Systems that Work for Writers: One Notebook

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This week I want to introduce you to another system that has really worked for me in the last year or so. It’s pretty simple, really: keeping a single notebook, instead of having multitudes of half-used notebooks laying around all the time.

In 2017, I used this Marquis 300-page grid notebook. (Mostly, because it’s the notebook Austin Kleon uses.) I enjoyed it so much–just always having one notebook. I wrote every note to myself for a whole year in that thing. Recipes, grocery lists, to do lists, story notes, rough drafts, notes at conferences. And I’d just go through it once a month or so and transfer anything that needed to be transferred–like recipes into a more accessible recipe file or quotes from a conference into my commonplace book.

I started to use a fresh copy of the same notebook for 2018–but I realized that I needed to actually evaluate it first. For one thing, I’m not Austin Kleon. He’s an artist who writes. I’m a writer who isn’t an artist at all. And as much as I enjoyed this particular notebook in 2017, and it was such a revelation to just have one notebook, it’s not the easiest to write in. It’s so thick that you have to kind of prop one end up so that the other will lay flat.

For another thing, not everything I wrote down in a year really needed to be immortalized in a ginormous notebook. The purpose of the thick notebook in the first place is so that I can just use ONE for the whole year. But I realized as I looked back through my one notebook from 2017 that a lot of the notes I took were just taking up space. Some I never need to look at again, like grocery lists or to-do lists.

I decided what I needed was one notebook COVER that could hold a couple things. I looked and looked for one at a thrift store because that’s  how I roll. I finally put one in my cart on Amazon when nothing just right presented itself. And then I came across a really gorgeous cover at Goodwill for $3. I mean, it is completely perfect.

It’s an orange leather classic-sized (about 9″ X 7″) Franklin Covey cover for a spiral planner. When it’s full, it’s about 2 inches thick. It came without the planner, which is fine because I don’t want the planner, and I would have felt guilty about getting rid of it.

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I have been carrying it in my purse. It is slightly bulky, but so far that hasn’t bothered me.  I’m a tote-bag kind of girl. If you’re a cute-little-purse kind of girl, you’ll have a steeper adjustment!

Literally, everything I need is inside this one notebook, so it’s pretty much the only thing IN my bag. My notebook, phone, keys. If I want to go out without my bag, I just stick my driver’s license and debit card (or whatever I need) in my phone case. I keep a little pocketmod tucked into my phone case, too, so I’m never without something to write on.

Left Side

On the left side of my notebook, there’s a pen holder, a flat pocket, a secretarial pocket, a series of card slots, and a slit pocket for a notebook. I wanted an extra pen holder, so I whipped out my glue gun and I made one out of a little elastic and a binder clipleft-side

I keep my favorite pen, a Pilot Frixion gel pen. In the homemade pen holder, I keep an Expo Vis-a-Vis wet erase marker and one of my special favorite pencils–a Blackwing 602. I love to write by hand and I’m fairly picky about my writing implements. The pencils are pricey–they were a gift from my brother that I will definitely buy again when I’ve used all twelve down to nubs. I’ll show you in a minute why I keep a wet erase marker in my notebook. I like wet erase over dry erase because it absolutely does not smear and because it has a much finer tip and writes like a regular fine-point Sharpie-style pen. And the Frixion pens are like magic to me.

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In the flat pocket, which is just to the right of the Frixion pen, I keep a few index cards clipped with a binder clip. A super basic Hipster PDA. I use them if I come across something that I want to put into my Commonplace Book. I also use them if I need to write something down for someone else.

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In the secretarial pocket, I keep a little insert left over from when I tried (again) a traveler’s notebook system that just didn’t work for me. I keep some cards that I want with me but don’t use often–like health insurance cards. It also has a zipper pocket I can use for money, stamps, tickets, etc.

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I keep the cards that I use more regularly (driver’s license, a credit card, my Movie Pass, and my Costco card) in the card slots. I also keep some tab clips attached to the top of the card slots. I can use those if I want to mark a page in my notebook.

In the notebook slot on the left side, I keep a NuBoard dry erase notebook. At $17 it was the most expensive part of my notebook, but for me it’s indispensable. This little thing is ingenious. It has four sheets of whiteboard and five sheets of acetate. I can use it for things like to-do lists and grocery lists that I have no reason to keep beyond their usefulness. I use it on a daily basis and it should last me for several years.  I love that it has a plain black front sheet. There’s a corner elastic that I use to just keep all the pages closed. The black sheet keeps things private when I’m whipping out my Movie Pass or whatever.

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If a $17 whiteboard notebook isn’t in your budget right now, you could just leave it out.

Right Side

The right side of my notebook cover has two side notebook slots and one top notebook slot.

In the first side notebook slot, I keep my main notebook. It’s a Fabriano Eqoqua A5-sized notebook with dot grid paper. It’s not as thick as the one I used for 2017. In fact, at 90 pages it’s less than 1/3 the size. I think with the other tools in my notebook, it’ll last me all year, or at least most of the year. If it doesn’t–that’s okay. The point isn’t so much to have only one book, it’s to just use one book at a time.

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Full disclosure: this notebook is a little weird. I love the paper inside. It has a nice feel. But for some reason the spine of the cover isn’t attached to the spine of the paper–which means the pages fall out easily. I got this a while back at Ross for about $5. I just used my glue gun and attached the spine to the cover and it’s fine now. Any soft-cover A5 sized notebook you have or come across would be fine here. (I don’t think you’d want a hardcover bulking your notebook up.)

I keep a 5X8 index card clipped to the inside of the front cover to use as an index for my notebook.

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In the second side notebook slot, I keep a cheap little monthly calendar. I think it cost $2 at Wal-Mart. It’s nice to have a calendar with me. Also, though, I use it to write down appointments that come up when I’m away from home. I highlight the note when I transfer it to my planner so that I know that it’s done.

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And last, I keep a mini-legal pad in the  top-loading slot. Mostly, I just have a thing for yellow legal pads. I have since I was ten years old and Tomie DePaola came to my school for an author visit and talked about writing his stories in one with a Sharpie marker. The cover had a slot for it, so I put one in. I’m not sure what I’ll use it for and it will probably last me all year.

That’s it. A kind of cobbled together One Notebook system that’s only One Notebook by technicality if you count the cover as the actual book. This notebook was obviously designed to hold a LOT. With all that in it, it closes easily and could hold more.

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I’m not big on being super decorative with things like planners and notebooks. I know that to some people they are art. But I just needed mine to be functional. I like pretty things though! So I was really happy to find a thrift store binder that I would have chosen even if I was picking it brand new.

I would like to point out that while I was about to buy a new notebook cover out of impatience, it really only took me about three weeks and four trips to Goodwill to find one. And I found a couple that would have been okay but weren’t exactly what I wanted. One of them I went ahead and bought to use for something else because it was so pretty and only cost $1 or so. It just wasn’t big enough for what I wanted to do.

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If you can’t find a thrifted cover, here’s the one that I had in my cart. It costs $17.

You could obviously spend a fortune putting together your own One Notebook. A similar Franklin Covey leather cover can cost more than $100 and you could easily spend $30 on a notebook.

I tried to keep my costs down as much as possible. Here’s what I spent:

Cover: $3
Notebook: $5
NuBoard Notebook: $17
Calendar: $2
Pens/yellow pad/index cards: I already had them.

So that’s $27, with the NuBoard Notebook and only $10 without it. (But if you can swing the $17, that little notebook is so cool.)

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