Picking Up The Spare

I finished this notebook this morning!

The first time I thought about this was at a museum exhibit displaying selected pages from Michaelangelo’s notebooks.  He didn’t just use his notebooks, he wore them out.  Every page wasn’t a large drawing.  Instead, he scribbled and sketched small studies in every bit of white space.  The pages were old long before I saw them, but the brilliant swirls of his sepia ink still shined, crisp and indelible.

“Nothing went to waste,” I thought.

Using up the pages makes lot of sense, paper was probably scarce and expensive back then.  Not like today.  I was a frequent business traveler and writing on planes was sometimes my only uninterrupted time.  My rationale was, “Well, I can’t take two journals.  But what if I write to the end of this half-written one in mid-flight, then I won’t have more pages with me. Better take a whole new one.”  It wasn’t long before the number of halvsies were gaining on the finished ones.

Just as it has been my mission this year to finish old pieces, I have been finishing off the halvsies.  When I get to that last page, I feel like my writing and that notebook have had a second chance, like bowling for a spare.  Yeah, it wasn’t like bowling a strike on the first go, but does anything worthwhile ever go in order, as planned, as hoped?  All those blank pages are opportunities just waiting for us and picking up the spares, finishing the halvsies gives us a chance to find them.


  1. This post fascinated me and gave me pause because it’s so antithetical to how I work, as a poet. Probably most poets. And it underlies the reality that fiction writers and poets are, truthfully, not culturally related. The poet follows a trail of narrative hidden in a line to come. There’s a three-quarter mark ( if you haven’t fallen off the tiger ). You stop, take a breath. You have the poem. Then you race the last furlong to the end, that explodes into meaning. No notes. No journals. Just one poem after another, crowding in filaments into a book.

    1. Thanks, Charles, for your beautifully written and thoughtful comment. I can’t speak for fiction writers since I’m a nonfiction writer by training and practice. I’m new to poetry. I wonder how disruptive I’ve been to my trails of narratives for the sake of ease of travel. But then again, I’m guessing that I’m like most writers, I do a lot of thinking before I pick up a pencil and open my notebook(s). Yes, writing is discovery too. I still have yet to recognize that point in my revision cycle where “I have the poem” — I’ve been close to some pieces for so long — I don’t have the poem until it is won and done. Until the very end I could fall off the tiger and lose it all. But, such is a practice. 🙂

    1. Kim, I love it! This is not the first time we’ve written in the same type of journal at the same time. Go, you!

  2. I can so relate to the accumulation of half-finished notebooks! Researching and writing my upcoming biography, I always had a notebook with me — for notes, inspiration etc. They started piling up, sometimes I would even forget I had jotted something down. But re-reading them was a bit like finding hidden treasure (not always, but sometimes). That would sometimes lead to another idea….

    1. Big mahalo, Alina, for your enthusiasm about this post — appreciate you for offering my post to your Twitter followers! Ah, the seduction of research – I am nodding. Yes, and for me, that kind of research is so handwritten note driven…I haven’t made the complete leap to digital research techniques. Some things I just have to jot down. But, yes, going back through notebooks are treasures. Sometimes I find pieces that I shrugged about when I first wrote them, but in hindsight, I type them right up and get them into revision. Best of luck with your biography!

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