Writers' notes

24 September 2012 / 2 comments

Recently the National Library of Australia contacted me to see if I would be happy for this blog to be archived on the PANDORA Web Archive. National and State libraries have rich collections of letters, writer’s notebooks, diaries and manuscript drafts. Exhibitions are sometimes toured so that the public gets to see these papers, such as the Patrick White collection from the National Library of Australia.  These collections are important for researchers and the public to gain a better insight into their literary heroes. Check out the list of Peter Carey’s papers here for an example … 

Anyway, it got me thinking about how things are changing so much in this digital age. Do writers still keep their emails to agents and editors or their friends? Or is this sort of correspondence now lost in the trash box forever? Does anyone even write insightful letters to friends anymore that describes their surroundings and experiences, like people used to do when conversation was an art form and a letter was a thoughtfully composed piece that transcended mere correspondence?

Do writers still keep ideas in notebooks? I myself type any seemingly golden ideas into my notes or record them on the voice memo on my iphone – lost amongst a thousand other notes to myself about a child’s wishlist for their birthday, the latest coupon website recommended by a friend or reminders for the shopping list. And what about manuscript management? Is there some process that writers use to ensure that the third draft is saved on their computer distinctly from the fourth draft? My own system is completely haphazard, doing a ‘save as’ only when some sort of paranoia strikes me that something could get lost.

We can all probably take a better look at our system for managing our own ideas and work, including our archiving. Because, who knows, the National Library of Australia, or some other institution, may just want it for their collection one day… 


  1. I found this post interesting. I spent my life "overseas" working out of places such as Iraq, Sudan, Yemen, Pakistan and writing every week to my mother. She kept my 30 years of correspondence which are included in the final chapter of my new book www.travelswithmyhat.
    I also kept many of her own letters, written on blue aero-grammes (do they still exist?) Your post contains the good advice for writers - indeed for anyone - to make notes the old fashioned way: by hand.

    1. It's funny that you mention the blue aero-grammes. I spent a year in Latvia as an exchange student and my nana wrote to me every week and I still distinctly remember the red and blue lines on the envelopes she always sent. She also gave me all my letters when I returned. Sounds like you have lived and worked in some fascinating places...


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