Words on a Page Writings about writing

How to choose the right notebook for you

A pocket notebook with a pen on top of it

There aren’t many writers I know who don’t see a paper notebook as an essential tool. I know that sounds strange in this world of tools like Evernote, OneNote, and Simplenote but it’s often faster and more efficient to capture ideas using pen and paper.

You’d think that choosing a notebook would be easy. For some people it isn’t. In fact, I’ve had more than couple of people, writers and not, ask me How do I know what notebook is right for me?

I used to believe that they were overthinking the situation. Then I realized that notebooks are funny things. They’re a personal choice and can inspire brand loyalty that rivals that shown by some users of Apple’s products. That leads to confusion and hesitation.

While I can’t tell you which notebook is right for you, I can offer some tips that can help you find the right notebook for you.

Before you start looking

There are a couple of things you should keep in mind before you start looking for a notebook.

First, don’t get obsessive about finding the perfect notebook. I doubt such a thing exists. Instead, try to find the notebook that’s best for you and your needs.

Second, don’t fetishize notebooks. They’re not magical objects. They won’t make you a better writer or increase your social standing. They won’t miraculously boost your productivity or make you more attractive. Notebooks are just paper on which you write your words. Treat them as tools, not piece of fashion or status symbols.

Size can matter

The writers I know who use notebooks use different size ones. And for different reasons.

Most of them use small pocket notebooks, while others use larger ones. Those of us who use smaller notebooks do so out of convenience — we can easily slip them into a bag or a pocket. And those smaller notebooks are more convenient when jotting down notes while riding transit or sitting at a table at a cafe or restaurant.

The writers I know who use larger notebooks do so because of ergonomics. They can spread their notebooks out and they have a larger canvas on which to record their thoughts and ideas.

While I can see the merits of both approaches, I go for smaller, pocket-sized notebooks. They’re what I’ve been using for as long as I can remember and they’re what I’m most comfortable with.

Think about the cost

This goes back to something I wrote a few paragraphs ago about note fetishizing your notebooks. A cheap exercise book that you buy at a drug store or a supermarket does just as good a job as, say, a more expensive Moleskine notebook. And if you go through several notebooks each year, you’ll be able to buy more of the cheaper ones.

Having written that, the less-expensive notebooks can offer false economy. If you’re rough with your notebooks, the pages of cheaper ones can easily tear or get torn out. More expensive ones are often more rugged and can take a bit more battering.

If you want decent quality but don’t want to spend a lot of money, think about the in-house brands of notebooks that many book and stationery chains sell. Here in New Zealand, for example, book seller Whitcoulls has a range of notebooks which are of good quality, are rugged, and less than half the price of comparable Moleskine notebooks.

Mixing and matching

Over the years, I’ve found that one type of notebooks isn’t always enough. While I generally carry a pocket-sized Moleskine (or similar) notebook with me, there are times when I want something lighter just to shove in a pocket or a pouch along with a pen. For that, I generally go with a notebook like this.

Other writers I know do something similar. They’ll use a smaller or cheaper notebook as their grab-and-go notebook and a larger, more durable one as their main notebook. Like me, they have two or three or more notebooks in play at any one time. While that can be confusing and cumbersome, it’s also convenient.

Final thoughts

Finding the notebook that’s right for you can take a while. You’ll go through several before you find the notebook that’s the right size and right price. But as I wrote earlier in this post, don’t try to find the perfect notebook. Instead, find the one that you’re most comfortable with. Then, stick with it until you feel the need for a change. That time may never come.

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