Month: April 2016

World Stationery Day: Current Favorite Notebooks

Today is World Stationery Day, which falls in the middle of National Stationery Week, which encompasses the slightly-better-known Fountain Pen Friday. If that’s not the nerdiest sentence I’ve ever written, it’s certainly in the top 5.

This post is a bit slapdash as I’m trying to finish a major writing assignment before Friday. I thought I would quickly write about my favorite notebooks and what I use them for. When I first bought the Traveler’s Notebook in 2013, I truly believed that it would be the One Notebook to Rule Them All. Three years on, I’ve clearly reconsidered that stance–but, as you’ll see, I haven’t ventured far at all.

So, starting from the bottom up:

Hobonichi Techo – A6

I discovered the Hobonichi last year when I was getting into art journaling. It is designed to be a daily planner, but people use it to journal, track habits and quotes, and scrapbook; in fact, the Hobonichi creators encourage people to use it creatively, however it may suit their needs. It has a bit of a cult following around the world–simply search the #hobonichitecho or #ほぼ日手帳 tag on Instagram to see just how widely it’s used.

The minimalist, page-a-day layout drew me in, as did the fact that the Hobonichi uses Tomoe River Paper–a lightweight paper akin to onion paper, but one that holds fountain pen ink beautifully. I mostly use mine for art journaling and random reflections, or to hash out what’s on my mind at the time. Journaling in the Hobonichi, unlike my written diary, is an aesthetic exercise as well–it is the main outlet for my washi tape obsession!

Five months in and the Hobonichi is starting to swell up from washi tape, photographs, and stickers thickening each page. By November I predict it will be very difficult to write in, but I hope the lay-flat binding holds out for as long as it can.

Traveler’s Notebook in Black – Regular Size

While no longer the Notebook to End All Notebooks, the Traveler’s Notebook has a vaulted place in my heart–and in my bag. I carry “my Midori” around 95% of the time. It used to be produced by Midori, but the Traveler’s brand has slowly spun away from Midori and is now known as Traveler’s Company. If the Hobonichi has a cult following, the Traveler’s Notebook is a religion unto itself.

I’ve written a long post about the Traveler’s Notebook on my previous blog. Some things have changed since that post, the main one being that I use this notebook almost exclusively for journaling. It includes a written diary, a weekly creative journal, and a fabric wallet to hold washi tape, stickers, and ephemera.

Midori MD Notebook (Grid) – Medium

This is a relatively new addition to my notebook collection. I was advised by a lecturer to start a research diary for my nonfiction book–naturally, I interpreted her suggestion as a mandate to find the perfect research notebook. I attempted to use my Traveler’s Notebook at first, but something seemed off: the proportion of it, the paper in the inserts, I wasn’t quite sure. It just didn’t feel right.

I took a chance on the MD Grid Notebook in Medium, which is actually a slim and compact size. As soon as I started using it I knew it was the perfect choice. The pages lay flat, the grid pattern made for neat notes, and the notebook’s small size made it incredibly easy to carry around without taking up too much space. True to the Midori brand, the notebook is a minimalist, aesthetically-pleasing beauty. I use it for everything related to my book, including research notes, reflections on progress, revision brainstorming, and tasks to chase certain people or topics.

Traveler’s Notebook in Camel – Passport Size

There isn’t much to say about this notebook, as I just bought it yesterday. The camel-colored notebooks were initially a limited edition series, released for Traveler’s 5th Anniversary. This year marks their 10th Anniversary, and to celebrate, Traveler’s Company made the Camel notebooks part of the regular lineup. I had considered getting the regular size, but at the last minute swapped it for the Passport size. The Camel version is gorgeous, with a rich bright caramel leather cover that scuffs easily. As its new, it still has that strong heady leather scent.

I plan to use this notebook for planning/non-journaling purposes–it’s more practical to whip out than the regular size Traveler’s Notebook. I’ve written a page so far, and it will take me awhile to get used to the sizing. It feels really small! I’m excited to play around with it more and fit it out with beautiful accessories. For when one has no pets, no kids, and no life, what else is one to do….?

For a closer look at the notebooks, particularly the Traveler’s Notebook and Hobonichi Techo, I post quite a few pages on Instagram: @tdpjournals.

I may go into more detail about my work tools in future posts–especially what I use to write nonfiction, which is my biggest project at the moment. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about what tools you use–analog or otherwise–to write!

What I’ve Learned Writing Flash Fiction Every Day

Over the years I’ve had an on-and-off writing project called Flash Fictionary. The project calls for a daily short story inspired by Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day. The stories are roughly 200 words long. At the moment I type each one on a 4×6 index card, so the story ends when the card does.

Flash Fictionary had its longest run of 26 stories in 2015, then became dormant. In November, I made one ill-fated attempt to bring it back, then stripped it down to the essentials and made a new home for it. In resuming the project, I’ve confronted familiar fears about writing–but also realized that, over this rather long hiatus, other fears have receded in significance.

The bad news is, there will always be a strong inner editor telling me that my writing is crap. The good news is, writing crap matters less than the act of writing itself. A week and a half ago I had 0 new stories; now I have 11. This time, quantity trumps quality. What more can a struggling perfectionist ask for?

Here are other small lessons I’ve picked up so far from writing flash fiction every day:

The stories will be rough.

They aren’t just first drafts: they’re baby drafts, shaking and ugly and out of control. Like babies, they don’t communicate their needs and wants all that well. But they exist.

“You can’t edit a blank page,” is a quote attributed to everyone from Nora Roberts to Meg Cabot to Shakespeare. Regardless of who said it, it’s true. Flash Fictionary forces me to confront the rawness of my own writing, even on days when it feels like sewage is leaking out of my fingers. Because a small percentage of the time, the words don’t feel like sewage: they feel like rainbows and Nutella and freshly-baked bread slathered in salted butter.

To write more, reduce the barriers to entry (AKA don’t make it so hard for yourself to write!)

Barriers to entry is an economic term describing the different obstacles a business encounters before it can enter the market. For example, starting a telecommunications company has high barriers to entry, while selling candy has low barriers to entry.

The more steps it takes for me to write and upload a story, the more likely I am to quit. The very first time I attempted Flash Fictionary (2004? 2005?), I set no limits on story length. This also happened during NaNoWriMo 2015. As a result, I found it hard to finish the stories in a day, and lost steam early on.

When I did Flash Fictionary in 2015, I limited the stories to 1 or 2 handwritten cards, because that removed the temptation to delete and edit as I went. However, because the stories were going on Instagram I tried to make them look visually appealing. Cue spending hours on: sourcing colorful background patterns, waiting to photograph in natural light, and illustrating all the title cards.

For this iteration, I use 1) a typewriter 2) a single 4×6 card and 3) a scanner. Everything is typed: no hand-lettering, no watercolor illustrations, no endless searching for the right VSCO filter. I can post each story any time of the day. I do miss the bright colors of the Instagram versions, but not as much as I love faff-free writing.

You have a daily opportunity to work on different writing techniques.

I know what my biggest writing weaknesses are. My writing style is rather languid. I get lost in long sentences. In drafts, I chase tangents with abandon, often abandoning my original idea entirely. I struggle with clarity.

Flash Fictionary allows me write through my weaknesses. For example, ‘Fossick‘ was an attempt to incorporate more suspense, urgency, and dialogue. ‘Exodus‘ resulted out of a personal challenge to write within a specific, real setting. For future stories, I can mimic the styles of authors I admire, or attempt specific challenges like “Use more sensory detail.”

It’s fun and experimental, but more importantly, it’s good practice.

Finally, endings are really hard.

I often forget about ending the story. (It happens when you start hundreds more stories than you finish.) By the time I realize it’s time to wrap it up, I’ve run out of card. Endings are my biggest weakness, and it will take more than two weeks of writing short stories to be comfortable enough (and ready) to write them! But at least I’m beholden to finishing at least one story a day.

It’s a start.

For the rest of the stories, please check out Feel free to write some flash fictionaries of your own!