a notebook and a pen

All you need: A notebook and a pen.

Today’s post is an excerpt from my book, Ready, Set, Write: A Guide to Creative Writing, which takes you on a tour through various types of creative writing. This is from part two, “Tools of the Trade,” and it explores two of writers’ favorite tools, a notebook and pen. Enjoy!

Notebooks and Pens

These days, we writers use computers, electronic tablets, and even our smartphones for most of our creative writing. But a lot of us admit there’s still something about good, old-fashioned pen and paper that really gets creativity flowing.

I’ve often said that one of the wonderful things about writing is that all you need to get started is a notebook and a pen.

It sounds so simple: a notebook and a pen.

But over the years, I’ve discovered that, like many things, it’s not that simple. As soon as you start perusing notebooks and pens in a store, you’ll realize that there are many to choose from, and it’s hard to know which ones to pick.

Creating Freely

It’s not unusual for people to view writing as a sacred act, which can lead to coveting a fancy notebook and an expensive pen. But I’ve found that costly materials create a barrier. Many writers find that they are more resistant to writing—and in particular, they are resistant to writing freely—when working with tools that seem precious. It’s almost as if a beautiful hardbound notebook with archival-quality paper should only be used for a masterpiece. It’s not for scrawling and doodling, jotting down random notes and weird ideas.

As for the pen, I’ve yet to try an expensive pen that writes any better than some of the throwaway ball-point pens that I’ve used over the years. As with a fancy journal, we might want to reserve the precious ink in an expensive pen for a special project, which prevents us from creating freely.

When we create, it’s important that we feel uninhibited. That doesn’t mean we can’t work within guidelines or limitations (as we do when writing form poetry). But if we’re holding back ideas because we don’t think they’re good enough for the paper we’re writing them on, something’s not right.

If you can afford several notebooks and pens, by all means, include some fancy ones in your collection. But be sure to have basic tools that you’re not afraid to get dirty.

A Few Suggestions

Almost every writer I know has accumulated a large collection of notebooks and journals. But I recommend starting simple: Pick up a composition notebook or a spiralbound notebook. I like a 5×7 spiralbound with perforated pages and storage pockets for all-purpose writing and note taking.

Eventually, you might want to try fancier notebooks. Here’s what I’ve found:

Moleskines are pricey but worth the cost. They come in hardbound and softbound, various sizes and colors, and lined or blank. These are quality notebooks with both high-end and affordable options. I keep a hardbound journal with blank pages and archival-quality paper for freewriting, drafting poetry, and doodling. I’ve also found that I prefer blank pages, which allow me to include basic drawings and do some mind-mapping as a brainstorming method. But most writers probably prefer lined pages.

As you gain experience with writing, you’ll figure out which tools you need and how to best use them to suit your purposes. You might need only one notebook at a time, using it for everything you write. Or you might want different notebooks for different purposes.

When choosing a pen, find one that writes smoothly and doesn’t leave ink stains all over your fingers and blots all over the pages.

I like to keep a fairly large supply of pens on hand. I buy ballpoints by the box in several colors: basic black and blue for general writing; red for corrections; and a few highlighters for emphasis are my go-to pens. I also keep a supply of ballpoints in a variety of colors, which are fun to use when I’m working out ideas, especially when brainstorming and plotting.

For new writers, I recommend picking up a few different types of pens—nothing fancy or expensive—just pens that write well and comfortably. You’ll know when you’ve found a pen that works for you, and then you can stick with it.

In this modern age of digital wonder, it’s almost surprising anyone uses paper anymore. But in my experience, working on a computer or any other electronic device simply doesn’t offer the same creative stimulation that good, old-fashioned paper and pens offer. And I’ve seen many writers say they have the same experience. Ideas seem to flow better when working on paper. I wonder if it’s because writing longhand is a more tactile experience. Maybe there’s something about engaging more of your senses that sparks the imagination. But I’m just speculating. We’d better leave it to the neuroscientists to figure out why writing by hand is often more engaging.


Do you have a favorite type of notebook? What about a favorite type of pen? Do you find yourself drawn to various notebooks and journals? What does your ideal collection of notebooks and pens look like?

Ready Set Write a Guide to Creative Writing

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