I’ve had my fair share of nice notebooks over the years, from Moleskines to Leuchtturms. And I love them: I love their smooth leather covers, thick sheets, and thoughtful design. But I love them in the same way a sneakerhead might keep his unworn holy grail shoe on a pillow in his closet; I never really use them.
Rather than beckoning me to write, the perfection of fancy notebooks serves as a source of constant anxiety. When a notebook costs an arm and a leg and looks like it will last for posterity, I feel like I have to get everything right. I can’t make any mistakes, write anything silly, lest I blemish the perfect pages. And so I never write in them. The only way to ensure you never mess up is to never start at all.
I always find myself drawn to the cheapest notebooks I can find, spiral and composition ones that you can get at Staples for a quarter during back to school sales. I don’t feel nervous about messing these up—they’re dirt cheap and eminently replaceable. As long as the paper can handle my fountain pens with minimal bleed (you’d be surprised how many cheap notebooks have decent paper) and the binding doesn’t disintegrate with use, I feel invited to write as many pages as I can, to fill them up with inky loops and dots.
When I was a kid I preferred spiral bound notebooks, since they lay flat, but as I got older I favored composition notebooks for their better durability. One too many flimsy spiral coils has gotten mangled in my backpack, and once I made the switch to their cousins with tough cardboard covers and unfussy sewn bindings, I never looked back.
Recently I’ve taken a liking to legal pads, since they’re easy to get at the office. They’re not nearly as durable as their notebook counterparts, but the lack of a cover makes them more inviting to write on than anything else. I don’t even have to open anything to start writing. Combine that with the fact that legal pads usually have paper that stands up to my watery fountain pen ink, and you have a recipe for a perfect note-taking companion. I primarily write on these pads now, unless I’m writing something I want to keep (like a journal), in which case I revert back to my trusty cheap composition notebooks.
P.S. If you’ve ever gotten me a fancy notebook over the years… I’m sorry.