Tag Archives: Journals

Writer’s Guide to Dead Trees


As a final step in transforming the front bedroom (my former office) into a guest room I am going through my closet. A depressing amount of the contents were old receipts and papers long overdue for shredding, but there were still a few small treasures to be found. One box contained literally dozens of post-it pads, tiny spiral notebooks, writing pads from hotels, scrap paper, note-cards, and nicer scratch pads. Turns out I’ve been serious about paper for a long time.

My “g0 bag” has six notepads of various sizes, each with a specific purpose. At home I have dozens more, even though I primarily work with computers. But I still consider these notebooks to be an essential part of my process, and I think they can be for you as well. Here’s a survey of the types of notebooks I buy and their uses:

vintage-237568_1920The “Oh Crap!” Notebook – This is the notebook that is most important to keep around. It should either be on your person, or stashed away in key locations in your house. This is for when you get an idea and need to get it down immediately. Probably 75% of this is stuff I will never look at again, but the real gems are important to have. I’ve even at times kept one in my car (only writing at stoplights of course). I like little flip-pads for this, with pages that tear out, though I’ve also used 3×5″ little books with lots of pages. The box I found in my closet is perfect for this kind of notebook.

The “Idea Planning” Notebook – This one may or may not travel with you. I’ve currently got two, a nice leather-bound wrap around that fits in my bag, and an older Picadilly thin-ruled thick bound book. This is where ideas from the “Oh crap” book get stored for longer use, or where story-plotting or book outlining happens. This is the kind of notebook you refer back to and even have open as you write. An unlined book makes sketching easy, though with my handwriting I tend to be able to fit more if I have the lines.

The “Notes” Notebook – In college these were college ruled spiral bound notebooks or composition books, but in my later life I tend to like something smaller. I used to carry a huge backpack, and am now trying to live out of a small laptop bag so space is at a premium (and spirals tend to get bent anyway). I’m working on two books right now that involve research, so I need two different note-taking books. I tend to use the 8×5″ medium rule, 100-page Picadilly 3-packs you can get at Barnes & Noble for $6. There are fancier designs online if you’re willing to pay shipping or make a huge order, but I tend to have fairly simple needs in terms of style, just a different color so they’re easier to tell apart. These types of books also look nicer in book shelves for longer term storage.

notes-933111_1920The “Technical” Notebook – One of my new books involves a lot of drawing, equations, and mathematical notations so I sprung for a nice compact graph paper notebook. Something small and hard-bound (Moleskine seemed to be the only thing I could find that met all the parameters, though I don’t love the expense). I tend to be a very functional based purchaser when I buy notebooks (otherwise how could I justify buying so many), so I don’t get a lot from the whole background of Moleskine (used by Hemmingway and the like).

The “Story” Notebook – This notebook is largely aspirational for me, and I don’t currently carry one. As a writer I sometimes have a romantic notion of writing stories by hand, but the longer I’ve been at this, the less I see the advantage. Taking notes for ideas, or research makes sense to me, in part because of research that suggests retention is actually better when taking notes by hand, and in part because ideas and research are tasks I need to be able to do anywhere. Writing stories tends to happen in much more fixed locations, my home office, a couple hour session at a coffee shop, and sometimes my lunch break. These are places I always have a computer. The idea behind writing a story by hand, of slowing down and paying real attention, just keeps me from getting any real meat out. I get caught in the particulars and lose a sense of the whole. And I tend to start a story, never finish it, and then have the rest of a nice blank notebook with nothing to fill it with.

downloadThe “Journal” Notebook – I don’t have one of these. The closest I have to a journal is this blog. I used to have a TNG diary that had “Personal Log” on the front, and unfortunately there are entries from my elementary life (and possibly middle school). I imagine for something like this it’s best to have something that feels nice as an artifact more than something purely functional. And maybe something with a log, or that burns easily.

The “What the heck am I going to do with this” Notebook – This is usually something wide-rule, over-sized, 48 page, possibly with a big colorful out of character picture. There were also a lot of these in the box from my closet, though most were leftover relics from middle-school (192 page no-spiral, wide rule, 4×6″ Star Wars cover books, one of which had the beginnings of a CYOA Star Trek fan-fic story inside). May I suggest a couple hundred games of Scrabble? Or maybe Mille-Bornes? Grocery list?

How many paper notebooks do you own? Approximately how many pages per notebook are filled?

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