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When you keep a pocket notebook, surprising things happen. The transient ideas that bubble up, surfacing from time to time in your subconscious, suddenly have a place to go. Appointments, conversations, diagrams, passwords, and poems form a small riot within its pages.
Still, the photos of meticulously organized Moleskines on Instagram can be intimidating. It’s easy to get the feeling that pocket notebooks must be aesthetically pleasing, or that every page should be polished and perfect. In reality, pocket notebooks are just accessible, reliable, and predictable receptacles for information of every kind. Write down all of your half-baked thoughts, nonsensical ideas, and mundane observations... and somewhere in there, you should be able to find a small and quiet sliver of genius.
In this article, we’ll cover the advantages of using a pocket notebook, highlight a few stand-out notebooks from our Pocket Notebook Selection Guide, and start you out with a few ideas on what to write.
Accessibility: Say you're trying to record a phone number as quickly as possible. To save a contact on a smartphone, you have to turn the touch screen on, unlock it, navigate to your contacts app, add a new contact, and enter the number with a cramped and unreliable keypad. At each step there's plenty of room for user and software error, and the concern of battery life adds even more friction to the process. In comparison, pen and paper are fast and predictable.
Permanence: Pocket journals give an excellent sense of a person's everyday life. There are journals that have been around for hundreds of years, and can easily last for hundreds more (Mark Twain, Henry David Thoreau, and Benjamin Franklin, to name a few). Ever find a box of homework from fourth grade in the attic that mom never got around to tossing? Or an old journal full of recipes? These things are often passed down from generation to generation, imparting a sense of culture and identity upon its recipients.
Focus: Sometimes, all you want to do is write. Digital devices are awesome because they can multi-task. You have your music, movies, books, chat, internet, banking, camera, and everything else you could conceivably want right at your fingertips. But there’s a trade-off: you’re constantly barraged with notifications of all kinds. Every now and then, it’s a relief to take refuge in the peace and quiet of a blank page.
Organization: Pocket notebooks are usually catch-alls, receiving all kinds of input from your daily life. The information tends to be recorded in the order you received it, and can't be re-organized according to subject, chronology, or usefulness. Although notebooks receive information well, they aren't so great at retrieving it, especially if you're looking for something specific. In the end, you're stuck with a notebook that's 50% irrelevant -- appointments that have passed, shopping lists containing items that have already been purchased, and so forth.
This can be very frustrating. The thing is, most pocket notebooks are not meant to be the permanent resting place for important information. A pocket notebook works better if you treat it like a temporary transit station, housing the information safely until it can be shuttled to its proper residence. For an example, appointments can be added to your office calendar, recipes to the large notebook in the kitchen, and phone numbers to your smartphone.
Everyone has different requirements when it comes to pocket notebooks, but some qualities you should consider in the selection process are: aesthetics, durability, size, binding, paper quality, and type of rule. If you have an extensive fountain pen collection, you’ll probably want a pocket notebook that can handle wet ink. Conversely, lawyers looking for a quick jotter might not care about paper at all. Click on the writing samples for a bigger view.
The twist ring mechanism doesn’t require much force to open and should be handled gently. If you have superhuman hand strength and accidentally rip the mechanism apart, don’t fear -- it’s easy to put back together. Just press the two plastic sections together until they fit snugly against each other with a click, and compress the metal spring to re-attach it to the center of the spiral.
At 2.8” x 4.7”, the Aqua Drops Notepad is smaller than the pocket Moleskine and can slip easily into most pockets. Despite its revolutionary design, in many ways it’s a no-fuss notepad that can go anywhere. Unlike staple, glue, and thread-bound notebooks, it doesn’t need to be held open. The front and back covers are made from flexible plastic, and the white paper in between is overlaid with a grid of 5mm x 5mm gray squares. Results of a quick writing test were better than expected, with only faint show-through for the ballpoint pen, gel ink pen, felt tip marker, and pencil. The fountain pen was the only one to feather and bleed. Grab a paper refill to keep your pages and ideas moving.
Interestingly enough, the adage that “history always repeats itself” applies here. When Mark Twain designed his own notebooks, he opted to include detachable paper tabs on each page. After completing the page, he’d tear the paper tab away, like a bookmark. You can do the exact same thing with the Tidbit. Fill the pages up with character names and one-liners like Twain, but try to do so in pencil or ballpoint ink. Testing revealed that the gel ink pen, fountain pen, and felt tip marker all bled through, with a lot of feathering from the fountain pen. Ink also tends to leak through the perforations onto subsequent pages, so it might be best to stick a post-it to the back of the page to soak up any extra ink.
The Day Game edition pays homage to the most American sport of all: baseball. But even if you’re not a fan, you can still appreciate the Day Game covers (Outfield Green, Infield Brown, and Hardball White), which combine to create a vague and dreamy vision of blue skies, freshly cut grass, gravel, and oiled leather gloves. The interior of the memo book is gridded with light brown dots, which is optimal for diagrams and drawings, and it’s easy to get the notebook to lay flat. The papers can accommodate gel ink pens, ballpoints, fineliners, and pencils with an acceptable amount of show-through, but like their predecessors, they tend to feather and bleed-through a bit when it comes to fountain pens. If you like the style but aren’t too sure about the baseball theme, check out our Field Notes: Made in America article for an overview of other collections.
The smallest Blanc (2.6" x 4.1") is perfect for quick logo sketches and task lists. In fact, since the glue-bound pages can be easily removed from the memo pad, they’re ideal candidates for jotting down grocery lists and reminders to post to the bulletin board or fridge. The biggest Blanc (5.1" x 3.4") challenges the Moleskine Classic and Rhodia Webnotebook for the role of all-purpose pocket notebook and journal, especially since the paper actually feels pretty good under a fountain pen nib. Although fountain pens, rollerballs and fineliners will definitely show through to the other side of the page, fine fountain pens write surprisingly well on the crisp paper, with minimal feathering and bleed-through. The cover tends to tilt upwards when in resting position, so that the memo pad isn’t fully closed much of the time. If it becomes a problem, try applying a thick rubber band to keep the memo pad closed.
However, because some inks are wetter than others, there’s always a chance that your fountain pen will bleed through the paper. Try a quick test run before doing any serious writing. For even more recommendations, check out this article written by our resident fountain pen expert -- Our Favorite Notebooks for Fountain Pen Use.
Have a shiny new pocket notebook, but still clueless about what to write? In case the esteemed examples listed above have somehow failed to get your heart racing with an insatiable zest for pocket notebooks (and life in general), here are some quick ideas on what to write in your pocket notebook:
The immediacy of the pocket notebook is what makes it so special. Inspiration doesn’t usually stick around, and so most first impressions, crazy business ideas, and clever punchlines end up slipping through the cracks. Once you keep a pocket notebook full time, you’ll be surprised at the random and amusing observations that spill out.
Now that the holidays are over, people are starting to think about their plans and goals for the year ahead. For me, the blank pages of a notebook signify the promise of a fresh start. My New Year’s Resolution is to stick to writing in just one at a time.
What do you use your pocket notebook for?
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