Tag Archive for field notes

On Paper & Pen

My day gig is very much rooted in technology.

Every day, I’m telling teachers why they should be using Chromebooks and smartphones in their classrooms, teaching students to make the most of their Google Apps for Education accounts, extolling the virtues of Evernote and digital textbooks in class, and finding strategies to reduce our school district’s paper and toner consumption.

It surprises my coworkers, then, when they discover I carry a paper notebook and a pencil in my pocket at all times. To some it’s almost betrayal, as if everything I’ve told them is a lie.

Technology has its place, of course, and the majority of my workflow is definitely digital. Evernote is a huge part of my productivity, both in writing and at work, and when I’m writing I’m usually strapped in to Google Docs or Apple’s Pages. Early notes and brainstorming, however, is usually done in a notebook.

Pencil and paper still flows better for me. As fast as I can type, I’m faster with a pencil. I feel more connected to the words, as pretentious as that sounds, and the ideas just keep on coming.

A small notebook is far more convenient on the go, too. It’s not uncommon for me to throw some text or photos into a note in Evernote via my smartphone, but again, for brainstorming, it’s just so much faster to use a pencil.

Yes, pencil. Mechanical, .5mm. Right now my favorite is a Papermate something-or-other (the name has rubbed off), as seen in the photo below.

I’ve long felt pens are too messy. When I was a kid I exploded a few pens while fiddling with them because I can’t sit still, which probably soured me on the whole thing. I like being able to erase my mistakes, too. Despite having hurried and jagged handwriting which even I sometimes have a hard time deciphering, I have this weird insistence on the words being right.

So I dig pencils, and I dig good notebooks. I’ve talked about Moleskines several times, and after my experience with the Field Notes Pitch Black, I decided to try the Field Notes Expedition Edition, also in the photo above. It is definitely more durable than the Pitch Black, but pencil transfers across to opposite pages.

I’ve got three Expeditions now, so I wonder, should I find a pen that transfers its ink properly to the Expedition’s pages? By coincidence today, I read A Primer on Fountain Pens at The Art of Manliness. Surely, I thought, there’s a fountain pen ink that will do the job?

This is the part where I shock my writing brethren, especially those who are notebook and pen geeks:

I’ve never used a fountain pen.

I seem to remember fiddling with one, and scratching up some paper, but never a good pen and never at length. Typewriters? Sure, I dig typewriters. Love the feel and the noise, though I don’t own one. But fountain pens just never clicked. I never felt a need for a pretty pen when my handwriting sucks, and again, there’s the issue of the mess.

I know John Urbancik uses several, as do a number of writers I’ve talked to. I’ve heard artists talk at length about the various pens and inks they use in their work. Writers and artists alike talk about quality ink and flowing lines and the feel of a good pen in hand.

Hey, I get it. I’m down. But I do like my pencil scratchings, so I’m torn. Do I find a good pen, or do I abandon the Expeditions? I don’t know that I’m ready to get all spendy on fountain pens and screw with ink refills, but if anyone can recommend a good, durable pen with ink that won’t smear all over the place, I’d be willing to give it a shot at my notebook.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Field Notes Field Test

I’ve been working in a Field Notes notebook for a few months now, and while it’s been a solid & dependable notebook, I’m not quite sure it fits my needs.

This notebook has been taking a beating

This notebook has been taking a beating

I decided to start with the Pitch Black edition, a basic black notebook with Field Notes dot-grid pages. Field Notes has a reputation for making durable notebooks, which is an important feature for me. See, my notebooks live in my back pocket, and let’s face it: I’m not a small man. Any notebook I carry is going to take a beating. It comes out of the pocket at home and various destinations, but I’m often sitting on it in the car or on the motorcycle.

I’ve just about filled the first of my set of three Pitch Blacks, and so far it’s held together well. The cover has a few permanent wrinkles, it’s fraying around the staples, and the cover below the bottom staple is splitting along the spine. However, it’s still holding all of the pages just fine. The notebook stays bent out of my pocket, but I just flip it around when I return it to my pocket and it smooths out in the other direction. The pages themselves are holding up great. The first several pages inside each cover are wrinkled, but all of my pencil scratchings are perfectly legible. (As legible as my handwriting allows, anyway.)

I was concerned about the dot-grid pages at first, but I’ve come to dig it. For those unfamiliar, imagine a graph paper layout, then remove all the lines and leave a dot where the intersections were. It has the feel of a blank page, but the dots still create subtle lines for guidance. I find I can write as large as I want without feeling like a frustrated kindergartner who can’t color within the lines, yet I still have some solid guidance for longer passages and lists. It hasn’t changed my world, but I certainly won’t avoid dot-grid in the future.

As much as I like the Field Notes, however, its glaring weakness is in my own usage: I need something sturdier. These notebooks are great for working at a desk, on a table, or on a bent knee, but they don’t have the backbone for hand-held work. That’s a big problem for me in the dojo, where I’ll have to record something quickly while standing at the edge of the mat or between instruction and practice. I can get a little more oomph out of it by wrapping one side of the notebook behind the other, but it’s still just not quite steady enough for my meaty paws.

The plus side of the dojo work is the pages hold up to sweat. Whether the sweat is on my fingers or dripping off my face, the writing doesn’t smudge on the page. That wasn’t always the case with my last Moleskine, which drank the sweat right up.

While I like the Field Notes overall and would recommend them to most people for general use, I will most likely finish out the last two from this set and then try something a little more solid. If anyone has recommendations, please do drop them in the comments below.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Notebook Nerdery

I still dig paper notebooks. Though I could tap notes into my smartphone via Evernote or a host of other apps, it’s much easier to write in a notebook. I also find it helps me think faster and make more connections. I’m more free-form scribbler than mind mapper. So, when I’m out and about, I tend to have a small notebook with me, preferably something that fits in a jacket or jeans pocket.

I finally filled a Piccadilly I’d been carrying for a while. It’s a cheap knock-off of the Moleskine pocket notebook style, and while I expected it to get beat up, the binding just didn’t hold together. I have Moleskines I carried longer, and though the covers around the bindings began to fray, the bindings themselves held.

I know there are a lot of other things out there, so I decided to do a little browsing. Here are the highlights:

  • Field Notes are pretty cool, but I prefer a hardcover and elastic strap. The hardcover is easier to write on without a table, and the strap helps contain anything I stuff into my notebook.
  • The Midori Traveller notebooks are gorgeous. For $50+, though, they can stick them in their ass. The passport size comes in brown for $28 on Amazon, which is still a bit much. However, I’d prefer the black passport size, and it’s $45. It might be a different story if I were an artist or a fountain pen nut looking for superior paper, but I’m just a pencil scribbler.
  • The Leuchtturm1917 intrigued me, and a video comparing the Leuchtturm1917 pocket notebook to the Moleskine got my attention, but I’m not convinced spending $8-10 more (including shipping) is worth the difference. Page numbers would be cool, but I could do (and have done) that myself.
  • I felt the same way about the Rhodia Webnotebook. Another comparison video suggested some advantages, but once again it’s paying $8-10 more for things that don’t quite make a difference in my needs.

A few other brands looked like more of the same. For all of them, I might change my mind if I wrote in pen or wanted sturdier paper, but I write with a pencil. Always a mechanical pencil, and always one with a retractable, non-stabby point. I still prefer to erase rather than scribble or cross things out (I have a different use for strike-throughs), so my eraser sees a lot of action, too.

I’ve considered the Evernote Smart Notebook before, and I looked at it again now that it comes in a pocket size. The extra cost comes with three additional months of Evernote premium, which adds value. However, I’m not convinced it will really do me any good.

For one, there’s no reason I couldn’t snap a photo any other note notebook page. The sticker tagging and the dot guidelines make it easier for Evernote, I’m sure, but I’d rather have straight text notes than photos. I also don’t think Evernote will make any sense of my manic chicken-scratchings, either.

I haven’t been motivated to test it, though, because the act of transcribing those notes into the computer helps keep the details fresh in my mind and often prompts new ideas, corrections, or improvements. It’s become part of my process. Transcription is also quicker with page numbers (whether pre-printed or hand-written), as I can leave a lot of the extra brainstorming notes in the notebook and just type a book and page number into an Evernote entry for quick reference.

On top of that, Moleskine’s Evernote design is not very enticing. I can live with the lime-green band, but the stuff all over the cover is ugly. A simple Evernote elephant logo embossed on the front, or a just few additional elements like on the Hobbit notebook would be much nicer. Not a deal-killer, just a nitpick.

In the end, I came right back to the standard Moleskine notebooks. I have two now: a standard, pocket-sized one and a larger one with my name on the cover (gifted from a friend). I could still be convinced by some hands-on with the other notebooks, but from what I’m seeing on the web I’d rather not spend the extra ducats. I’m good with a middle ground between affordability and premium features.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.