At the end of May, I decided to start keeping a journal. This came about because I'd been lamenting a place to jot down things I was thinking about. Years ago, I'd kept a public blog for that purpose. A journal, I thought, might scratch that itch.
I am, for better and (obviously) for worse, the sort of person who can become a bit obsessed with tools. As a result of the journal decision, I began reading and researching: notebooks, journals, pens, pencils, paper quality, et cetera. I found blogs about these things, and added them to Feedly; I found podcasts about them, and added them to Overcast. I have inundated myself. I've learned what I don't care about (bullet journaling, or performative journaling of any fashion) and what I do (a good, solid pencil, and a reliable notebook).
That said, I went a bit nuts, and I bought a ton of supplies. My goal was to use many different tools, and learn along the way which ones were keepers, and which I'd never use again. I wanted to find my go-to notebook and pencil.
I filled my first notebook in a bit shorter than a month's time. It's a Midori MD notebook, A5 size, with ruled pages. The Midoris are beautiful, simple little things. The paper quality is very nice, the books lay perfectly flat (except perhaps for those first/last few pages, where the paper just wants to float up, ever so slightly). The ruled pages were divided into two segments by a thicker horizontal line, right in the middle of the page; I can see the usefulness of that, but it wasn't particularly useful for me. In fact, I found it a bit distracting.
My biggest complaint about the Midori, really, is also something I love about it: the cover. The book has no cover. You can wrap your own cover around it — Midori sells a few, but really any A5 notebook cover will do — but if you're like me, and covers don't appeal to you that much, then you should be prepared to dirty the hell out of this notebook. Even while I appreciated the simplicity of the coverless notebook, I found myself irritated by how smudged and beaten-up it looked after just a week or two of regular use. But despite this, I liked the Midori a lot, and I could see it becoming a regular book for me in the future.
For my second journal, I went a different direction: the Rhodiarama webnotebook, also with ruled pages, in the A5 size. I'd used Rhodia paper before, here and there, and I was a bit wary of the paper, which seemed designed mostly for use with more precious or expensive writing instruments. But it's been a real pleasure to write in this with a pencil, too. I'm perhaps a quarter of the way through this notebook after about two weeks of use, which means I've used it enough to complain about one thing: While this notebook lays flat, as it promised, the first twenty-plus pages did not, and I found myself writing while holding the pages taut. I didn't enjoy that, and I expect the last twenty pages will probably behave similarly. Aside from that, however, the notebook's really nice. It's attractive, the paper quality is tops, and I've enjoyed toting it around. I can probably safely say it won't become my go-to notebook, however.
I've also started a parallel notebook, one specifically for notes and research (and eventually, probably, a first draft) for a new book project I've been thinking about. For that book, I chose Nanami Paper's Seven Seas Writer, an A5-sized book filled with the very thin, very smooth Tomoe River paper. The weight of the paper is so slight, in fact, that the notebook contains nearly 500 pages, and it lays wonderfully flat, even those early pages. I don't think I could write in this book daily — it feels just a bit too precious for that — but for collecting a ton of information for a novel, I think it's just about perfect. And it's hard to escape the simple pleasure of its name: the Writer.
I'll need another month or more to fill the Rhodiarama journal, but after that I've lined up a whole bunch of possible next notebooks: books by Leuchtturm, Minimalism Art, Baron Fig, Life Notebooks, Write Notepads, DesignWorks Ink, Semikolon, and a bunch of others. Though most of these are A5 books, too, I think I'm most excited to try these composition books next:
I also just received these lovely, simple Paper Journals from Write Notepads. I haven't written in them yet, but they're slim, ruled A5 notebooks with letterpressed covers. These books are made in Baltimore, and they're really beautiful. I can't wait to try them out. That's really my biggest problem now: I've got so many books that I want to write in, and I'm trying my damnedest to restrain myself from using them until I finish my current book.
For writing instruments, I've stuck mostly with Blackwing pencils: the 602 series is my preference for everyday writing, though I carried the Pearl and the basic Blackwing around as well. It was nice to switch between them; they were all terrific for writing, though of course the Pearl and the basic pencil wore down a bit more quickly than the harder 602. A sharpener is a must for all of these, so I keep a Palomino long-point sharpener on hand.
I haven't gotten into the Blackwing Volumes, their quarterly limited edition pencils, because that seems like a dangerous, slippery slope for an obsessive completist like me. I did, however, try Volume 10001, the "Puzzle Pencil," because the pentagonal barrel (as opposed to the Blackwings' usual hexagonal barrel) seemed interesting. It was nice; I probably won't stock up on it, however. I've also tried the Midori pencil, which is very nice and writes smoothly, but which is just a bit too polished to rest firmly in my hand; it slides all over the place as I write.
In addition to the pencils, I carry two pens: a Kuretake Zig Cocoiro, extra-fine, and a Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen. I'm not wild about fountain pens, so the Pilot was my bit of affordable research. I write messier when I use a fountain pen, but it does flow smoothly — more smoothly and with less effort than any of my other tools — so I find myself writing with it perhaps twenty percent of the time. I like the Cocoiro quite a bit, however, and I swap that in when I'm tired of sharpening pencils.
I also have a couple of pens strictly for some light illustration. I carry around two Koh-I-Noor Rapidographs (0.3 and 0.6 sizes), and three Copic illustration markers (Warm Gray #s 3, 5, and 7). So far, most of my notebooks handle the Copics pretty poorly — they always show through on the back of the page, or bleed onto subsequent pages — so I've been carrying a spare sheet of paper to tuck beneath each page when I use them.
Because the journals are all personal records of my life, I thought it might be nice to include some photographs. I considered some instant cameras for this — Polaroids, or the FujiFilm Instax (which Felicia has and loves) — but Felicia suggested a photo printer instead, so that I could just print off photos directly from my phone. I settled on the Polaroid ZIP, because its photos don't need time to dry, and because they're sticker-backed. The quality of the photos isn't terrific, but for my purposes, it gets the job done.
Finally, this is quite a lot of stuff to carry around, particularly if I'm not lugging a bag with me. For that, I stumbled across this really nice A5-sized bag-in-bag from Lihit Labs. I carry it with me in a backpack each day, but it's also easy to carry along with me on its own. My notebook and pencil strap zip inside, my pens slot into the outer sleeves, and there are pockets for my sharpener, photo paper, and other carry-alongs, like Post-its or labels.
All of this would be a worthless exercise if I weren't actually using the journals, but I am, and I've really been loving it. My long-dead blog served as a place for self-reflection and oversharing; these journals are serving the same purpose, except with the benefit of my being a little older and (a little bit) wiser. The habit's even bled over into my family: Felicia is keeping a journal lately, too, as part of her meditation and mindfulness work, and so is Squish, who likes to record her activities and accomplishments in a matter-of-fact way: I went swimming. It was fun. I got a new book. I already finished it.
Of course, in addition to all of this, I've tried to pick things up here on the blog. All in all, I'm writing more frequently these days, and not just while working on my various book projects. It's become a nice circle of influence: I find I'm happier when I write for myself, which overflows into my book work, making the process even more enjoyable. I've managed to scratch the itch I felt back in May, but the itch remains, so I continue.