Most stationery blog posts focus on reviewing products and less on how people actually use all the paper, pens and inks that they buy. I thought I’d try to write a bit more about how I use my stuff, and not just on how cool is all the stuff I have.
This is my latest Field Notes, the Campfire Night. I use a binder clip to keep it closed as it bashes around in my backpack. Without the clip the pages get crumpled and torn after a few days of use. The clip used to be nice and copper coloured but now is just nice and worn silver.
Apart from my day to day to do lists, this notebook currently hosts my Tournament of Books trackers. There’s a list of books that are participating in the contest, divided per round. Those that I’ve read are marked off with blue pencil. This is for my personal use, so you’ll not see any Instagram level calligraphy here. I wasn’t planning to photograph this and blog about it when I created these.
This is where I’m logging who I think should win each round. When the tournament starts I’m going to log who actually won each round on the opposite page.
Since doing this challenge means reading 18 books in a very short period, I’m tracking my reading progress in this notebook as well as in my reading journal, just to make sure that I’m on track (I won’t finish reading these in time, as I’ve started too late, but my goal is to finish reading them all by mid April).
Each year for the past 15 years The Morning News has run the Tournament of Books — a March Madness like competition for books published during the previous year. It’s fun and light-hearted and super interesting because unlike other literary prizes, you get to see the judges’ thought process as they decided which book progresses and which doesn’t.
I first learned about The it a few years ago through Field Notes, who sponsors the competition and issues a special, limited edition notebook to accompany it. At first I just bought the notebook, because I was a budding Field Nut and that’s what Field Nuts did. A year later I read and enjoyed some of the books that were in the competition, and I started to really look forward to reading the judges’ debates on each round.
Which brings us to this year, which is the year that I’ve decided to finally challenge myself to read every book on the Tournament of Books 2019 shortlist. That’s 18 books total, and as the tournament starts in March, there’s very little chance that I’ll be able to finish reading all of the books in time for their round. That just means that I’ll be following along a little later than usual, but I don’t think that it matters much.
What’s challenging isn’t just the sheer volume of books, but also their topics. There are no “light read” books on this list. There are books about death, prison, war, bigotry, racism and all the other “wonderful” sides of humanity. It would be a tough challenge on a regular year, but as I’m struggling with death and sickness in my family, this will be extra tough.
So why am I doing this? To challenge myself. To make myself a better, more empathetic human being, and hopefully a better writer. And because I can.
I wrote the first few chapters of my first novel longhand, with fountain pen on loose sheets of A4 tomoe river paper. As I realized that I would have to type everything into Scrivener before I could even start editing, the lazy programmer within me balked. It was fine doing this with quick drafts, but writing an entire novel longhand was not for me.
I still use pen, pencil and paper a lot in my writing though. I use a fountain pen (anything that doesn’t have a flex or novelty nib will do — from extra-fine to 1.1mm stubs) and loose sheets of A4 and A5 tomoe river paper to work on my outlines, for quick drafts, to test plot options out, or when I’m really, really stuck in my writing. A Field Notes Byline is constantly under my keyboard, horizontally. Yes, I know that the lines don’t go that way, but I ignore them. The form factor is perfect for that, and the ruling is pale enough for me to easily ignore it. I use a Blackwing 16.2 or 24 with it, to quickly capture any ideas that may come up during my writing, to remind myself where I was going with an idea or what I need to fix a previous place, to brainstorm names, etc. It serves as a scratch pad that allows me to maintain my writing flow and still remember things along the way.
So, even if you do all your writing using Ulysses or Scrivener (hopefully not Word), I recommend that you incorporate some analogue tools in your process. You’re bound to find them useful, particularly when you’re stuck or you’ve dug yourself into a hole.
I got these notebooks because I like Field Notes more minimalist designs, and this is most certainly one of them. I’m not a fan of dot grid though, so I’m not sure whether I’ll actually enjoy using it.
The orange highlights go well with the cream coloured covers and the grey type.
White staples, to complement the covers:
The best part of this notebook, Dieter Rams Ten Principles of Good Design:
Testing the pages a bit:
The reverse side of the page:
The Field Notes Rams edition is a utilitarian notebook that would be perfect with a Lamy 2000, provided that you’d fill the pen with something like Noodler’s Black. As it is, because of the dot grid, I have no idea when and how this edition will get into my rotation. If you prefer dot grid notebooks, this notebook is definitely worth checking out. Otherwise, the more colourful Three Missions or the more interesting Clandestine would probably be a better purchase.
This year’s filled up Field Notes notebooks all piled up:
And spread out:
I use them mostly for to do lists, quick capture and tracking of various short term goals. The Signature Sketchbook is full of doodles, inktober drawings and rough sketches. My favourite by far has been “Dime Novel”. My least favourite has been surprisingly “Costal”. The cover and design are gorgeous but the reticle grid is just too dark to make it enjoyable to use.
Ironically enough, by the time I finished with my MA in English Literature a few years ago I had “lost” the habit of reading. From someone who used to read at every available (and not so available) moment I had turned into a non-reader almost entirely. This bothered me so I set up to rectify it by “gamifying” reading until I had tricked myself back into the habit again.
Field Notes had just come out with their Arts and Sciences, the perfect format for my plans. The idea wasn’t only to create a journal where I would log my thoughts on each book as I read it, but create a little set of “achievements” that I could unlock for each book as I read it. For each quarter of the book I read, I got an achievement, a little logo that symbolized the book which I drew on a separate page. The accumulation of those silly little symbols was enough to push me forward as I learned to enjoy reading again. I kept that up for three Field Notes Arts books and then when I ran out of them, I simplified the format and moved to the Moleskine Two-Go, which had just come out. The Field Notes Arts notebook wasn’t fountain pen friendly so I used a Karas Kustoms Render K, a Blackwing pencil and the Caran d’Ache Bicolor 999 double sided coloured pencil.
On the first year that I tried using this system (from March 2016) I got from not reading any new books (just my old familiar favourites) to reading almost 20 new books. On the second year (2017) I got up to 42 books. This year to date I’m at 58 books, and I’ll probably read 60-61 books by the end of the year. I no longer need to spend time drawing little “achievement badges” as my reading habit is back here to stay. I do, however, still keep a book journal even though I’ve started using Goodreads since 2017. It’s a satisfying way to keep track of my reading and organize my thoughts on the books that I’ve read.
You can check out the format of the entries for fiction and non-fiction below. The unlined left side of the spread (verso) is where I do a little doodle that reminds me of something central in the book, and explain the star rating that I gave the book in each category. I really recommend that if you choose to create your own analog reading journal, you create your format yourself. Mine has changed over time, particularly for non-fiction, and it works with my reading goals for the year.
This is the index, which is useful for reference later on and is a good way to check my reading progress throughout the year.