, 2014
  3. Deborah #

    Very informative. Thank you

    June 21, 2014

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