Smorgasbord Post from Your Archives – Sacks and Notebooks by Annika Perry

Welcome to the third of the archive posts from Annika Perry and this week a look at the compulsion to write everything down, especially in notebooks. Annika shares the obsession of Oliver Sacks (Awakenings amongst many books) and his over 1000 notebooks filled anywhere and at anytime… Do you have notebooks or even scraps of paper that you have trusted with your thoughts and dreams over the years?

Sacks and Notebooks by Annika Perry

No doubt we’ve all set ourselves deadlines in our writing goals. Some may even come attached with a mental forfeit. Not many can be as extreme as the one Oliver Sacks set himself over fifty years ago when writing his first book.

To complete it within ten days or failing that kill himself.

Spurred into action he wrote at times twenty hours a day and on the tenth day he handed in ‘Migraine’ to Fabers in London. The writing turned to joy and the threat dissipated by a sense of elation.

Writing has been an integral part of his life and besides his numerous books, amongst them the famous ‘Awakenings’ which was made into a film starring the brilliant late Robin Williams, he also uses notebooks compulsively.

Oliver Sacks writes non-stop, taking note-books with him wherever he goes, often pausing to jot down notes. There he is, resting his notepad on a car-roof, scribbling away. Over there, standing still at a train station, pen and paper in hand, oblivious to the huge swirl of the crowds parting around him and his briefcase which stands abandoned for his feet.

Altogether Sacks reckons he has filled over a thousand notebooks. He calls these an ‘indispensable form of talking to myself’ and that they were not written to be read by others, nor does he read them himself.

‘The act of writing is itself enough; it serves to clarify thoughts and feelings.’

Reading these words it was as if a long-lingering dark cloud has lifted from me and in a few single puffs of words my intermittent anxiety regarding my own collection of notebooks has faded.

Stashed safely in two bed boxes, their weight alone threatening the thin chip board base, the notebooks have rarely seen daylight since the day they were filled. On a few nostalgic moments I’ve retrieved the odd one and snuggled in bed, relived a few days of my youth, dipped into past loves, sorrows, tragedies, read a few words of innocent dramatic musings written in my childish scrawl.

Otherwise they lay there, untouched. By no means reaching Oliver Sacks’s thousand, but near a hundred notebooks and I had wondered, why? Why did I bother? What should I do with them?

Now I am reassured. I can face a contented security that this is normal, whatever normal means. To scribble away, to put away. These inner thoughts, emotions, a creative conversation within myself, an outpouring of energy that helped in the moment and helped to form myself. To create and re-create myself. At times two hours would disappear in frenzied writing and as I emerged with aching fingers and blurred vision my soul and mind felt purged, as thoughts and ideas became vivid and crystal clear.

Each notebook is precious, from the smallest, earliest one at 2 x 4 cm in a golden hardback flip case, to the largest, latest lurid pink ‘blott’ notebook. From misspelt words, feelings, lists, to ideas on life, friends, boyfriends and politics, I scribbled away. Not forgetting the dreams…those dream entries still freak me out. Once for two weeks I kept a dream diary and as early morning writing turned into the next morning, the dreams seemed so ominous and fantastic, too real. My sleep suffered and finally I had to stop.

Nowadays I find one notebook alone does not suffice and so I work around four different journals, each assigned a specific topic.

My traditional black hardboard notebook is full of observations of life around me, conversations overheard in shops, description of particularly striking people spotted whilst out shopping, of interesting signposts, newspaper articles.

Another hardback journal is white with the loud and proud words of ‘Hold on People I’m having an Idea’ plastered across the whole front cover. In here I write down story ideas, some are merely a sentence long, whilst others stretch over pages.

The blue one with a blue elastic band serves as my book journal; in here I jot down notes on books I’m reviewing as well as books I have read and ones I intend to buy.

Finally I write in a smaller beautiful multi-coloured notebook with a magnetic flip front fastening. Unusually this was not a gift as most of my journals have been (I’m easy to buy presents for!) but I acquired this myself in Cambridge years ago and for a while it was left unattended as I felt it was too special to write in. Finally I decided to use it for the funny wise sayings of my son. Keen observations of the world that were uttered with startling clarity, seeing things anew only as they young can, and in the process reigniting the novelty of life for weary adults.

How could I resist this kind offer made by my son when he still very young! Reckon I didn’t take the money!

‘You should be a home-author. You can write stories for me whilst I’m at school. You don’t have to publish them. If they’re good I’ll give you 10p.’

I must not forget my mslexia dairy, full of blog notes, story ideas, competitions, quotes (plus of course school trips, doctor visits, birthdays…)

I approach each new notebook with the same eager anticipation I experienced in my childhood. The blank pages bursting with promise and expectation, so empty and free. With almost religious zeal I will flip through the pages, imaging the outpourings that might fill their bleak space. A feeling felt as keenly now as when a child and many a notebook will start with very similar feelings to these written seven years ago in a new gold-leaf edged notebook given to me by a life-long friend.

‘Monday 12th October 2008 Always such a great responsibility – marking that very first page. All pristine, empty of thoughts and emotions, now to be scarred forever, must be something special methinks, of particular value. … Once again I trust I will keep with it, once again I say for my sanity, once again I say, let’s see where it leads.’

Recently Oliver Sacks seems to have been everywhere I’ve turned; his latest autobiography reviewed in papers and online and convinced I bought ‘On the Move: A Life’ for my Dad for Father’s Day (hint to Dad: Please hurry up and read quickly – I want to borrow it!)

Then reading about the life of Oliver Sacks I discovered his addiction to notebooks and its absolute and phenomenal impact on his life This face reassured me about the sanity of writing these, holding on to them, for no particular reason but for their very being. I hope you too might find this of consolation.

I am sure many of you write and keep notebooks. I would love to hear from you about them. What topics are covered? Are they gifts or self-bought? Do you reread them often or let them rest in peace?

Finally, of course it does not just have to be notebooks. As Oliver Sacks said, ‘The need to think on paper is not confined to notebooks. It spreads onto the backs of envelopes, menus, whatever scraps of paper are at hand.’

©AnnikaPerry 2015

Thanks to Annika for reassuring us that we are not mad to write down all our dreams, hopes, story ideas on scraps of paper or in notebooks…. thank heavens.

About Annika Perry

Although writing has always been a lifetime passion for Annika, her route to full-time writing has been circuitous and she formerly worked within journalism and the timber trade before severe illness and motherhood gave her an opportunity to pursue her dream.

Annika’s First Prize win in the ‘Writing Magazine’ short story competition was the much needed impetus and confidence booster for her to complete the first novel, ‘Island Girl’, which is currently in the final editing stages. Annika is also working on the last edits of her first short story collection which she hopes to publish this year.

As well as writing, Annika is an avid reader (a world without books is unimaginable for her), a keen gardener, walker and she enjoys travel (in spite of her well-documented fear of flying!)

For the past two years blogging has become an important part of her life and she deeply values the friendships formed here on WP via the warm encouraging and uplifting comments. She lives in the South East of England with her husband and teenage son.

Connect to Annika


I am now looking for archive posts for the festive season.. short stories fiction and non-fiction, food and recipes, humour, memorable Christmas’s etc.  Please send one or two posts to I will be resuming the regular archive series in the New Year.  Thanks Sally.


64 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Post from Your Archives – Sacks and Notebooks by Annika Perry

  1. Pingback: Smorgasbord Archives – Sacks and Notebooks by Annika Perry – The Militant Negro™

  2. Oh I loved this post Annika! Notebooks and journals, a major addiction for me. I hear you and Oliver. I never have less than 10 brand new ones awaiting, and I have about 5 or 6 going at any given time. Heck my first book came from keeping those journals. 🙂 But now I keep one for subjects that interest me and ideas for blog posts, and interviews, one for free -morning pages, writing (when I used to have time), one for promotional ideas, another full of subjects and mini plot points for book ideas, and then, well, you know! 🙂 ❤ Fantastic post! xxx

    Liked by 4 people

  3. This was a joy to read, Annika. I love this line: ‘The blank pages bursting with promise and expectation, so empty and free.’ I have notebooks, lined tablets, binders, and myriad pieces of paper strewn across any surface that will accommodate them. Thank you for helping me recoup my sanity! 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Sally, it’s so exciting to be back again with this post…it is one of my favourites. Thank you so much for letting me be part of your archive series, I’m thoroughly enjoying the experience -I can’t wait to read about everyone’s notebooks and journals! 😀😀

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I also have boxes of notebooks. It appears to be a writers curse or blessing, however you look at it. Every now and then I do look through them and get a germ of an idea for a story or a blog post etc. A great post, Annika. Thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Haha! 😀😀 I had to smile at your blessing or a curse comment, Darlene! Mostly I find they’re a blessing…unless you forget which notebook you wrote that all important gem of an idea! That has happened to me!😀 Enjoy yours! ❤️

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Lovely post. I’m also addicted to notebooks. In the attic I have old diaries from when I was at school, starting with the banal, went to school, double maths (Yuck), did homework sort of entries. I love notebooks for scribbling story ideas in and poems. And being let loose in a shop selling notebooks is my idea of heaven.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mary, thank you so much for sharing your love of notebooks – I agree, notebook shops are heavenly!!😀 Nowadays there is such a wonderful variety of journals, catering for all occasions – we’re spoilt for choice! Oh, those early diaries! I have many myself…have you looked at yours recently? Double maths was the pits for me too…equal with double physics. I danced with joy when I could choose my subjects at 16 – languages and humanities. My son is doing sciences and maths – I’m in awe and of course, he’s on his own for homework!

      Liked by 2 people

      • I’m going to see my son graduate with a Masters in Biomedical Sciences on Monday. I was not able to provide much in the way of support on his dissertation – not one word of which I understood. Strange isn’t it – have no idea where he gets it from.
        It’s ages since I’ve looked at the early diaries. Some made me giggle, some made me smile ruefully and others made me squirm in embarrassment. I think I should make a date on which to burn them all. I don’t want anyone else to read them – ever. On the other hand, I guess it’s all primary material which might be useful in some writing project in the future.

        Liked by 2 people

  7. Sally, yes, I kept diaries when I was in Pakistan and Afghanistan and they were useful when I was writing No More Mulberries and particularly so for the memoir. I won’t burn them yet. Thanks both for the congratulations for David.


  8. Ah, Sally and Annika, how I love this blogging world. I too have notebooks everywhere, filled with scribbles, bits of poetry, parts of stories, you name it. I write in the car, on a plane and anywhere else conceivable, even on the loo. I am always so happy to know that I am not the only “loopy” person in the world. My husband thinks I am nuts and my Mother thinks I am a genius Tee hee.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. It’s fascinating, isn’t it, what people get up to? I can but admire Annika’s enormous energy and be thankful that Sacks completed that assignment. Yes- I’m a scribbler too. Mostly on ‘holiday’ these days or I fear I’d get nothing else done. They started life as those wistful diary yearnings- up in the loft somewhere now. I was desparate to be a singer in those days! Still hurts that I didn’t make it. But nowadays I ramble about my so-called adventures. Maybe it keeps me sane. 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jo, I love learning how you yearned to be a singer…it’s tough when one’s dreams don’t become a reality…life has a habit of taking us on different roads than we imagine and sometimes I wonder if these weren’t the ones we were meant to be on all along. Your adventures sound wonderful and you kindly share them with so many, brightening our days and hearts…rekindling my love of travelling! Haha, yes that occurred to me too…thankful Oliver Sacks met his self-imposed deadline -it makes one heck of an impression! Happy Scribbling, Jo! 😀❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I loved reading this, Annika. I’m completely convinced that we are related. 🙂 I think you might remember my blog posts about my obsession with all things paper…notebooks, journals, etc.I’m constantly adding to my collection and filling them with thoughts, quotes, memories and especially, things that I’m grateful for. Thanks for hosting our dear friend, Sally.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Love this, Annika! I love notebooks too, but my problem is I don’t stick to a single subject in any one of them, meaning I write notes for each project in multiple notebooks, then I try to find all the bits … Hmm, I should probably start some sort of system 🙂 Thank you for sharing–I feel I’m in good company 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Julie, we’re a pair!! 😀 I used to be oragnised with my notebooks but now jot down notes in whichever is closer and afterwards can’t find the idea again! What are we to do!? For my book I ended up with lots of pieces of paper that I’d torn out of the notebooks…then had to collate them. Happy Scribbling, Julie! ❤️

      Liked by 2 people

  12. So many notebooks! I have a few, but I’m in the minor leagues compared to Annika and Sacks! My book club friend gave us all little journals last year for Christmas and I promised myself I would write in it regularly. It sat for a while, but now I’m recording more thoughts!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Barbara, what a lovely present from your friend and I’m sure it’s one you will come back to now and then to write your thoughts and ideas. Oliver Sacks was seriously obsessive about his note-taking, famously even scribbling away in major concerts and shows etc…I’m in tiny tiny league by comparison. I wonder what happened to all his notebooks…Many thanks for your great comment and wishing you a happy Sunday. xx Perhaps there will be time to record a thought or two? 😀❤️

      Liked by 2 people

  13. Pingback: Smorgasbord Weekly Round Up – Christmas Promotions, ABBA, 1984, Garlic and Onions and a cast of many | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  14. Sally, thank you for featuring Annika’s post about Sachs and notebooks.
    Annika, I have read through it slowly and remembered how I loved it first time around. Now, with being a blogger myself I write with new experiences.
    Like so many of you I also keep a number of note-books and there is always a new one on my wish list for e.g. Christmas…..
    I must be a writer too as one comment said that writers keep notebooks.😊 . Quite exciting.
    I have notebooks for various purpose and also in different rooms so I don’t have to search when inspiration comes.
    Like Sally I wrote letters every week to my parents when I had moved to England and as they passed away there was a huge box for me with a multitude of letters…….I started reading but cried so hard I decided to wait until some time had passed.

    Oh, this is becoming too long. Will continue in a notebook. 🦋❤️

    Liked by 2 people

    • Miriam, this wasn’t too long at all…I didn’t want you to stop. I was moved to read about the huge box of letters that you have from your parents. It must be so hard to open the box and start looking through them…though I hope you find the peace and strength some day. As Sally says I am sure they would be inspirational for either your blog or possibly a book…you will know when the time is ready to tackle this. It might also be soothing and comforting to look at them, remembering…just an idea.

      What a great idea with a notebook in each room!! Why haven’t I thought of that – I’m taking this up immediately also with a pen to each room as well. Goodness knows how long the latter will stay there though! I hope you get another notebook for Christmas – perhaps for your handbag? Thank you so much for your touching comment. Happy Scribbling, my friend! 😀❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Great post, Annika. You made me want to run out and buy lots of pretty journals! I keep a notebook, but I’m disorganized and it’s a mess and eventually I burn it… yes, I use it to start fires in the woodstove. Horrors! I love your idea of having several for different purposes – I could manage that! 🙂 So glad I caught this post. Thanks for sharing Sally. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Did you hear that screech!? 😃😀 That was me at reading that you burn your journals! It’s something I’ve considered but never had the heart to do…is it difficult? I don’t hoard too much but I’ve kept ALL my journals, diaries etc…and I can’t even say why. Reckon I’ll have to decide what to do with them one day – not yet though!

      Go for it, Diana…notebook buying is such fun and satisfying. I hope there is a good stationary / gift shop near you that stocks them. It takes all my will-power when buying them as Christmas presents not to buy some for myself – although I’ve pointed some out to my husband when we’re out and about. Happy Scribbling! 😃❤️

      Liked by 2 people

      • I knew that would make you cringe! I haven’t burned journals, Annika, but notebooks full of messy jottings… yes. We don’t have any cute shops near me, but I’ll find something sweet online. ❤ Thanks for the inspiration!

        Liked by 2 people

  16. My home office closet is packed – PACKED – with notebooks. Each notebook is packed, PACKED, with my small scrawl full of stories – fiction and non-fiction. I tend to write even my personal pieces as a story. First person POV, but still, almost fictional in a way. Funny, I don’t count these writings toward the ‘word count’ that I’ve accomplished for the day. These stories are necessities – like green tea and chocolate chip cookies. 🙂 Wonderful post, Annika.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Keep writing, Annika! Sounds like you will have some future books from all your notes for sure. I take notes when I am writing a new book especially for my series. If I don’t I can forget names and places I wrote about in one and want to continue writing about in another. That would be a big oops! Thanks for sharing your writing style. Best of luck with future books! 😆

    Liked by 2 people

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