By Nicole Stump
When I was a kid, my favorite part of school was back-to-school supply shopping. The smell of Office Max gave me all the good feelings, and I would stare in awe down every aisle, imagining the ways Rolodexes, one-touch binders, and graphing calculators would transform my life. From trapper keepers to Post Its, I lost my shit over it all, but I lost the most shit over the notebook and writing utensil aisles.
Though I’ve always kept a notebook, my notebook use has evolved. For the most part, I’ve abandoned the days of journaling in favor of planning, of trying out lame attempts, of collecting words, phrases, ideas, and overheard conversations. In the collected slop heap of my thinking, bigger ideas emerge, plot points resolve, and life begins to make a bit more sense.
I’m now extremely particular about my notebook requirements, and I have several non-negotiables.
- My notebook must be portable.
With the goal of collecting thoughts before they disappear into the abyss, the notebook needs to be easily accessible. I’m hyper-aware of the size of my notebook for a few reasons. First, something in my brain goes into shut down mode when I’m expected to write creatively on 9×11 paper. The expanse is too big, and it feels insurmountable. I’m also concerned about size because I’ve got to carry it around with me. 5”x8.25” is the sweet spot for me. It’s big enough to get plenty of ideas on the same page, but small enough to avoid stage fright and fit into my moderate-sized purses.
Because portability is key, my notebook needs to have a strap or some form of minor security that stops it from dumping its contents. No need to unloose ideas into the world until they’ve properly marinated.
Sidenote: I also know that I want a notebook with me at all times, so I have back up notebooks, pocket-sized ones, that are distributed between my smaller purses, my gym bag, in my car console, and the coffee table drawer. My small notebooks collect my mobile thoughts, the ones that hit while living, that have to be captured immediately before they disappear forever. These tend to be the cheapest three pack of notebooks I can find, usually without elastic straps. I’ll occasionally harvest the small notebooks to get the useful bits of thinking into my main notebook.
- My notebook must be hardy.
Look, I know it terrorizes the notebook spine, but I’ve got to have a pen with me at all times. Not a pencil–the graphite fades over the years. I need a plain BIC pen to ride along inside my notebook, ready to go whenever and wherever writing happens. I need a notebook that will withstand my constant pressure on its binding without shedding paper after months of use or falling apart altogether.
I need my notebook to be hardy, but not destructive–I prefer a hardcover with rounded edges so it’s not poking everything in my bag.
I also need relatively heavy paper–nothing that’s going to show writing imprints on the other side, nothing that feels too flimsy and rippable. I need to revisit and revise some pages over and over again, and I need the paper to hold up to the wear.
- My notebook must provide a flexible workspace.
While I am a rule-follower in the most annoying sense of the description, lined paper causes me to rebel. I become a relentless anarchist. Regular lined paper makes me feel like I need to fill it from top to bottom, using every line. Fuck that. I need the inside of my notebook to bend to my will. Grid paper is the solution for me. Grid lines give me a general guide for days I feel like writing relatively straight, it invites me to go big when I have something that needs mega-sized, or allows me to turn my notebook sideways for days I’m creating charts, plotting out details, and organizing information. On grid paper, I can let my handwriting go however large, small, or diagram-y as I want it to, and no one can stop me.
One thing that makes me almost as angry as lined paper is when a notebook hinges closed as I’m writing. Lay flat technology exists, and it’s needlessly aggravating to constantly fight a closing cover. Notebook companies can take all of my money if it means I can get a notebook that stays open without causing me to exert brute force.
I found the notebook of my dreams in 2010. Near the end of college as I was trying to figure out who I was as a writer and as a person (this is still in process), I treated myself to a beautiful luxury: a 5”x8.5” Moleskine Classic Hardcover squared notebook. Seven years (and a stack of notebooks) later, this notebook is a staple on my birthday and Christmas wish lists, where I hope to tempt my loved ones into bankrolling my writing life. Is it cliche to yearn for a Moleskine? Of course. Everyone loves Moleskine. But Moleskine 10 of 10 meets my writing needs comfortably.
We’ve now reached the call and response portion of this blog post. What oddly specific requirements do you have for your notebooks? Which notebooks have you found to meet your needs? How many/what color Moleskines will you dedicate to Unapologetic Voices to support your central Texas writing friends? Less materialistically, when do you take a piece from your notebook into the electronic realm? Comment at will.
Nicole Harbert Stump is an English teacher in Austin, Texas. In addition to telling teenagers when they can and cannot use the restroom, she founded a student-run literary magazine. Her work has been published in The Vandalia.