Are Paper Notebooks Better for Creative Writing and Brainstorming?

creative writing notebooks

Is paper better for creativity?

These days, we writers use computers, electronic tablets, and even our smart phones 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.

It’s difficult to brainstorm on a computer or jot down notes and random thoughts, and it’s impossible to doodle in the margins (unless you have fancy equipment). So for journal writing, note-taking, and brainstorming sessions, I find electronics to be confining.

Over the years, I’ve collected hordes of journals and notebooks. Some of them are pretty and whimsical. Others are simple and functional. I always go through lots of spiral notebooks for business note-taking, but when it comes to creative writing and brainstorming, I have learned (the hard way) that I have basic but specific needs that my notebooks and journals must fulfill.

Throwaway Notebooks

What we need from a notebook depends on how we use it. If it gets carried around, dropped, and spilled on, then it needs to be robust. If we like to draw or sketch, then it’s better if the paper is unlined. Some notebooks are throwaways, but sometimes we want to create something that lasts.

I use several notebooks that are throwaways. These are primarily for planning, outlining and taking business-related notes. When they’re filled up, I pull out the pages I want to keep, stash them in a binder, and recycle the rest. My favorite is the Mead Five Star Spiral Notebook. With 200 hole-punched sheets and several pockets to stash clippings, it’s perfect for notes and ideas that I can save in a binder or throw away once it’s filled up.

However, I use hardbound journals for writing poetry, developing ideas, and recording my thoughts. These journals are keepers, not throwaways.

My Favorite Hardbound Notebook for Creative Work

I need a hardbound journal so it can withstand lots of use. The paper must be archival quality because there’s less yellowing and tearing with higher quality paper. Most importantly, the pages should be unlined. I like to doodle and draw when the mood strikes. Occasionally, I write sideways, upside down, or even in circles (a technique for breaking through writer’s block). The thicker pages can also handle markers, which I use often in brainstorming.

So far, my favorite choice for a hardbound journal is the Watson-Guptill sketchbook. If you’re an artist and a writer or someone who likes to paste photos or clippings into your journals, these journals are perfect because the pages are thick and unlined. They come in several different colors, including red, black, green, and purple. I’ve got one in every color! They come in a variety of sizes and are filled with archival-quality blank, unlined paper. You can also get landscape-oriented versions of this notebook.

I find that when I work in these books, writing ideas flow effortlessly. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the hardcover (it feels so much like a real book). Maybe it’s the potential in all that white space. All I know is that I start feeling creative just by looking at one of them!

Many of my fellow writers rave about Moleskines. Although I own one, I haven’t cracked it open yet (although I’m looking forward to trying it). When the right project comes along, I’ll break it out and do a little comparative analysis.

What Are Your Favorite Creative Writing Tools?

What’s your favorite type of notebook for journal writing? Do you find that your writing tools (pens, notebooks, etc.) spark or inhibit the flow of creativity and writing ideas? Do you keep separate notebooks for planning, note-taking, and different types of writing?

Adventures in Writing The Complete Collection


About Melissa Donovan
Melissa Donovan is a website designer and copywriter. She writes fiction and poetry and is the founder and editor of Writing Forward, a blog packed with creative writing tips and ideas.


17 Responses to “Are Paper Notebooks Better for Creative Writing and Brainstorming?”

  1. angela says:

    I can’t live without my Moleskine journals and my V5 Pilot Precise pens. I have a Moleskine for poetry, for drawing, and I’ve converted several “pens don’t matter they’re all the same!” friends to the V5. Smooth and fluid and effortless.

    My favorite thing about the Moleskine is the off-white pages. It’s soothing and for some reason less intimidating than the bright white or notebook or sketchbook paper. I also like that the pages are thick enough for the liquid V5 ink not to bleed through and that it has light lines that I can ignore if I need to. I also love how flat it lays when I’m writing, and the medium size slips easily into my purse. Amazing!!

  2. Andrea Z says:

    I have more notebooks and pens than I know what to do with! I have one journal that I keep especially for diary-type writing, with polka dots and stripes on it.. I keep a brown leather journal for brainstorming ideas and jotting down poems. I have yet another notebook (which is my favorite) that I keep second drafts of poems in. It’s held closed by a magnetic flap, and it has sheet music on the front and back, with a scrawled Beethoven signature. For my larger writing projects (short pieces and articles), I have a 1 1/2-inch pink binder filled with college-ruled paper. I use it to make story lists and jot down notes from my reading, and so forth. I have a pen obsession, so I use a different colored ink every time I sit down to write. It keeps me engrossed in my writing sometimes if I switch colors every other page. It was something I used to do in class when I was in college to keep from getting bored with my anthropology notes. 🙂

  3. RICH SATTANNI says:

    I sometimes use a notebook for my future projects.
    I go back to the old notes to develop new stories.
    This works well for me.

  4. Angelo says:

    I started making my own booklets with regular printing paper. I put about 5 to 8 pages, fold in half and then I use colored printing paper for the cover. I even bought a stapler to staple the bookle at the fold. Its worked for me so far. I do like your idea of a skechbook, that might be the next thing I try for my writings.

    • I have made little booklets like that for special projects. I use colored paper (construction paper if I have it) for the cover. A few years ago, I got into making books. I only made a few but it was a lot of fun. You can get pretty fancy with it.

  5. Margarett Meyers says:

    I use a 5 x 8 spiral bound lined journal for my journal writing and keep smaller notebooks handy on the kitchen table, near the bed, in my purst, and on my desk for miscellaneous notes. This system works perfectly for me. I may try a sketchbook, but I lean toward lined paper. I was an artist, so the sketchbook might make me more creative again! Thanks for the idea!

    • I too have notebooks everywhere: in my nightstand, purse, car, etc. I used to use them a lot for jotting down random thoughts and ideas (including to-do lists) but then I got Evernote, which syncs to my phone, computer, and other devices so I haven’t had much need for the notebooks lately. I still like to keep them around though.

  6. Bill Polm says:

    My all around favorite is a refil from Renaissance-Art. The make leather bound and covered journals and books and other leather gear. But it’s the paper that does it. It’s Velin Arches (aka Arches TExt Wove) that’s been around since the French Revolution, It takes ink and watercolor and most mediums (except oils) beautifully. The paper has a texture to it that makes pen and ink not a smooth writing and drawing as hot pressed type surface. I am filling my 14th of these. They are hand-sewn, coptic stitch that lays flat easily.. I have used the leather versions but now prefer to put my own hardback cover on them with imitation leather trim. The sioze I most use 5.5×8.5″.

    I also have filed a lot of Aquabee’s Super Deluxe Sketchbooks. These take watercolor, fountain pen, gel pen, pencil wonderfully too. And come in a lot of sizes. I use these for painting planning and notes. They are spiral bound, 60 sheets, 120 pges, sized on both sides for wet media.

    I am also sketching and watercoloring my way through the Straathmore series 500 Mixed Media Art Journal (5.5×8.5″ again, hardbound). And the Stillman & Birn Beta Sketchbook (double-wire-bound). Both have lovely paper for sketching, we-media painting, pen and ink and pencil. .

    I recommend them all. All above ar archival.

    My favorite sketch pen is a Sailor Sapporo extra-fine nib, a bit on the expensive side but a lovely and well made pen with a legendayry smooth nib.. I also use Lamy fountain pens and a Pelikan with a vintage flex nib. I like sketching and writing with fountain pen.

    • I’ve always been particular about my notebooks, but I’ve never tried fancy pens. I have tons of pens and pencils in a variety of colors, but I actually prefer writing with a simple Bic disposable pen. I do have a few pens with archival quality ink. I also keep plenty of red pens for editing and proofreading (although I do most of that work on the computer now). One of these days I’ll have to experiment with upgrading my pens! Thanks for sharing your preferred notebooks and pens. I’m always interested in learning about the tools that different writers like to use.

  7. Totally agree about the unlined page. No lines means you can change the weight (size) or emotion (direction) of the words. Constricting lines? No thank you.

    • Yes, I love unlined pages for sketching ideas, drafting poems, and freewrites. Actually, I do use lined composition notebooks for my fiction notes. I rarely draw or sketch in those notebooks and almost everything that I write in them gets transcribed to the computer. I do love a blank, unlined sheet of paper though!

  8. Chris says:

    I have a collection of Moleskines in assorted colours and sizes for writing ideas and notes. I love the feel of them; the paper is smooth and nice to write on. I try to keep specific ones for story ideas and notes but they invariably get mixed up and I have notes all over the place. For my Creative writing class I use an A4 size ‘Paper Blank’ hardback and I write in it using my lovely Waterman fountain pen – it feels like a ‘proper’ book.

    • I’m looking forward to using my Moleskine. I agree, it has a great look and feel. I’m just waiting for the right project! Thanks for sharing your favorite writing tools, Chris.

  9. David says:

    Moleskine notebooks and Parker Jotter pens…only.