Someone recently gave me an attractive, faux leather writer’s notebook. It’s a 90-page jotter the size of a large paperback book. The cover is branded black on brown with this promotional come-on:


Sir Edmund Hillary Club

Catchy. Smart. But it doesn’t say how (or why) to join the club. Was Hillary aware that there was such a club?

Perhaps it’s a hint to hit the Everest trail, notebook in hand.

As nice as it looks, the Hillary Club notebook is flawed: It’s too large to fit in my pocket. Over the years, I have filled dozens of writers’ notebooks, all of which fit easily into a shirt or coat pocket. Anything bigger and bulkier has gotten left behind, or lost in transit.

A small journal is an essential accoutrement to my writing, accessible and easy to use anytime, anywhere, for on-the-fly/off-the-cuff interviews, and for slowly gestating reflections. My writerly annotations require quick-and-easy jotters to record snippets of dialogue, describe interesting scenes, copy potentially useful quotes by others, document whole interviews, try out hypothetical titles and leads, remember the names of strangers met, and, most recently, to store the notes used in writing this essay.

I’d like to think that the most important books I’ll ever write

are my scruffy little notebooks.

Notebooks are as much about capturing a fleeting notion to keep for later, as they are about framing a work agenda for next week and/or noting the time and place of important meetings. I’d like to think that the most important books I’ll ever write are my scruffy little notebooks.

The Hillary Club notebook sparked my curiosity about the “writers’ notebook” industry. In nanoseconds a Google search came up with well over six million hits listing scores of websites, blogs and ads about notebooks in various sizes and styles, some with artsy covers, many with fancy (expensive) brand names. The choices seem endless. It’s a big business.

For example, check out the Meisterstück Montblanc notebook. The ad says that it is “made of black European full-grain cowhidewith unique Montblanc deep shine, jacquard lining with the Montblanc brand name.” That jacquard lining is a nice touch, a designer fabric with a dappled pattern. On the website you’ll be enticed to buy one of Montblanc’s excellent pens, perhaps a hip ‘Beatles Special Edition,’ with which to write your Meisterstück (masterpiece).

Less expensive jotters are also available―loose leaf, spiral bound, stapled or stitched; lined or graphed; waterproof, or not; bound with stiff cardboard or a more distinguished looking moleskin finish. Moleskin is heavy cotton sheared smooth to look and feel like the furry skin of that common pest, the mole, if that’s what inspires you.

And check out the internet buzz over Bullet Journaling. This hot new craze seems to bring out the artist in us, with color-coated, artfully illustrated jottings. The folks at thoughtco.com describe ‘how-to-start-a-bullet-journal.’ They say that it is “a stress-free way to keep track of to-dos, future plans, notes to self, long-term goals, monthly calendars, and more.” Hopefully, there is room for dedicated writerly jottings somewhere between the bullets. Images of Bullet Journals on Instagram and Pinterest show me that investing in this fad requires buying a heap of art supplies, especially multi-colored, craft pens with various nibs.

Has the act of journaling eclipsed the art of writing? If so, then it’s time to turn off the computer so I can annotate my pocket-sized writer’s journal by hand, like a dedicated old-style writer, all the way to Everest Base Camp and back, for posterity.


The Sir Edmund Hillary Club notebook is a promotion of the Overseas Adventure Travel agency. Mine came roundabout as a secondhand gift. Less fancy notebooks are available in local stationary shops. For a creative primer encouraging inquisitive students to write, see ‘Writer’s Notebook’ at www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Journals/ST/ST0064July01.pdf. A modicum of school-kid curiosity is partly what defines us as writers. See www.ourjourneyinjournals.com for a list of blogs about Bullet Journaling. You can catch the Spilled Ink essayist at don.editor@gmail.com.