Are you a digital or analog note-taker?
I am still relying on GoodNotes for 98% of my handwritten notes these days. That hasn’t changed for me. I like taking notes on my iPad for both class and personal reasons (like this blog post) but on the occasion where I don’t have my iPad with me or it’s upstairs charging, I still keep a small notebook nearby to jot down thoughts or ideas. Handwriting notes, whether they are digital or analog, helps with my memory issues anyway, so it’s good to have some written record to carry around with me in case need a refresher. Also, I play a lot of ARK, which requires base planning as well as stats planning which – memory issues or not – needs to be written down somewhere. It’s just easier to write down in a notebook and have that with me.
You also might be more of an analog note-taker. That may be because you don’t have an iPad or you’re just more comfortable with the feel of a pen across a paper page. Regardless, I have 3 notebook recommendations for the analog note-taker.
The Steno Book: The Cub Reporter and Private Detective's Notebook
Pros: I have a lot of good things to say about steno books. They flip open upward, first of all. The binding, which is usually spiral or perforated, is at the top which makes the notebook both ambidextrous and agnostic -- you don't have to worry about how to hold the notebook or your pen, nor do you have to concern yourself with smudging any ink with the side of your hand. I've heard that this is a problem for you southpaws in attendance. I wouldn't know for sure, though. I'm a righty, but one with big, scrawling handwriting who still gets ink all over the place.
Cons: The genius of the steno book is its biggest downfall: the design. A flip-up cover is great for ease of use, but eventually you will flip the book over enough times to where you're writing on the reverse side of each page. You will get lost. You will be unable to find notes you took just two pages ago because you wrote them on the reverse of another page in an attempt to save paper. You did the green thing, though -- good for you. Next time, invest in a pack of 3M bookmark thingies.
Recommendation: Do the green thing and get a Staples’ brand Steno Book made from 100% recycled paper. They come in 12 books per box but at 80 sheets per book, you’ll run right through them.
The Composition Book: They're Not Just For School Children
Pros: There is something indescribably satisfying about completing a composition book. The act of closing its cardboard covers and smugly sliding it between the dozens of half-written tomes on my Billy bookcase feels like I've won one over on my first grade teacher. Though they come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, the One True Composition Book is the Mead black-and-white marble, wide-ruled, allowing enough room for my chicken scratch, erasing, and margin stick figure drawings to annotate my latest abandoned novel. Plus, the composition book is a tough SOB -- I can drop it, toss it, stick it in a bag, slam it between other books, spill something on it, and worse but it will make a valiant attempt to protect whatever I've written. Best of all, most composition books come with handy conversion charts -- so even if I'm never a successful writer, at least I'll be able to convert from the linear to metric system without issue.
Cons: Even though they come in all sizes, the one size that you should care about does NOT stay open well. As in, it will flop closed on you unless you've got something to pin the cover down as you're writing. You can bend it around, but the binding will snap and then it won't close at all. And as much as wide-ruled paper appeals to me, college-ruled paper is the scholastic standard and it doesn't work out well with composition books. And that near-indestructible quality I mentioned? Well, that's not entirely true -- corners bend, chip, and fray all the times. And finally, fuck the metric system. Yeah, I know it makes more sense than our dumb American linear system but who the fuck uses a goddamn deciliter of fluid for anything?
Recommendation: Don’t go the Mead marble route. Instead, look at the line of Decomposition books, which like the Staples steno books are made from recycled material and come in cute cover designs as a bonus.
The Moleskine: For Serious Writers Only, No Poseurs
Pros: You didn't think I was going to end this post without mentioning every Serious Writer's favorite notebook, right? No writer is complete without that essential little black book with the strap and envelope: the moleskine. Where else would you outline your ideas for the next Great American Novel? Cocktail napkins? The moleskine has come a long way since its first inception. Like the composition book, there are a range of sizes and colors. There's hard- and softbacks. There are graph, blank, lined, and travel moleskines. You can even skip the analog moleskine altogether and get the moleskine app instead. Heck, if you want you can even get a moleskine reporter's notebook -- which is ostensibly a steno book without the spiral binding. You can even clip your pen into the strap for extra writer points! Right now, this is my personal analog notebook of choice to carry around with me -- it's a standard-sized softcover moleskine, teal dot-journal that I purchased at Barnes & Noble last summer. I write down very important things for class and other things I need to commit to memory.
Con: There are 2 drawbacks of moleskine notebooks. First, they won't make you a Serious Writer, no matter what. If that were so, every 30-something in Starbucks wearing a knit cap would be on their 5th publication by now. Second, moleskine notebooks are expensive. As in the one I have was $20 retail. For that much, I could have bought at least 20 composition books or 5 steno books. You may be tempted to go with an off-brand moleskine or competitor's brand instead. Some have found that Leuchtturm notebooks (of Bullet Journal fame) are good replacements, but they come out around the same cost as a moleskine OR are sub-par in quality. Case in point: my Picadilly notebook. It looked and felt like a moleskine, but was thicker and at half the cost! I purchased it at a now defunct book seller about 10 years ago, excitedly ran out to my car to begin using it and -- CRACK!. The spine immediately broke both inside and out, splitting the binding and peeling away from the inside cover. Pissed off, I shoved it onto my bookshelf and let it sit there and think about what it did for nearly a decade before I used it again. Don't worry -- it's still in use. I use it for Day Job notes, but holy shit does it look like trash. Electrical tape is literally keeping it together now:
Recommendation: For a moleskine, I’d say get the best of all 3 worlds: a soft-cover reporter’s style notebook that’s pocket-sized and lined, like this one.
Conclusion: Duh, use the notebook that is right for you
If you’re not a digital note-taker, there’s no wrong way to select a notebook. I’d suggest considering 3 things in your selection: comfort, size, and cost. Do you like the ease of use of a steno pad? Or would you prefer the timeless quality of a composition book? Or are you about the sophistication and message of a moleskine? In any case, pick the notebook that speaks to you. And don't be afraid to want something personal to you – something bright pink, something with an elastic band to secure it closed, or something that flips closed with no embellishments. Maybe all you need is the paper inside; the rest is just coverings.