A purposeful life for a paper notebook
December 21, 2013 2:07 AM   Subscribe

What do you use your paper notebooks for? I was recently gifted with several beautiful notebooks and also acquired various notebooks over the past year. I am having trouble figuring out great and practical uses for all of them. Hivemind, lay on me your notebook wisdom.

I love notebooks but am at a bit of loss as to how to best utilize my current paper wealth. I'm having a hard time committing to any particular use for my new notebooks, and they're collecting unwarranted dust.

If it matters, I am contemplating the following notebooks in my possession: They are all lined and approximately the same size as the large Moleskine. I purchased the Moleskine for recording story ideas and writing practice, but there must be more to the world of notebooks! In the past, I've enjoyed using sturdy planners as catch-all notebooks for all story/short piece ideas, class and meeting notes, random thoughts, recipes, and shopping lists, but they became a bit jumbled and disorganized.

My calendar is electronic due to work (we rely heavily on Outlook) and I am unlikely to change my scheduling habits. Practically I'd only carry one around with me at all times. I have also seen this (2006) and this (2011), but I am particularly interested in hearing about how you use notebooks with the prevalence of smartphones.

How do you use your notebooks? Do you wish you used them differently? Thanks for your help!
posted by sums to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
In the past, I've kept a lot of separate notebooks for various purposes: one to collect poems I like, one to scrawl thoughts in my head/lyrics I like/quotes I hear, one to make lists (places I want to travel, books I want to read, movies I mean to see), one for writing unsent letters, one for planning and dates... For a while, I kept a notebook for making daily lists of things I'm grateful for and things I'd learned each day. Now, I've sort of compiled these things into one big notebook. It's a bit jumbled and disorganized as you say, but I use it mostly just to track things in my life so I remember them, not as an organizer or agenda.

I suggest you put them somewhere in your house/room that you are likely to see them often, and start thinking of things you'd like to remember. It's possible the purpose of the books will come to you!

Whenever I see the stacks of notebooks in my cupboard, I think of this quote:
"Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss." - Joan Didion
(I guess it sounds kind of sad, but I think it's gorgeous. I love notebooks.)
posted by gursky at 2:37 AM on December 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

Piggybacking upon BrashTech's comment, here's a Lifehacker "How I Work" profile that touches upon the use of a "commonplace book". This person uses index cards, but notebooks could be just as applicable.
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 5:19 AM on December 21, 2013

How about using one for a scrapbook? Not the new artsy kind with planned and themed pages where you need paper punches and special scissors and expensive papers and decorative doodads and you do it all on archival paper with archival pens and glue because it is meant to be an art piece that will last.

But the old-fashioned kind where you simply paste in actual scraps of memorabilia from your daily life: tickets stubs, playbills, postcards, a pretty leaf, a pressed flower, quote/picture from magazine, scrap of fabric from a special piece of clothing, photographs, newspaper clippings, anything that represents a memory you want to preserve, and if you want you can write a few words or sketch around the edges. And the clippings grow yellow over time, the writing becomes faded, the book becomes so full of memorabilia and memories that it won't close properly and you have to tie a ribbon or a rubber band around it to keep it contained, and it just becomes a really lovely cobbled-together book that looks comfortable and lived-in and will fascinate your grandchildren.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:32 AM on December 21, 2013

Bullet journal! I used to have a million pieces of scrap paper strewn around with grocery lists, books to read, to do lists, etc., and now they're neatly contained in a notebook. I've modified the system a bit to suit my needs (I don't use it for a calendar at all), but it's very effective for keeping me organized.
posted by Empidonax at 5:44 AM on December 21, 2013 [10 favorites]

"On Keeping a Notebook" is a wonderful essay by Joan Didion that explores why and how.
posted by beanie at 8:59 AM on December 21, 2013

Think of a trait, like gratitude or compassion. Dedicate the book to writing about that concept.
posted by aniola at 9:01 AM on December 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by aniola at 9:02 AM on December 21, 2013

I like to take notes of ideas from interesting books I've read. After years I can go back and "re-read" a book very quickly. Also helps me remember the information.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:25 AM on December 21, 2013

I carry two notebooks with me all the time. One is lined for general ramblings and diaristic stuff and jotting down phone numbers; it's kind of like an external brain.

The other is for recipes and new dish ideas. The pages are unlined so I can sketch plating ideas as well.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:26 AM on December 21, 2013

At one point I was thinking of keeping a notebook devoted to a subject - For example, if I were interested in learning about whiskey I might use it to write down names of whiskeys other people told me about, might copy in some quotes from about whiskey from writers, sketch whiskey bottles. Paste in the labels of whiskeys I tried and write down notes about when I tried it, what I thought at the time, who was with me, how I drank it (with or without ice/mixers etc).

I never got around to using that idea, so you can have it.
posted by bunderful at 9:55 AM on December 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I keep dream journals. It's amazing how quickly and totally you forget the vivid details in your dreams when you don't record them. We spend so much of our lives in dreams, for me it seems a shame to forget.
posted by keep it under cover at 11:42 AM on December 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Write your own book of favorite quotes/lyrics/movie lines/etc

Save one smaller one for a travel journal for a specific trip

Start a chain / travellING journal? Link2012
posted by NikitaNikita at 3:41 PM on December 21, 2013

The traveling journal reminded me of this one. For a gift, ask friends and family of the giftee to write down some of their favorite memories of them. It's nice if it can be arranged that this is handwritten directly into the book, but you can also paste in letters and printed emails and photos.
posted by bunderful at 4:20 PM on December 21, 2013

Combine your notebooks with the right fountain pen, and you'll find a new obsession and never think the same way about writing again. Visit the Fountain Pen Network to start.
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 4:30 PM on December 21, 2013

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