Of Notebooks

There’s a lovely post by Whitney Carpenter up at The Bygone Bureau, wherein she describes her own misfortunate investment in “just the right” notebook and other writing paraphernalia as a way to imagine herself as a writer. It’s both a kind of perfectionism and a kind of procrastination. (And I think it’s currently the consensus that the two are often intertwined.)

Carpenter does a marvelous job of chronicling the various notebooks she bought as she builds toward a nice realization — understood here both as visualization and as epiphany — that the notebooks are just weighing her down. (An idea she reinforces by, quite literally, toting an antique typewriter in the trunk of her car.)

I confess I have been down the path myself. For me, it ended when I realized that the larger Moleskine notebooks were good enough for me. In short, they worked. Writing instruments? I almost entirely rely upon a handful of mechanical pencils. My preference for them is simple:

* I make mistakes and I like being able to erase those mistakes instead of lining through them. (I like to be neat when I can.)
* Graphite does not run when wet. I am around a lot of open water in my field research, and I have been known to drop things. Even if there is no water in the ground, it’s also the case that I am often in extremely hot environments and, well, I sweat.

When I am working at a desk, I use a stiff-backed yellow notepad. I tear out pages as I fill them and they can easily get filed where they need to go. (This also makes it easy to find notes, since the yellow pages contrast easily with the various sheets of white paper that are photocopies or printouts.)

My entire writing life is nothing more complicated than that. *Oh, you didn’t imagine that note-taking at meetings would be part of my writing life?* That particular decision was not one I made but one that got made for me once I realized the difficulty of keeping the various notes from various parts of my life in diverse notebooks. It’s just easier, I finally realized, if everything goes into one notebook. Some people call this approach by naming the item a “day book” or an “everyday book.” I just call the thing my notebook. The only thing not in it is my fieldwork. (Well, that an truly personal information which I keep elsewhere.)

Having everything in one place requires that I perform some regular checking back over the past few pages/days to see what needs to get carried forward, but that’s a fairly pleasant task and that kind of review is built into various organization strategies, like GTD, anyway. I get it for free. (How nice is that?)

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