The first step last year: get a rough draft going of enough text to fill 50+ pages. Actually, the real first through seventh or eighth steps were all about planning and making mockups. But, hard as those parts were, by far the hardest part was the writing, so I tend to think of that as the real beginning. All last summer, I carried around a stack of 50 or so 4″x6″ index cards and filled them up with various short pieces of text, just to warm up. The plan was to use the limited size of a card as a constraint on how much I could write on any given topic. I needed at least 50 because I knew from the mockup that the book would be 92 pages long, and I knew I wanted to cover a little more than half of those pages with writing. Plus the pages were going to be 5″x7″, so the cards roughly matched the planned size of printing plates. From the very start, I knew I wanted a lot of blank pages in the book, to represent gaps in memory. Of course, they ended up not really being completely blank, but the fragments of patterns and textures they contain don’t add up to anything legible, so they’re effectively empty they way a static-filled TV screen is empty of decipherable content. (Does anyone ever encounter static-filled TV screens anymore? Did I just reveal how extremely superannuated I am?).
By the way, I guess officially the dimensions ought to be listed as 6″x4″ and 7″x5″. But all the household ephemera the size of the book is sort of obliquely referring to was always described width-first. So that way of doing things is stuck in my head a little, at least for this project.
The title changed during this process pretty fast from ‘Multiverse’ to ‘Notebook.’ I like short, plain titles (believe it or not), and also like to avoid overused words and phrases. I was starting to run into ‘Multiverse’ a little too often last year, so that one had to go. Besides, once I finished with the cards (even though this kind of writing is never really finished), I copied them all into a handmade sketchbook, where I began to add, subtract, tweak, and sometimes wholly rewrite big and small chunks of the text.
Once I had a rough draft of the text in a vaguely usable form, I sent it to the poet Mary Wehner, whose detailed feedback helped me reign the work in and focus it on the most essential images and ideas. I’d met Mary at Penland during a letterpress class I took with her and Steve Miller in 2012. She is in every way an excellent human being and artist and her thoughtful guidance led me a long way down the path of figuring out what I wanted to say and how to say it.
So the text developed a lot between whatever I scribbled in my journal and what I ended up writing out again for platemaking. But that’s how it’s supposed to happen, I guess. I certainly know from watching my wife work that writing is as much about revision as anything else. (Maybe it’s even mostly about revision?) The main thing I learned from doing all of this was how much farther I have to go. Like, basically ahead of me is still all the distance from the Shire to Mordor and back. So a pretty longish hike, in other words, with probably not enough breakfasts. But my project was designed so that it didn’t matter so much that I’m not going to be half as good as Raymond Carver for another few thousand years. It was supposed to be a kind of messy, chaotic notebook, after all, and for once not something pretending to be anything other than that. (I mean, it seems like a lot of my other work is nearly entirely about pretending.)
I’ll post some stuff about making the actual book in a few days. Just now editing and arranging thesis pictures after a month of rebuilding this whole blog from the ground up.
If you want to see the first draft, click on the image for the 4.2MB PDF or get it here.
And here’s the cover of the notebook, decorated with silver and black model paint: