Saturday, June 15, 2013

Emily Krempholtz: I Am A Writer

I have a confession to make. My name is Emily Krempholtz, and I am an addict.

From a young age, my nana and grandpa would take us to the dollar store and tell me and my siblings we could each pick out one thing. My selection was pretty standard: I'd choose either a porcelain elephant figurine to add to my collection, or I'd buy a notebook.

My pack of pachyderms remains to this day on a shelf in my childhood bedroom, untouched, collecting dust and fond glances when I come home for the occasional weekend or day trip. But my notebook collection is out of control and still growing.

Shopping at Target with friends? Nine times out of ten I will disappear, only to be found in the office supplies section, staring longingly at the Moleskines. Writer's block while at my usual table in the Barnes and Noble cafe? I'll take a trip to the floor-to-ceiling shelf in the front corner by the registers, where the notebooks and journals are kept, to help clear my mind and gather my thoughts.

I have piles and piles of notebooks in my bedroom, waiting to be used, just begging to be filled with my thoughts, my lists, my words, my doodles. I have Italian leather bound books with thick, creamy pages, hardcover books of every color, and composition notebooks galore. I've got one notebook in which every page looks like a different kind of wall: stone, concrete, brick, wood-paneled, wallpapered... just waiting to be graffitied. And yet I can't seem to stop buying more. I buy them as rewards for getting through a difficult week or for finishing an important task, or as inspiration for a new project. There's just something about that blank book, a collection of pages completely empty but for their potential. I save them for the perfect project, for the perfect content. Sometimes they are used immediately, other times they wait for years, but eventually each of them will be filled with cramped scribblings in black ink. Of that I am positive.

At any given time I use about three or four notebooks. Currently, there's the tiny green one I keep in my purse with its matching little black pen. I keep track of my expenses and my earnings from month to month (and let me tell you, the number of times an entry titled "Barnes & Noble" appears in that little book is staggering) and I write lists. Grocery lists, lists of things to do, ideas for stories and blog posts, funny things my customers and coworkers have said to me at work, addresses, reminders, thoughts about a book or movie I'm planning on reviewing... Sometimes I just jot down a single word, expecting myself to remember its significance later on. I rarely do, but often it sparks an equally -- if not more -- fascinating train of thought.

I bought a big 11x15" hardcover sketchbook from a craft store when I was writing the first draft of my novel. I think much better on paper than on a computer screen, and I needed to sort out things like timelines, family trees, and background information. I use it to jot down little details I might forget later, for continuity purposes, and I have pages and pages devoted to character outlines, potential names, birth dates and specific ages, and historical facts. One of my best friends, an artist, helps me through writer's block sometimes by making me tell her personal details about my characters, from their deepest fears to what their teeth look like. She draws them for me, and the sketches she's given to me stay in my Big Black Book of Secrets, as it has come to be called.

Now that I am into the editing process I keep my notes for each draft in this book, writing down little things I notice here or there that should be added or moved around, or inconsistencies in plot or characterization that I should address in my next draft. I love it because the pages don't have lines. I can write in it like a notebook, doodle in it like a sketchbook, or draw up countless organizational graphs, the kind they taught you in middle school but you never actually used when writing essays.

And then there's the journals. I've kept a journal pretty consistently since about the age of eight. It relaxes me to write down the details of my life, and of course I, like many other writers, harbor the secret and vain hope that someday I might publish a memoir (after I become rich and famous, obviously). Several years ago I spent a semester studying in London, followed by a month of backpacking across Europe. I had the time of my life, but I was too poor to buy many souvenirs (or even much food, for that matter), so I rely on my photos and journal entries from that time to serve as my time machine.

From the scrawled worries about the boys I had crushes on at age ten, to the even more messily scrawled worries about my college lifestyle (including, but not limited to, the boys I had crushes on. Clearly I have done a lot of maturing), my journals piece together a patchwork story of my life. I didn't write about it all, and in fact a lot of it is eye roll inducing and repetitive, but the things I valued at the time, the things that made me tick, tell more about me than the things I could have written about, but didn't.

I've spent the past few days rereading passages, alternately reminiscing, laughing, and shaking my head in shame at the things that my past self deemed important enough to immortalize on paper. I looked at the way I used to say "bye!" or "g2g!" at the end of each entry (ah, the acronyms of early 2000's...) and the way the entire structure of my journals changed noticeably every time I read a new book I liked and wanted to emulate stylistically. I'm fascinated by my handwriting, constantly changing as I, obnoxiously self-aware even as a child, struggled to make my messy script fit some mold, to convey something about who I was even as I tried to discover what that meant.

My more recent journals have evened out a bit; the style and tone have become more natural and relaxed, and much more consistent. I've given up on my handwriting as a lost cause. Oscillating somewhere between script and print and chicken scratch, it's barely legible at times, but I've come to realize that I have finally achieved what I wanted so badly when I was younger: my handwriting is me. I can tell from the way those letters are formed my state of mind at the time when I wrote it. Was I rushed? Was I angry? Were the words very thought out? Was I writing in public or in bed or in the back seat of a moving car?

I've come to decipher those markings as more than words, as though they speak a second language in and of themselves. And thus I've discovered that not in spite, but because of the inconsistencies in the content of my entries, and my inability to record sometimes the more basic details of my life in favor of the more ridiculous and dramatic, my journals really do tell, between the lines, the story of my life. Even if no one else could comprehend it.

And that, more than anything, has kept me writing in these notebooks. I am one of the minority in my generation in that I still do not own an iPhone, but to be honest, even if I had one, I don't know that I could organize my life solely through an electronic device like my friends do. There's just something so lovely about writing by hand, about watching those smooth shapes materialize from the tip of your pen. I've even developed a begrudging fondness for the near-permanent ink stain on my left pinky finger (that bane of left-handed writers everywhere!) to the point where I've thought about getting it tattooed there as a subtle reminder to myself of who I am. The growing piles of empty notebooks in my room don't panic me, or make me feel like I should be doing more or writing more. They wait patiently for a project deemed worthy enough for them, and serve to remind me that I am doing what I was always meant to do.

My name is Emily Krempholtz, and I am not an addict.

I am a writer.

Emily Krempholtz is a graduate of Ithaca College's esteemed Roy H. Park School of Communications. She wrote her first book at the age of four and has dreamed of being a writer ever since. As a new resident in the Land of Adults, she tries to face life armed with a pen, paper, and a wicked sense of humor. She currently lives in Ithaca, NY and can usually be found holed up in the Barnes & Noble cafe working on her novel, or at the barn with the love of her life, a horse named Marea. 

As a giveaway, Emily has offered one of her many empty notebooks, "I'd be happy to part with one so long as it goes to a good home! I'd also like to give away a package of my favorite quick-drying black pens (perfect for lefties, so they don't smudge all over your fingers or the page!) "  Please leave a comment and a way to reach you, and check back on Sunday, June 30 to see if you have won!

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  1. Emily,
    I love your post about the many ways you use your notebooks. I also have kept journals and have volumes of them since I was about 15 years old. Lately I keep a notebook but more and more of my writing--including a notebook--has gone electronic. Thank you for this share.

  2. I, too, am a collector of notebooks, journals, and the like. They tell of a history. Recently, I was reading a book and the author's name sounded familiar and sure enough, in an old journal from 1993, I found that I had gone to a workshop with him. I have moved on to electronic, too, but when I write with students or in workshops, for rough ideas...,I still use the notebooks. Thanks for this fun post, Emily.

  3. Beautifully remembered, all those times of writing, and capturing, your life, Emily. I have tons of notebooks, full and empty, so please don't add me to your possible list, but just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed hearing about your work as a "notebook addict". I too look lovingly at all those blank books in bookstores and in tourist stops. I guess they want you to capture the trip in those special journals! Thanks very much for all, and the ending is beautiful!

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  5. You have made me homesick for my big sketch book and box of colored pencils. Alas, I couldn't bring EVERYTHING for the three-week stay at my mom's.

  6. I am a collector of notebooks, too. I have a pile of them and can't control myself when I got to stores, either! I always save the really nice "leathery" ones thinking I'll have some brilliant writing I want to put in it and don't want it to be filled with crossed out writing, pages torn, etc. I've come to realize, the best writing is all messed up!!

  7. I had to laugh when I read about your journal entries on your 'crushes', as I wrote poetry about mine when in high school *blush*. Thank you for this great post, it encouraged me to not be daunted by blank journals that I own, but just wait for the right time to use them. You artist friend is excellent, the character sketch she created for you is beautiful. Thank you for your real approach, the inspiration and the laughs.

  8. So happy to read this and know I am not alone in having multiple writing notebooks happening at the same time.

  9. Emily, I think you are officially part of my tribe. I just recently pitched 3-ring binders from high school onto which I'd Mod-Podged magazine pictures and words. Everyone commenting seems to fit the profile of notebook lover/collector/pen addict. That said, you are also a talented artist -- I've always wanted to be able to draw what I see in my mind or in front of me. Beautiful sketches and portraits! Thanks for sharing your notebooks!

  10. Love this post! So fun to hear about your addiction. I too love notebooks, but I'm always saving them for the perfect project. This post has inspired me to dig a couple out write away!

  11. Amy!! Thank you for opening your notebooks. My teammate and I are facilitating a teacher training on using notebooks for literacy learning for our district. I will be very excited to share your website with all my friends and colleagues. This couldn't have come at a better time for me. What would we all do without our fellow writers?

  12. Goodness! The very best part about this fantastic spread of notebooks is that you use them.I am delighted. My own stack of filled ones is growing. Be fun to use one someone else picked out.

  13. Oh it is so good to know that I am not alone in looking lovingly at journals and notebooks in stores and at the pile I have collected! I also find myself waiting for the "perfect" project or thing to put in them ... but I need to take a lesson from you and actually do it! Thanks for sharing a glimpse inside you and your notebooks!

  14. Emily, I teach 6th grade and have been really inconsistent about journaling with my students. But, I'm participating in Teachers Write this year and have really enjoyed writing for myself again. I envy you...all those journals that document your life. I really wish I had those for myself and wish I had encouraged my own children to journal. But, can't go back and change things, so I'm really going to have my students personalize a journal for themselves this year and make journaling an important part of my classroom day. Thanks for the inspiration and sharing of your writing life!

  15. I had a big smile on my face as I was reading about your notebooks, journals and staring lovingly at notebooks at B&N and Target and other places. I thought, "man, she is describing me!" I too have a stack of empty journals waiting. I foolishly once told myself I couldn't buy another journal until I had used up what I already have. Needless to say, that didn't last long. My journal writing consists of my daily life as well as thoughts, prayers, quotes and also I use my journal to help me figure things out. I call it "writing my way through." I write and write until I suddenly have the answer to whatever was bothering me. I will definitely be returning to your blog! Thanks for the inspiration!

  16. Thank you for sharing what goes in your notebooks, Emily, and the extraordinary variety of them...and also in them!

  17. I totally agree with you, there's something satisfying about getting away from your phone and organising on actual pen and paper!


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