Tag Archives: fieldnotes

Rhodia notepad – my best analogue capture device

Sometimes the best things come to us in life entirely by mistake. That’s exactly what happened to me with the Rhodia no 12 pad and it has turned out to be one of the most useful analogue tools I use.

Unlike my digital task management systems (which are separate for work and personal), this can be used for everything. A story or character idea? Check. A task I need to complete for a client? Check. Topping up the coolant levels in my car? Check. I just write the thought down, tear off the sheet and throw it in my inbox to be processed at a more convenient time.

A frequent thought right now

I didn’t realise how small this was when I brought it. I’d heard people talk about how fountain pen friendly the paper used by Rhodia was and saw it at a reasonable price. Thanks to the one click simplicity of the internet, I’d paid for it and it was being delivered before I really looked any further. Initially I was disappointed, but at 85 by 120mm, it sat unobtrusively on my desk and was always at hand when a rogue thought popped into my head.

As part of the Getting Things Done methodology, David Allen talks about the benefits of writing down a single thought on a full size sheet of paper. Despite the recycling options now available, that feels wasteful to me. Post it notes don’t work out either, because although they are a similar, more convenient size, they stick to everything else in your inbox and inevitably get lost on the back of a letter that you filed.

The tear off perforations on the pad are sturdy but easy to rip. I’ve never had a sheet come loose, but nor have I ever had a ragged half-piece of paper where it got stuck and wouldn’t cleanly come free.

I never have to worry about what writing implement is already in my hand when the bolt of lightning strikes either. I’ve had a felt tip, a gel pen, a pencil and a nice juicy stub-nibbed fountain pen and none of them have bled through to the sheet below or smeared. When it comes to getting ideas out of your head so you can get back to what you’re meant to be doing, silly frictions like having to swap to a ballpoint will stop you from writing it down at all. I’m super lazy like that and, if you’re being honest, I bet you are too.

It’s even small enough to hide behind a Field Notes

So, for the perfect little desk or pocket notepad, it ticks all the boxes. I usually try to do a pros and cons list when I write about physical tools, but for this little buddy I can’t think of any cons. And with such high quality for such a low cost, it’s worth giving a go, no matter how high or low tech your system is.

Writer Tools: Field Notes Dime Edition Review

One of the most difficult parts of being self-employed is constant self-motivation. As a writer, the easiest way for me to do this is to use tools that inspire me to pick them up. I’ve done some of my best work when I’m having the most fun just playing with my toys.

Field Notes Dime Novel Edition

The Field Notes Dime Novel Edition is a perfect, quirky writer’s tool. Inspired by the American Dime Novel (much like the British Penny Dreadfuls back in the day), it is a departure from the standard pocket notebook Field Notes is known for. I love that, despite being iconic in the notebook world, they continue to mix it up with their quarterly releases and not play it safe.

Instead of the usual 48 pages, there are 72 plain pages bound as three signatures. This creates a completely different look and feel to the standard ones, as well as giving more space to write:

Interestingly, the Dime Novel Edition has numbered pages, another departure from the usual Field Notes functionality:

Given the explosion of Bullet Journaling, more and more companies are incorporating the numbered pages into their notebooks. Even though I’ve been using a modified bullet journal method for years and would normally be super excited about this feature, for once it isn’t important because…

What will I be doing with mine?

I’ll be doing exactly what it says on the tin. There’s not quite enough space for a novel, but I intend to write out a short story in each of them. In one, I intend to use my coveted Blackwing 24 (The Steinbeck Edition). In the other, I plan to use one of my fountain pens loaded with J. Herbin Lie De Thé – a beautiful sepia toned ink that fits the aged theme perfectly.

As much as I appreciate the opportunities that the world of self-publishing has given me, it’s nice to be reminded that writing doesn’t always need to have an audience. It doesn’t have to be a book churn efficiency. Writing can be – and should be – fun first. I can’t wait to pen these stories for myself, written by hand in the cold winter mornings.

Main images in the post are courtesy of Field Notes Brand. Check them out.

Tools of the trade: Field Notes Campfire Review

As a reminder, I use analogue tools for creative planning (including business strategy, idea generation and note taking). Therefore the items I use have to meet three criteria. They must be:

  • Attractive to use, so they make me want to write
  • Portable, so I can use them at my desk, office or coffee shop
  • Flexible, so they are appropriate in multiple scenarios

So how does the quarterly Field Notes Campfire release shape up against those requirements? Great, actually.

The different cover designs are awesome

Compared to the previous two releases (Utility and Black Ice), this edition feels like a Field Notes book. It has shades of Americana that people expect from a company like Field Notes. It is part of their brand appeal. For me, the two previous editions were innovation over functionality. They reduced the usability of a product that I want to carry with me at all times.

So are they attractive to use? Oh yes. A big tick in the box on that score. The three different covers add variety and they have a beautiful tactile finish on the covers. Nice additional touches include the different shade of grid lines in each book to match the key tones of their respective covers.

Attention to detail with the grid line colours

As for portability, Field Notes always have that covered. Of their 35 quarterly editions, only two have broken away from the pocket book size (Arts and Sciences and Byline). Both were great alternatives, but not as truly portable as the pocket size. Campfire Edition has the portability that we’ve come to expect from Field Notes and fits in all those standard carry cases as well as your back pocket.

Straight into my trusty Nock Co case

Finally, flexibility for use in both personal and business scenarios. Field Notes are never going to be corporate like Moleskine or Leuchtturm1917, but they’re not trying to be. At the same point, neither are they offensive or too gimmicky most of the time. If I had to pull these out in a client meeting, they’re the kind of notebooks that might attract attention, but in good ways. They don’t scream unprofessional.

As for the paper, I haven’t found it to be a problem with fountain pens, as long as I’m not using a big juicy wet nib and ink. There’s very little feathering or bleed through on the page, which means I don’t have to stop and think about the pen I’m using before beginning to write.

Very little bleed through on the page

Overall, I give this one a big thumbs up and can’t wait to see what the next quarterly release is. Fall is subscription renewal time for me, but I have a mountain of pocket notebooks still waiting to be used. It will be interesting to see if Field Notes pull something out of the bag that makes it impossible for me to resist subscribing for another year.

You can buy the Field Notes Campfire Edition here until they’re sold out.

Follow Up: Using A Bullet Journal For Creative Projects

One of the most popular posts on my site is this one about how I use a Bullet Journal. The other, in case you are interested, is the one weighing up the pros and cons of using a Moleskine versus Field Notes, which also has a Bullet Journal influence to it.

Given I started using a Bullet Journal approach when it was a new thing and not the hugely popular and artistic thing it is now (check out the Instagram bujo hashtag if you want to feel inferior about your artistic skills), I thought it would be a good time to do a follow up. Specifically, how to use a Bullet Journal for creative projects.

Firstly, the thing to remember is that the bullet journal methodology is not set in stone. Right from the start, it was a system designed to be modified to meet individual needs. For me, this has resulted in two separate notebooks: one for planning and the other for creative writing projects.

A creative Bullet Journal, by definition, will have different requirements to a notebook containing everything. But why did I separate them? Quite simply, I wanted to have all my book outlines and ideas in one place. When it’s time to pick a project to move onto, this dramatically reduces the number of notebooks I have to work my way through. Because it is specifically for longer outlines, rather than aha! on-the-go snippets, I can stick to an A5 size that is just large enough.

What to remove

Because I’ve got a specific use case in mind, I can ignore any features that relate to the calendar. (Side note, because I’ve stripped out the creative writing projects, I can use an actual diary in a modified Bullet Journal approach that is just as effective. If you want to know more, I’m using a Moleskine Agenda as described here). This means the Future Log and the Monthly Log disappear for me.

What to keep

The Index is the core functionality of the Bullet Journal system that is so simple, yet life changing. This is particularly important in this instance because I want to be able to easily review the contents at a later date. I can’t help but call it Contents though, rather than Index. Sorry!

Underpinning the index is the use of page numbers. This is a feature that makes the Leuchtturm 1917 brand ideal for Bullet Journaling as they are pre-completed. I find manually numbering the pages at the start of a new notebook quite therapeutic, so don’t worry if your notebook of choice doesn’t have them.


Because I might plan a story over the course of several weeks and have more than one in development at any given time, when it comes to review I don’t want to keep flicking back to the index to find the related project pieces. Instead I use a simple arrow system when linking larger blocks of related text. It is a simple thing to do before starting, but saves amazing amounts of time when reviewing:

This chapter continues on page 37

This continues from page 17

What about topics, bullets and tasks?

I still use these as a creative feature. There is much more to writing a book than plotting it out. There may be research tasks that need to be completed prior to writing and these can form topics in themselves.

Personal Opinions…

What is the best size for a Bullet Journal?

For creative projects, the A5 size works best. For ‘on the go’ notes and ideas capture, a pocket notebook is best (such as a Field Notes)

What is the best brand for a bullet journal?

Leuchtturm 1917 is the closest fit for the Bullet Journal system. Prebuilt Index and page numbers, as well as a paper quality that works for a wide range of pen types, including fountain pens

What is the best paper format for a bullet journal?

Plain paper allows for the most freedom, but I’m a huge fan of graph or dot grid. The key is that any ruling is subtle enough for it not to be limiting 

You can find the official Bullet Journal site and more information from Ryder here.

Moleskine Weekly Planner vs Hobonichi Techo – 2017 review

This year needs to be a very big year for me in terms of personal productivity. I will transition from full-time employment to being entirely self-employed within the next few weeks. I’ve always found it easy to be productive in the daily 9-5 job, but being entirely accountable for my own goals and planning is a new challenge. One that I knew my setup in 2016 simply wouldn’t be able to handle.

Last year, one of the problems I encountered with my productivity was a surfeit of notebooks. That’s really the best way to describe it. I used the Hobonichi Techo to record my daily events but not my daily tasks. They were instead recorded in a Field Notes book using a modified Bullet Journal method. I never actually adhered to the full Bullet Journal system because several features, such as calendared events, simply do not work for me.

hobonichi techo

Hobonichi Techo: great paper but no overview

In a larger A5 size notebook, such as a Moleskine or a Paperblanks, I wrote my daily gratitude journals and morning pages. On the road, this felt more like a burden than a productivity asset as it was always a minimum of three daily notebooks.

As much as  I loved using the Hobonichi, I realised this was less about the layout and much more about the paper. As a huge fountain pen fan it was great knowing it could take literally any pen and ink combo that was thrown at it. I enjoyed the variety that different form factors provide. But pleasure aside, it just wasn’t practical. I was doing less, not more, and friction in the system became a problem in itself.

As part of my 2016 yearly review, I decided to very consciously choose a planner that would suit my changing circumstances. After considering all the options, I settled on an A5 Moleskine 12 Month Weekly Planner.  I’ve been using it consistently for 8 weeks, so now I’ve got enough information to provide a fair review of how this is working.

Key Features

Of course, it starts with the obligatory information page. I have no idea why these are included anymore, as no one ever fills them out surely? In the age of widespread fraud, the Field Notes approach of email address and reward waiting checkbox is all you need.

Moleskine Weekly Planner

Passport and credit card numbers? No thanks!

The planner style is more than just a ‘space per day’ diary. On the left hand page there is a daily spread, but on the right hand side there is a lined page. This allows free space each week to make notes or, in my case, to plan out additional goals. If you need to record lots of meetings and appointments, then this might not work for you.

Moleskine 12 month weekly planner

Daily and Weekly planning combo – ideal for modified Bullet Journal

There is also a monthly spread at the beginning. This is quite similar in size to the one I used last year in the Hobonichi, so it allows for bigger picture planning. Unlike the Hobonichi, there is more space at the bottom of each page for additional notes, taking advantage of the larger A5 size.

Moleskine Weekly Planner

Monthly overview – ideal for larger project planning

By far the biggest downside is the number of lined pages for additional notes at the back. With just 4, I already only have 2 lined sides left. Given that this book is narrower than a standard Moleskine A5 ruled book, this is not due to a thickness issue. Cost saving? Quite possibly, given that the usual address book pullout section wasn’t included this year either. I’ve spoken to other people who have Moleskine diaries in other formats and they didn’t have one either. So it is slightly disappointing if they are doing that, given they don’t exactly sell these as inexpensive items and they’re certainly not reinvesting the saving into better quality paper.

Moleskine Notebook

Seriously, no more pages left and February isn’t even over!

So far, with the caveats mentioned above, I have found this system to be working absolutely perfectly for my needs. Though the paper is nowhere near as good quality as the Hobonichi (understatement of the year) I have found that by sticking to a fine nib and a relatively dry ink I can still use some fountain pens with this. But on reflection, I’m approaching this year with functionality over fun and beauty.

So, to recap, the pros and cons of the Moleskine Weekly Planner…


  • Good layout for weekly goal setting
  • Monthly view for high level planning
  • General sleek and professional form factor you would expect from Moleskine


  • Paper quality (I’ve heard Leuchtturm1917 do a similar style, so this may be a better choice if paper really matters – if anyone has tried this then please let me know in the comments as I’ll consider alternatives for 2018)
  • Not enough lined pages at the back for additional notes
  • No address book section

The layout has been the winner for me. Without masses of daily appointments and meetings to keep track of, I can use a modified Bullet Journal system within the planner itself and feel like I’m keeping all my work plans and goals on track. But I’m not blind to some fairly significant weaknesses in the product.

Everyday carry for a writer

Over the past year, I’ve become endlessly fascinated by people photographing and describing their everyday carry. Of course, because I don’t live in America, I still find it odd to see so many knives and guns as part of that. The knives I can understand from a practical sense, but the prospect of having a gun as an integral part of your everyday life still baffles me.

Anywho, I am a person who has a few items with them 99% of the time. I might not have them with me when I go out for a special occasion requiring a little black handbag, but that’s about it. So below is my everyday carry:


I adore my nockco holder. Whenever I have an idea I just pull the whole thing out, rather than having to ferret around in the bottom of my bag to find a fluffy pen and an old receipt to scribble on. I have three notebooks with me most of the time: my current notebook, the Shelterwood Field Notes which contain details of a series I’ve been working on for a decade and the black nockco dot dash contains all the notes for the manuscript I’m currently submitting. For the writing utensils, a mechanical pencil, a retro 51, my sheaffer, pilot metropolitan and a lamy safari. I love to have a reliable selection of varying nib sizes and colours.

I also carry a set of worry dolls down around that were made for me by my sister a looooooooong time ago. They’ve travelled quite literally around the world with me and have huge sentimental value. No matter where I am or what is going on, I always have my family with me that way, all tied up in a little bag. Wait, that sounds sinister. Never mind…

The other things are purely practical: Swiss army card (has got me out of a few scrapes over the years for sure), a wallet ninja, lip balm, ear plugs (a sign I travel so much) and a USB stick, because you never know when you might have to grab documents on the go.

So, no guns or knives, but still the tools of my trade!

Life hacking my year

I set myself some pretty big goals in 2015 and intend to make 2016 my most successful year ever. Of course, we’re still in January, so making bold statements like that before the grudging reality of the daily grind kicks in is still possible. Even so, I picked up a few life hacks last year that I’m going to carry over into this year. They apply to daily life, so they cover off all my goal types: writing, financial, spiritual, physical etc.

Top tip number 1 – the standing desk.

Several personal development pros I follow have recommended this, but the biggest influencers for me were Jeff Sanders and Michael Hyatt’s blogpost and podcasts on the topic:

7 Amazing Benefits of a Standing Desk

4 Reasons you should buy a standup desk – right now

Previously I would spend 6-8am sitting writing, 9-6 sitting for my job, then often 7-9 sitting doing more writing. That is a lot of sitting. Now I still do the writing stints sitting down, but the day is spent standing, unless I physically need to be at head office. That persistent twinge in my left shoulder has gone, along with general back pain. I’ve recently added a balance plate to keep myself moving too, rather than just standing still.

Top tip number 2 – a really good morning routine.

I’ve had a morning writing routine for at least 5 years now. Time flies, so I can’t really be sure. Over 2015 I really upped my game on this. My morning routine now includes more than just knocking out 1000 words on my latest writing project each day. It includes affirmations and journalling (my form of meditative practice). It all felt very American at first, but once I got over being all British and reserved, it’s had huge benefits. It’s a real mental health compliment to the physical health tip above. For an idea of how to start setting it up, Hal Elrod’s Miracle Morning is a great place to start (he has a pretty full on personal story to check out too).

Top tip number 3 – carry a notebook and pen EVERYWHERE

The more I did the above top tips, the more my brain seemed to become able to throw out ideas and see potential everywhere. As I wrote in my last post, I made a habit of capturing them straight away, rather than lose them or have to waste a ton of mental energy trying to remember them for later. It could be that sudden strategic insight that you needed to get a result on that big project, or it could be that you need to add cheese to the weekly shopping list – it doesn’t matter. Getting it down on paper means that your brain can then carry on being the awesome beast that it was designed to be. Field Notes have become my pocket notebook of choice, but it’s all personal preference.

Top tip number 4 – track it

Digital or analogue, tracking what you’re doing is the easiest way of making sure you’re doing what you need to do. I use coach.me and have a few habits that I’ve done so many days in a row that I will now go out of my way to complete them so that I don’t break my streak. I’ve done 10 pushups (upgraded to 20 nearly a year ago) each morning now for over 500 consecutive days. There is no way I’d do that without the app.

These all work for me, but if anyone else has any suggestions then feel free to comment. I’m always looking for ways to up my game…

Capturing ideas wherever, whenever

Intuitively I felt like I was capturing so many more thoughts and ideas as I moved through 2015. So at the end of the year I collected together all the notebooks I had completed into one place to confirm the theory. Yep, I had indeed had a lot of thoughts:

2015 notebook stack

Because I’m a bit of a GTD fan, I was in the habit of capturing things to do the moment I thought of them, but story ideas and general everyday thoughts and feelings, not so much. I made much more of an effort to do that and it shows. I have a whole treasure chest of ideas for stories I can now return to, as well as all the highs and lows of the year that I’ve recorded for posterity.

Broken down into three notebook types:

  1. The filofax was my daily log book for 2015. For 2016 I’ll be moving over to a Hobonichi which is already proving to be an amazing experience.
  2. The large, hardback notebooks were for novel plotting and extended meditative journalling, including daily gratitudes to set my days up right.
  3. Pocket notebooks (especially Field Notes) were always in my jeans or handbag for keeping track of what I had to do each day, but also for those random confluences of inspiration that happen when I’m out and about. Now I can capture them immediately (I’m guaranteed to forget them if I put it off until I get home).

2015 Notebook collection

I made leaps forward in my writing processes and achievements in 2015 and I fully intend to keep building on the momentum in 2016. More than ever I believe the best way to succeed at anything is to just write it down!

Leuchtturm 1917 Notebook Review

I mentioned in my last post that I had grown to love the Leuchtturm 1917 notebook for journaling. It’s also true for any kind of creative writing. I should apologise now, this post is probably going to have a lot of link love for those of you who are interested.

I don’t use the pocket size. For that, my love of Field Notes and the new NockCo Black DotDash notebook wins out every time. That’s my ‘shove in my pocket’ daily carry.

But using the A5 size Leuchturrm for plotting and planning has been an absolute joy. Anyone who like to write longhand or do their creative outlining by pen and paper should seriously check this brand out.

I’ve written before how I’m a fan of bullet journaling to keep track of things. The biggest pain in the backside about this method is having to number your pages in order to be able to create a table of contents for yourself. Voila! No longer a problem with the Leuchtturm, which is one of the reasons Ryder made it his notebook of choice for his kickstarter.

FullSizeRender-15 FullSizeRender-16

The second winning feature for me is simply the page quality. The slightly off-white, creamy colouring is really easy on the eyes. When using a gel ink pen it is like writing on glass it is that smooth. When writing with fountain pen, there is very little feedback, feathering or bleedthrough, even with a 1.1 stub nib:IMG_9258And despite the off-white colour, it still allows the colour to come out, like here with the gold flecking that comes with the J Herbin Stormy Grey ink. A lot of people love this ink concept, but were disappointed by how little it actually stood out on a lot of paper types. The Leuchturrm handled it beautifully, even if my photography is crappy and you can only see it here on the ‘I’. Forgive me, I’m only using an iPhone and the summer weather is once again verging on apocalyptic end of days when it comes to natural light.j herbin stormy grey

I should note that this isn’t a cheap notebook by any stretch of the imagination. It’s also quite hard to find in the UK in any retail stores, but you can always Amazon it. Or go to the airport. That’s where I found mine. If you’re prepared to pay for a Moleskine though, I would suggest trying this as an experiment. You also get a lot of pages for your money (248 in the A5), so it’s going to last you quite a while. They also do a range of sizes to suit your preferences, even if the huge master planner dimensions sound a little bit intimidating!

Writing should be a joy and good tools make this much more fun to do.

Field Notes – Two Rivers Edition Review

With the summer Field Notes release almost upon us, it seemed like a last chance for me to do a review on the Two Rivers edition. I have used 1 and 3/4 notebooks from this set, so I am torn between finishing up the existing one or holding out to see what the next release will be. My handwriting may become quite small over the next week or so as a result.

Field Notes Two RiversThis was the set I opened (not the only set I purchased *ahem*) and the light blue one was the one I started first. I love this edition for its multitude of designs, which means that no two packs are actually identical. Nothing like uniqueness to drive the hard core collectors absolutely nuts. Plus, it was another set with gridlines, which is currently my absolute favourite. Although, if they pull out a dot grid for the next edition you wouldn’t hear me complaining.

Everybody knows I love the size and handiness of Field Notes. They are perfect for ‘on the go’ capture as well as being fun. This set has already seen a bit of Europe, so I think it’s safe to say it works well as a traveler’s notebook. I’ve taken the bullet journal system and modified it for what I need, so I have the flexibility to get stuff done, as well as be inspired:

The dichotomy of modern life

The dichotomy of modern life

My only wish is that the paper was more fountain pen friendly, but that is not really the intention of an everyday carry notebook. At 48 pages, it might not carry the clout of a moleskine, but it does mean I get to start a new one every 6 weeks or so, which is way more interesting and engaging. Plus, the Two Rivers edition also comes with a charitable donation towards preserving a culture and heritage project, which you can find out more about here.

So how do I rate the Two Rivers edition? I think it is the most enjoyable one I’ve had so far, and certainly gives a nod towards the original purpose of the edc notebook style. I’ve enjoyed using it a lot, to the point the latest one has started to fall apart. I can’t wait to see what the summer edition is, but this is a pack I’ll be going back to often in the future. I love it.