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Journaling for Creativity.

Journaling media options: What to write on, pt2

This post forms part of a serialisation eventually building into a complete reference on Creative Journaling and the writer's notebook. One that will demonstrate how to journal in order to improve creativity and effectiveness of artists, writers or anyone needing to be creative.

Introduction Contents What Media Options are There What to Write On, Pt2


This is the second part of our look at the components of the ubiquitous writer’s notebook and which aspects require consideration for creative journaling. If you have not yet read part one click on ‘Previous’ in the navigation bar above.

Counting pages

100-4991bEventually the question arises of how many pages there should be in a suitable journal. Almost certainly, at some time, you will find two similar notebooks which are both candidates for your money and in the process of deciding which to buy, the question of how many pages each has will arise.

I have often found the most suitable notebook, the one winning on all other reasons of good usability, will have the least pages and is often slightly more expensive. This is when the Ebenezer Scrooge personality surfaces and a good notebook is passed over for an inferior one containing a few more pages.

The important things are not the physical number of pages or if the cost per page is lower. What is really important is that you select a notebook feels right for you, one that fits with your lifestyle, one that has usability stamped on every page.

For me that ended up being about 14cm (5.5”) wide by 19cm (7.5”) high and having a hefty 1.5cm (5/8”) to 2.5cm (1”) thickness. I had some thinner, but they weren't as satisfying as the heavier notebooks.

I personally like thin, high quality (think stiff) pages, which automatically gives a high page count in my preferred creative journal, but this also makes it last longer and means that sometimes I would like to change them before they are full.

So, what is the right page count? – It is the amount of pages that comes in your preferred journal, no more, no less. It is very important to resist degrading your journaling experience for the sake of economy.


Physical rigidity

Creative journaling can be and should be done anywhere. This will lead you to the situation of trying to write on your knee, against a rough wall, in the air etc. This also leads to the discovery that writing in a floppy notebook whilst out in the real and active world is the enemy of both legibility and good entries.

It simply is not comfortable to write on a flexing, flopping, flapping piece of paper, and if it isn't comfortable then you are unlikely to continue writing creative thoughts because the logical part of your brain, upset with the difficult situation, will be fighting for control. Eventually, when you return to your entry during a review period, you find an incomprehensible mess, half considered and half finished.

The obvious thing to do is to pick a notebook with stiff covers. Many of the modern notebooks have plastic covers that although durable in the kitchen or other hostile environments are as floppy as day old lettuce. It is a sad reflection on the notebook industry that although you can now purchase notebooks of every conceivable size and colour, trying to buy one with a firm writing surface is not as easy.

Neat tip: All, however, is not lost. Simply by using a binder clip and some stiff material this elusive property can be added to almost any inferior notebook. From any thin but rigid material, cut out a rectangle that is the same size as the inside of your cover. You can use card, plywood, plastic, aluminium, etc for this, the thinner and stiffer the better. Then attach it to the inside of the rear cover with a binder clip. Aerospace sheet aluminium alloy is perfect for this, but unfortunately it is not commonly available.

Neat tip: You now have a decent writing surface, a handy clip in the back to hold the things you find on your travels and a miniature clipboard for plain paper or printouts such as; to-do lists, character bio's, plot notes, mantras, goals or today’s shopping list.


Sample pockets

The expensive notebooks sold mainly into the journal market have neat features like a wallet in the back to hold any collected items. This is a really nice feature but if it is all that you desire from the expensive notebook then it is simply not worth spending the extra money just for a sample pocket feature.

Neat tip: A stiff envelope will form a suitable wallet when glued into the back of the notebook and give the same service. You can also choose whether to have the envelope opening facing towards the spine, outwards or upwards. Sticking in more than one is also an option.

However, beware of covers made from flexible plastic, these can be difficult to bond to and finding an adhesive that remains adhered to the surface after flexing is difficult. To form a reliable bond you are forced to stick your envelope on to the final page, but single pages, unfortunately, don't have the strength for this and quickly tear. This is especially the case for spiral bound notebooks, where binding holes act as perforations, allowing the page to tear free at the least provocation.

Neat tip: A simple way around this problem is to paste the last four pages together and so form a resilient card. The wallet can then be mounted on to the bonded pages and they will survive the life time of the notebook whilst it functions as a journal.


What a difference a spine makes

Notebook spines are yet another area that can affect your choice. Of all the different types of binding, the most common ones you will find in shops are; stitched and glued, glued only, perfectly bound, wire bound, spiral bound or comb bound.

The main consideration between all of these is the durability of the binding in what is going to be a well used notebook and whether it will allow you to fold the book back on itself, which is very useful at times.

The traditional stitched and glued notebooks tend to be the neatest and they continue to stay neat. They also are very robust and retain their pages against all sorts of abuse. Their main disadvantages are that they are only available in a very restricted range of sizes and the pages cannot fold back on themselves without causing damage to the spine.

Glued only and perfect bound are similar in that the pages are attached by a flexible adhesive. With the glued notebooks the adhesive is then covered by paper tape or fabric tape. The perfect bindings use the book’s cover to complete the spine; this is the type you see used on most paperback books. These can be surprisingly durable but I have known the adhesive to fail with time. Also, the covers are always flimsy, making for a poor writing surface if unsupported.

Spiral bound, wire bound and comb bound are, in general, all similar in that a continuous set of punched holes along one side rotate around a wire or plastic cage that forms the spine. These are generally inexpensive and because of their low cost are also favoured by shops, who stock them in many variations. They all have the useful ability to fold back on themselves, with the spiral bound type being the best for this. The binding also provides a handy location to keep a pen with the notebook. Their main disadvantages are that they always look scruffy, even when new, they seldom have firm covers for writing against, and because of the nature of the binding (being based on large perforations), pages can tear out or partly tear out easily.


Filofax type ring binders

At first sight, small notebooks based on the Filofax® style of miniature ring binders, seem to be a good choice, in that pages can be added or removed, planners and pockets added, pages reordered and colour coded, with special dividers and stiff covers being available. Plus, on top of all this, they also come in some useful sizes.

Unfortunately the reality fails to live up to the expectation, pages fail and the bulky hinge attacks your hand as you write, especially when working on the left hand page, which makes for much of the writing space being unusable. The pages are held too loosely which makes continuous writing uncomfortable and the nice stiff covers always have too much padding which makes them bulky for what they offer. Also, when not used on a surface the double spine causes them to flex whilst writing, which can be very awkward.

The final nail their coffin is the problem of how to file all the loose pages for future review after they have been removed from their miniature ring binder.


Pen holder

Maybe not the main purchasing point between one brand of notebook and another but having somewhere to insert or clip your pen to the notebook can be disproportionately useful. The ability to pull notebook and pen out of your bag in one swift gunslinger movement is so much more conducive to making entries than scrabbling in the bottom of your bag, searching under all the other important items whilst trying to find a wayward pen.

The spiral bound type comes with an integral cage within which it safely contains your pen against most attempts to dislodge it.

The hard covered notebook has a gap between the spine and the bindings where you can slide the clip of a pen into, but it will leave the top of the pen protruding and vulnerable, making it possible for other items to dislodge it.

A feature of some of the more expensive notebooks is a special pen holder manufactured into the design.

The others have no intrinsic means of performing this need.

Neat tip: If the appeal of a pen holder is swaying you towards an otherwise poor choice of notepad then consider adding your own. A short loop of ribbon or elastic, glued or stapled on to the inside rear cover and positioned such that when the notebook is closed a pen can slid into the loop will be tucked into the recess formed by the pages between the two covers. This will add a perfectly functional and protected custom pen holder sized exactly right for your pen.

Whilst we are touching on the pen, it is worth mentioning that you owe it to yourself to use good tools when it comes to your choice of scribbling stick.

If that nice looking, cool pen you bought, the one that is only a teeny-weeny bit used, has turned out to be scratchy and blobby then throw it away and buy a different one. Find one which allows the words to flow effortlessly from the tip, one that gives maximum readability for minimum care when furiously scribbling. Find a fast pen. Forget slow ball-points or pedestrian felt-tips, hunt for a pen that can throw words on the page as fast as you can write them. Nothing less is worthy of you.


A mention about Moleskine® journals

Almost everyone has heard of Moleskine® journals, and surprisingly they nearly disappeared when in 1986 the French manufacturer went out of business. For eleven years the iconic notebook was out of production until an Italian company started to produce them again and now they are going from strength to strength.

The Moleskine® journal notebook has been used by famous people for two centuries as a preferred notebook to record their thoughts. It is considerably more expensive than an ordinary notebook of similar size, yet it has some features that might allow you to justify the higher expense.

  • The snob factor: For some people, if you are going to do something then you must have the perceived correct tools. I say perceived because it is really down to personal taste as well as the type of entry a writer uses. Journals should follow function and be chosen for what works best for the writer . However, for some, holding a Moleskine® in their hand amounts in their minds as what's needed to be a real journaler.
  • High page count: The quality of paper is very high and this means that a Moleskine® journal can hold 192 very thin pages that do not act or feel like a thin page under your pen, so a single journal can last a long time or cover multiple projects. The downside is that you don't get to start a new one so often and they can get shabby in use.
  • Stiff covers: This allows for easier writing whilst travelling.
  • Sample pocket: A neat little stuffage pocket in the back for your growing collection of titbits.
  • Elasticated closure and ribbon: An elasticated closure allows for anything you slip in between pages to stay there, whilst a neat ribbon bookmark helps you find your last entry.
  • Traditionally bound: The thread bound spine does keep the pages neater than in a glued or spiral bound notebook, they don't have a habit of falling out when the glue fails and it also allows you to write closer to the bound edge than you can with the others.
  • Cleverly sized: Moleskine® journals are a neat size, they just fit nicely in pockets and (large) purses. (Others are sized around the dividing of bulk paper sheets, for example, A4, A5, A6 etc.)
  • Perforations: Some Moleskines® have a few pages in the back that are perforated for removal.

I’m not advocating that you use Moleskine® journals, but I do recommend that you have a close look at one the next time you are in the stationers and familiarise yourself with the features that make these such a quality product.


Stockpiling supplies

In part one, I wrote about how an eclectic collection of journals may be a sign of a creative mind in full swing being creatively chaotic.

But everybody has preferences, and a favourite type of journal lends itself to encouraging the journaling habit. So if you are fortunate enough to discover one particular journal that particularly suits you, then dig deep and buy a good stock whilst you can, because they may not always be available. After all, even the famous Moleskine® journals disappeared from the shops for over a decade.


Number on the go

One advantage that a notebook has over other journaling media, is the ability to have a number of them current at the same time; maybe some dedicated to individual projects, others dedicated to themes like weather, art, travel, etc. Notebooks can be here, there, and everywhere, without breaking the bank. How you later organise and collate the contents however is yet another matter.

"Beethoven, despite his unruly reputation… was well organised… he had notebooks for rough ideas, for improvements, for finished ideas"

Twyla Tharp, “The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

In the next post we will be looking at the alternative means of writing, other than in a notebook, available to the creative journaler.



Have we missed anything in our look at journals and notebooks? If you know something that we have overlooked, please let us know by leaving a comment below.


Photo credit: 100-4991b, by Cat Sidh.
"Journaling media options: What to write on, pt2" by Andy Shackcloth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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3 comments to Journaling media options: What to write on, pt2

  • Su George

    Great read and very informative, you could mention electronic notebooks too. My windows phone (Nokia E5) comes with office but also notes. Handy as I always have ph with me I can also take pics and add to notes. Also there are free apps such as Evernote (also available on phone and computer or tablets). On my kindle I have an free App called Notebooks by a small price under £4 you can upgrade for more features) I have free version still and have several different notebooks with choice of lined or plain paper and different colours of paper (also good for people with dyslexia. Electronic journals I find excellent as you can write during the night if you are a night scribbler like myself a must and can also pswd if you wish. Admittedly not very good for sketching yet. I am a pen /pencil and paper kinda girl at heart still but do believe these methods are still very useful. Hope this helps you and your readers Happy Journaling Su :)

  • Hi Su, Thanks for the great comment, and you have given loads of good information.
    Maybe I should have prefixed ‘notebook’ in the post with ‘paper’, because in part three, I do go on to talk about using Smartphones, tablets and computers, for creative journaling (plus some other media). Electronic media continues to have increasing importance for creative journaling as software and technology improves it functionality and usability.
    You have mentioned a couple of things that aren’t in part three.
    One, how Smartphones and tablets are handy for nocturnal journaling (especially if your partner is easily disturbed).
    two, how page colour options can help people suffering with dyslexia.
    I will just rewrite part three and make sure your extra information is included.
    Thanks, many thanks.

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