7 Rules for Buying a Notebook…

There comes a point in every sad little aspiring writer’s life, which sparkles with joy… And that is reaching the end of your notebook. Because it’s time to purchase a new one.

For stationery geeks such as myself, this is a feeling of exhilaration (I don’t get out much).  So you can imagine my excitement on Thursday when it was time to go notebook shopping…

And then my disappointment when I discovered that I had accidentally bought THE WRONG KIND OF NOTEBOOK.

I had completely messed up.

The reasons for doing so were eleventy-three-fold: I’d overslept, I desperately needed another coffee, it was raining (which always makes me feel a bit frantic) and in my rush to pick up a new notebook, I failed to adhere to my strict notebook criteria. It was only once I had sat down with a cup of coffee and started writing, that I realised the error of my ways.

When it comes to notebooks, anything less than perfect feels wrong.

And this notebook is wrong because I had slipped up when buying it – I had missed one of my rules (yes, there are rules). Some people apply a similar method to dating. I’m all about the stationery (although looking over this list, it’s pretty transferable: notebooks, men, it doesn’t really matter).

So here are my 7 Rules for Buying a New Notebook (in case I forget them).


Not too heavy

This is mainly a way of tricking myself psychologically. I hate carrying heavy things around with me because my upper body strength is below par (i.e. non-existent). I already carry a great deal of mandatory crap around in my bag, which weighs a ridiculous amount. Lob a heavy notebook in there too and my shoulder aches before I’ve even made it out of the front door. So I try to reduce the amount of heavy items I carry around with me. If my notebook weighty, it’ll be one of the first things to go. If I don’t have a notebook, I don’t have anything to write in when I’m out and about. And that breaks my big hefty writer rule*.

*Take a notebook with you EVERYWHERE because otherwise you’ll have ideas and then forget them and then hate yourself for months afterwards.


A shiny front cover is lovely at first, but after a few round trips knocking about in my full-of-crap bag, and it emerges a tattered piece of garbage, looking (and smelling) a bit damp (especially if I get caught in the rain, and I’ve ditched my umbrella because it was one of the items I deemed to heavy to carry around with me). The pages curl, the colour fades, the edges are tatty. Bottom line – it’s just a waste.


Friends sometimes buy me notebooks as gifts at Christmas or Birthdays. On the one hand I’m really touched: they bought me something I’ll use regularly and it suggests that in some way they support my hair-brained life-choice of “aspiring writer”.

On the other, they almost always get me a notebook I can’t use: multi-coloured pages, decorative margins, illustrations in the corner of each page etc. And I know this makes me seem like a pretentious diva here, but I can’t write in these notebooks. Have you seen my handwriting? It’s like Zorro. With a pen. On crack. My horrible scrawl essentially destroys what was otherwise a perfectly nice gift.


An ex-boyfriend once bought me a new notebook with a Disney Eeyore on the cover. This isn’t overly insulting, because… er… I have a bit of an Eeyore thing…

chillin eeyores

eeyores and derrick

eeyore pooh and pc zone

eeyore and pirate


Eeyore is my favourite Winnie-the-Pooh character, and my dad used to read me Winnie-the-Pooh when I was a kid, and yes, it’s all very sentimental and lovely.

Let it go…

With this cutesy childhood memory in mind, I can’t write an emotionally fuelled rant in an Eeyore notebook. It’s too much of a conflict. I can’t indulge the sub-conscious (ahem) “creative mind” (ahem) with Eeyore constantly looking up at me and being adorable.

too big too small

I’ve already mentioned the weight of a notebook, but size also matters (picky, moi?). Nothing bigger or smaller than an A5 notebook. An A4 notebook (like the kind you steal from the stationery cupboard at work) is problematic: It reminds me of writing work things and taking minutes for meetings. It’s also too large and forbidding. If I was struggling for something to write, I wouldn’t be able to write on an A4 piece of paper. I’d feel like it was judging me.

Similarly, nothing smaller than A5 – like those cutesy little “gift” notebooks you can get in… well… gift shops. This is more of a physical hurdle than anything else. I’m left handed, and being a left handed writer doesn’t lend itself to writing in teeny tiny notebooks. Or ringbinders. Or those forms that are all tightly stapled together down the left hand side.


I don’t really understand this one myself, but I hate writing in notebooks with lines. Too much order and structure – making even the most straggly notes look formalised. Plus lines clutter the page. I like the page to be entirely blank.


In contrast to rule number 6, I hate REALLY WHITE paper. I hate it. It’s too stark. Something with a slightly beige tinge is much better. I also dislike recycled paper (which is where I went wrong with my recent purchase). If the pen doesn’t glide over the surface of the page with ease, it isn’t satisfying to write (which reminds me, if you think this is bad, don’t even get me started about picking the perfect pen).

Ultimately, I know that none of this really matters and I fully anticipate being shot down in flames by the likes of, well, all other aspiring writers. I know what’s coming “If you want to write, you’ll just write no matter what.” Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, now I’ve said it for you – save you the trouble and give you more time to write your best-seller on the back of a napkin.

I get it, okay. Notebook perfection is not a big deal. Usually. But this is all psychological. After several creatively dormant months (while I completely erased my life so far and started all over again) anything that encourages me to write (like writing in the perfect notebook) is a big help.

This whole notebook perfection thing stems from my 21st Birthday when my housemate bought me the best notebook ever; textured cover, smooth, clean pages, A5, not too heavy, simple. It was a dream to write in and I wrote my first ever short story in it.

For six long years, I’ve been searching for a replica notebook. I’ve come pretty close a couple of times to getting something almost similar. But nothing ever quite like the fabled notebook from my 21st birthday. The search continues…

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Comments: 15

  1. stoo October 28, 2011 at 9:30 pm Reply

    I see the shelf of PC Zones! And approve.

    • Jo and the Novelist October 29, 2011 at 10:58 am Reply

      I can’t take credit for those – I’m merely babysitting them for your good colleague (and my brother).

      • Rik October 29, 2011 at 3:24 pm Reply

        Is that hippo really called Derrick? And if so, why Derrick and not Derek?

        You can throw away that issue of Playstation World, by the way.

        • Jo and the Novelist October 30, 2011 at 10:46 am Reply

          Because he’s named after Cheif Inspector Stephan Derrick, from the hit German TV show “Derrick”.


          Yes, he really is called Derrick. I’m not sure why, it just sort of stuck.

          • Rik November 1, 2011 at 8:45 pm

            Looking down the Wikipedia list of famous people called Derrick, it seems to entirely consist of former or current NFL players.

            Perhaps you should add ‘Derrick – Stuffed Hippo, famous for brief appearance on joandthenovelist.com’.

            Y’know. Just for variety. Plus anyone can add stuff to Wikipedia.

          • Jo and the Novelist November 1, 2011 at 11:41 pm

            This is the second time one of my blog posts has caused you to encourage me to add stuff to Wikipedia…

            I would. In fact I really, want to BUT I DON’T KNOW HOW!

            And I’m scared that the internet police would come and get me… Or maybe I’ve just been watching too many cop shows. hmm.

  2. Megan - Best of Fates October 31, 2011 at 3:22 pm Reply

    I feel so up-to-date, I bought a new notebook yesterday! Sadly, I can only use ones with lines, so never shall our notebooks meet.

    • Jo and the Novelist November 1, 2011 at 9:49 am Reply

      You never know, opposites attract… Maybe they’ll have a blossoming notebook romance… Although, not sure how stationery love works… Hm.

  3. Steven Chapman November 1, 2011 at 11:15 am Reply

    So how do you pick the perfect pen then?

    • Jo and the Novelist November 1, 2011 at 11:21 am Reply

      That’s a whole ‘nother, long pretentious blog post…

  4. Steven Chapman November 3, 2011 at 5:09 pm Reply

    What about Waldo Pancake books??

    They have ‘shiny’ front covers but they rock


    I especially like the ‘Fill me with your issues’ one :D

  5. WilyGuy November 5, 2011 at 6:28 pm Reply

    Wow! I read this to my wife who among other things is picky about notebooks and pens. She will go on endlessly about why she doesn’t like a particular notebook, pen, recipe, etc.

    She got it immediately! She likes lines, which is probably one of the few overlaps between us. I never noticed the smoothness of the paper, so now I will likely be keeping that in mind.

    I’m a techie, so my phone makes an adequate, albeit slow notepad in a pinch. I also like to dictate quick thoughts and with talk-to-type apps like Dragon Dictation and VLingo, I can even get it transcribed. The beauty of the phone is it is with me all the time.

    I have done a bit of writing using Microsoft OneNote which gives my bad handwriting a break, while allowing me to drop text in anywhere. It kind of requires a computer to really show off, but you can use it on Microsoft live, as well as an app on the iPhone.

    Anyway, really enjoyed my first foray into your blog and look forward to reading more (past and future) after clicking from the bloggess page.


  6. jan December 5, 2011 at 9:33 am Reply

    In my cluttered study (ha ha, a bedroom shared with bunkbeds for the grandchildren, their toys, games, craft stuff, and sometimes a vintage cot for the littlest.) I have a whole drawer dedicated to notebooks. Well some of them are not what a real notebook afficionado like Jo would call a notebook, many of them are A5 size, years old empty diaries we used to get issued with by the Head when I was a teacher. They have lines, and dates and useful information (?) . Other notebooks are freebies that come with grownup women’s glossy mags, in fact I buy the December or January issues of these specifically for the notebooks. They have the added attraction of not only being ‘free’ but are handbag sized. the drawer is now full and I don’t know what I shall do with this festive season’s crop – Oh, I know, I could write in them, but I am secretly addicted to major displacement activities, like reading blogs.

    • Jo and the Novelist December 6, 2011 at 4:29 pm Reply

      Honestly, I don’t know how I became so picky about my notebooks – they all end up looking like tattered coffee stained rags anyway!! When I was younger I used to imagine myself writing on anything; bus tickets, paper napkins, the bag of an envelope – because y’know, I’d just be so damn prolific all the time. I don’t know how I became such a notebook diva.

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