Which Notebooks I’m Currently Using

I love reading about how other people use their notebooks and pens/pencils, so I decided to take the time to list what I’m currently using and how:

  • Field Notes Front Page – used in landscape mode with a Blackwing 16.2 to take notes while I work through the third draft of my novel. Something about the format of this notebook appeals to me, especially in landscape mode. I ignore the lines completely (easy to do, since they’re so faint). Also works well while I’m typing, since it’s thin enough not to get in the way. I just put it below my keyboard, a pause to jot a quick note when I need to.
  • Field Notes Dime Novel – I use this as a catch-all and home to do list notebook, using whichever fountain pen I have inked at the moment.
  • Moleskine Star Wars Lightsaber Duel – used as my daily journal, coupled with a Ti Arto with a uni-ball Signo 0.5 gel refill (UMR-85) and a Scotch glue stick to paste bits and bobs in. I’ve been using this combo for about two years now (with different Moleskine lined notebooks), and I couldn’t be happier with it.
  • Moleskine Large Squared  – used as my “bullet journal” at work. I’ve simplified the bullet journal system (removed the calendars entirely) and it’s now a daily checklist + work journal that serves to answer two questions: what am I going to do today, and what have I actually done. Keeps me sane and happy, especially when outages derail my day. I use a Zebra G-301 pen with this that I bought in Atlanta in 2012, and it is still going strong. I go through about a refill every two months, so this isn’t the most economical of systems…
  • Moleskine pocket square reporter – a new one for me. I’m using it to keep a running food journal, using a Retro 51 tornado slim graphite filled with a parker gel refill.
  • Paper for Fountain Pens notebook – together with sheafs of Tomoe River paper, this is what I use for my writing notes, quick drafts, and when I’m working through plot holes. I use whatever fountain pen I have going at the time, usually two pens with two different inks, Neil Gaiman style.
  • Moleskine two-go – I’m using this as my reading journal. I log all the books I read here. Previously I used two Field Notes Arts notebooks, but I ran out of them, so I moved to this. Using a Karas Kustoms grey RenderK in this, coupled with a Caran d’Ache Bicolor pencil to highlight things, and whatever other pencil I have laying around, for extra notes.
  • Baron Fig Three Legged Jester Confidant – using this to track my resolutions for several years now. Used to be my daily journal.
  • Moleskine softcover squared pocket reporter – using this to keep track of story ideas. I write in it with whatever is on hand.

A large pile of notebooks

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Which Notebooks I’m Currently Using

When things don’t go entirely as planned

Several things didn’t go as planned this week, as I had a few unforeseen schedule changes, a bit of bad luck with my running, and a pretty bad day at work near the end of the week. As a result, both my running and my writing suffered (I missed a writing day and my long run is going to be 6k instead of 10K).

So what do you do when things don’t go entirely as planned?

Get back on the horse — so you missed a day, or didn’t make your daily word count, so what? Projects that are worth doing don’t live and die on a day (looking at you NaNoWriMo), but on accumulated body of work done over several weeks, months and years. Do you know what is entirely unhelpful to achieving that work? Getting so caught up in you missing a day that you decide to give up entirely. Get back on the horse, get back to fulfilling your daily goal today instead of fixating on what happened yesterday. .

Don’t go into a spiral of trying to make up for the lost work — that’s a great way to set yourself up to fail. If you set 500 words or a 5K run for today, you probably aren’t going to be able to do that and make up for the 500 words and 6K that you missed yesterday. So then you beat yourself up again, feel crummy, and set yourself up to fail by dragging more and more work with you from day to day until you give up. If you missed a day, then you missed a day. Move on.

Focus on what did happen — in my case, my reading this week sky-rocketted, and I spent more time with my family. That doesn’t make up for everything else, but it is something positive that I’m glad happened.

Partial work is better than no work — I ran a 0.5k this week, which sucked, but was better than nothing. There were also days when I wrote only 20 or 30 words. That’s not great, but its better than nothing, and every little thing can keep the habit going.

Check what went wrong and when, and see if you can learn from it for the future — were you too ambitious? Do you need to rework your plan to account for something that you couldn’t foresee when you first built it? Don’t make excuses, but do be honest and make some changes if necessary.

Leave enough ‘breathing room’ in your schedule for these kind of off days — this was my biggest mistake, and the one is going to be hardest to fix, long term. My running schedule can (still) suffer a few delays, but I’m prepping for a race in the fall, and I can’t really afford to leave things like my long run for the evening of the last day in the week. Earlier is better, and making sure that your goals are achievable even if you aren’t at peak performance is important — especially for endurance sports like running and novel writing.

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Some beautiful dahlias to make up for the slightly depressing topic.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going out for a run.

When things don’t go entirely as planned

Biweekly Routine

Routines and rituals are important, and one of the signs of a craftsperson is their care for the tools they use. This is true for any kind of maker, whether your craft is storytelling or leatherwork. Every two weeks I try to go through this routine, to make sure that the things that I use when I write are there and in order when I sit down to do my writing.

Clean keyboard

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Some computer keyboards harbour more harmful bacteria than a toilet seat, research has suggested. 

A BBC News report published the findings of a consumer group Which? on keyboard hygiene, and not surprisingly they were shocking.

Since your keyboard is one of your main, if not your main writing tool, taking 10-15 minutes every two weeks to clean it doesn’t seem excessive, yet few writers do so.

Here are the keyboard cleaning guides that I use:

PC World: How to Clean Your Keyboard – simple, informative, easy to follow advice on how to clean your keyboard.

Rispter Guide: Cleaning Keyboards – funny, and with plenty of pictures. Also, much more thorough than the PC world guide, and geared towards mechanical keyboard maintenance.

Check backups

You can read up here on how to backup your work. Once every two weeks go over your backups and check to see that everything is where you expect it to be.

Organize notes

Take a few minutes once every two weeks to go over your notes, file or throw away those that aren’t relevant anymore and make sure that you don’t have any loose notes scribbled on envelopes or post-it notes around the house.

Organize file names

If you for some reason work with Word and not with Scrivener (why?), and keep several versions of your work in different files, take a moment to make sure that your file names haven’t gotten out of hand, and you still know where everything is and what everything is. File names “My novel – old new new version 2” — I’m looking at you.

Check notebooks, pencils, pens

Check your notebooks, pencils, pens (fountain pens or not), to see what needs to be refilled soon, reinforced or replaced.

Update Scrivener project metadata

Take some time to fill in character names and short descriptions, places information, references etc. in your Scrivener project’s Characters, Places or Research folders. This information is important to keep on hand for long projects, and is especially useful to keep bundled together with your writing — mainly for search purposes (“where did I reference X character?”).

Biweekly Routine

“Type as quickly as you can, and always carry a pencil”

Clive Thompson in a fascinating, short (~10 min) talk about the benefits of writing with pencil  and typing, and when it’s best to use one or the other.

I used to write all my drafts longhand. Now I just quick draft, outline and try out things (i.e. “big thinking”) with a fountain pen or pencil, and type out my actual draft on my computer (using a “clicky” keyboard, which I highly recommend).

“Type as quickly as you can, and always carry a pencil”