On Notebooks

I started a new notebook this morning. It’s the latest of more than 50 (at last count*). This one is thoughts about business of Red Tuxedo, <> morning pages. It’s a 10×7, wire bound, 100% recycled paper sketchbook. I bought it last Friday evening at the bookstore specifically for this purpose — knowing I needed somewhere to write about business <> blog posts <> journal or diary or morning pages <> daily planner <> client meeting notebook. And now it starts. I’ve numbered the pages, to 31 so far, numbering only the odd numbers. I left two pages for a table of contents.

Active Notebook Inventory

  • 8.5 by 11 blank hardbound journals. Mostly, I use these for art. Textiles has three volumes, jewelry has two, color has two.
  • composition books with the black-and-white cover. I can count 14 on the shelf from where I sit. Mostly, they are full of written notes that don’t warrant a larger volume, often notes about websites I’m developing, or events that happen repeatedly but not very often, like my annual Penguin party or what I gave people for Christmas this year (and every year since I started the book in 1994.
  • Page per day record books–the green ones, they don’t have a year: I keep one for the garden and one for big events in my life so I can remember when it was that happened.
  • page per day record book, dated: I found a 1985 edition of the page a day record book, the oversized kind that costs $59.99 at Kmart today at the thrift shop in 2009. They wanted $1.50 for it. It had not been used very much at all, and I glued some blank paper over the entries I didn’t need to see. I think I have a smaller version of this book in stash from a different year.
  • Small blank books that I received as gifts. Some of these have lines. I them for health records, one for me and one for my animals, in separate volumes. I keep these records by month. It’s good to know when the newest dog was neutered,  when the cat disappeared, or when did I receive the rabies series?
  • 5.5 x 8″ blank books, with a glued spine. I used to keep my reading list in one of these notebooks, but this year I started keeping a list in MS Excel.
  • 11 x 14″ blank sketchbooks. I keep ideas for the bigger art in here, but carving and my furniture. I have four of them within reach.
  • An engineering notebook, with graph paper. I use this to sketch layout plans for furniture and construction projects, such as the installation of the rain barrel system at my house.
  • A record book with lined, eye–ease green pages that are numbered. I use this as my daily planner. I started this system in 2004.
  • Plastic portfolio books: a 8.5 x 11 for my formal art portfolio. I carry a 5 x 7 version in my purse all the time. I keep two 11 x 14 books, one for press clippings about my art and one for organizing magazine articles about different ways of managing ideas.
  • Engineering field record book with waterproof paper. I found four of these at the swap shed several years ago, and I keep one in my street fair backpack to record hoop sales.

Notebook Qualities That Matter

Notebook size. Binding. Flatness when open. Paper quality, feel, and tooth. Paper color. How the different pens that I use move across a particular paper. Whether the paper is lined (not as much fun), graph, or blank. Blank paper is the best but it’s hard to find.


I sometimes have to smile when I see bold or extravagant or creative covers on the blank books section at the bookstore only to open the journal and find it full of neatly ruled paper. I can only assume the vendors have tested the sales of the product, and that lined paper sells much better. It is unfortunate, in my opinion, to be encouraging creativity by telling people to stay within the lines. Daytimer, the planner people, once offered blank calendars — each page had the day and date printed in the upper corner and the rest of the page was blank. I had planned to buy the set the year after I saw it in the catalog, but it was gone by the time I was ready to order. I suspect that Daytimer recognized that creative types wanted more freedom in their planner, but at the same time, creative types are perfectly capable of inventing their own planners.

Yesterday I purchased a brand-new 2006 planner for $.25 at the Habitat Re-store. I think my life would be smoother if I did a better job of planning out the shape of my week, and where I intend to get various tasks and projects done. I’m hoping to use the shape of the week inside this new book for that purpose. To that end, it doesn’t matter about the number on the day or the year; all I need is the shape.

I suppose I could get much the same benefits by printing out the week view onto a blank or recycled sheet of paper. However, you can’t ignore your own history. I like the feeling of a notebook as it fills up. I like the way the paper changes over time, with writing. I like the way the notebook gets thicker. I like the way I can flip through the filled pages and see what I’ve done, or not done; I simply like a notebook than a collection of sheets of paper. For a quarter, what do I have to lose?

Incidentally, a friend of mine once lost her ability to pursue intellectual property theft because she tore her notes out of a pad of paper before she went to her lawyer to discuss the case. Ever since then, I’ve been particularly careful to keep important notes about my business in a bound book with numbered pages. I could probably make the case that it’s the value of my own intellectual property that drives me to keep notebooks, but the fact is that I have kept them since I could write.  I have them all and I pay a mortgage on a house big enough to store them and as my BF says, “that’s how I roll.”

*I know this because I really did count them all, once. I read some creativity teacher encouraging students to get a special journal for a particular body of work, saying it was OK to have more than one. “More than one?!?,” I thought. “I must have 10!” and then I counted, and stopped at 51, in active use within reach of my desk, not counting the new or recycled notebooks in inventory, waiting for a brain storm, and that was several years ago.

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