Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Jean Reidy: A Perfect Word? Yes.

Over the years, I've acquired many beautiful notebooks -- journals rather -- which I've mostly been given as gifts. I love their gorgeous covers, their chunky shapes, their stiff pages. And I love them because they remind me of those who gifted them to me -- a best friend, a husband, a daughter. Those beautiful notebooks have earned special "homes" in my home -- on display, if you will.

Beautiful Notebooks

But true confession -- they intimidate me.

They feel far too special to "muck up" with random thoughts or -- worse -- endless lists. So I save them for special writing. Like travel logs. Or prayer journaling. Or love letters to my kids.

For fiction writing, though, I turn to old, ugly spiral notebooks. Notebooks leftover at the end of the school year with "Mrs. Dineen Social Studies" scratched on the cover. Covered in doodles and phone numbers and full of beautiful, untouched college rule that the "green" side of me cannot let go to waste.

Spiral Notebooks

Not that I feel my fiction writing unworthy of the handsome journals that sit properly on my coffee table, but I'm granted total freedom by those old notebooks that lay stacked and hidden behind cabinet doors.

These abandoned spirals house lists, scenes, letters to and from characters and free writing until such scribblings are worthy of their own folders. At that time, I feel no guilt in tearing out the pages and giving them a new home.

Sometimes these pages hold only lists and lists of words in an effort to find the perfect word. So, when I searched my LIGHT UP THE NIGHT file, sure enough I found several ragged-edged, word-filled sheets. One of which was this:

Lamp List

In the original text of LIGHT UP THE NIGHT, on the page where our young boy describes his room, he mentions his "choo choo train lamp," which early readers labeled "too precious." So on this notebook page, I brainstormed all the other lamps my adventurous, imaginative little boy might find in his room. In my mind, I traipsed through rooms from my childhood and then through the rooms of my own children. All those lamps stored in my memory spilled onto that page -- of course I only allowed those that fit my three-beat rhyme scheme. I landed on the "dinosaur lamp" -- a lamp which I never owned but every child would love. A perfect word? Yes. From an imperfect notebook.

Latest Book

I keep old notebooks in my car door pocket, in my kitchen, in my writing bag and at my desk. these days I'm filling one with pages and pages of character freewriting for a novel I'm fleshing out. And on those pages, my characters reveal all -- hopes, fears, dreams, shame -- because they're not intimidated by the blank page. How could they be, when it's part of an ugly notebook that says "Mead 1-Subject 6th Grade English" on the cover?

Jean Reidy is the author of six picture books. Her latest book, LIGHT UP THE NIGHT, features the beautiful artwork of Caldecott Honor illustrator Margaret Chodos-Irvine. To learn more about Jean and her books, please visit her at www.jeanreidy.com.


  1. Interesting! But my characters have never been intimidated in the least by those lovely hardcover blank books. In fact, even though I already had a nice book ready to go for my suspense/thriller novel set in Italy, I couldn't help but grab one adorned with European postcards from places my character had visited.

  2. Kudos to your characters, Kristin!! They sound much classier than mine.

    A suspense/thriller set in Italy. Sounds like my kinda book.

  3. And here I thought I was the only one who left all of those beautiful blank books, that were gifted to me, on the shelf. I never think I'm putting the "right" things in them so they stay in a stack, virtually untouched. So sad.


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