No Moles Were Harmed in the Making of this Notebook

Without walking around the house and counting, I can’t tell you how many screens I have – desktops, laptops, phones, TV’s and tablets. I love them all. I can do without them, but I don’t like to. Screens can also be addictive time wasters and creative ruts. Recently, I have rediscovered something I used to do before the screens drug us all into cyberspace: writing and drawing in a paper notebook with an ink pen. It’s fun and retro, and it’s working well for me. The notebook I’ve been using is the unlined “Classic” Moleskine with pages of 8” x 5”.

Advantages of the paper notebook:

  • Private – Your notebook will never be hacked by some dude in Russia and put on the internet. No one sees it unless you show it to them.
  • Quick – No waiting for boot up.
  • Portable – You can write anywhere, with no need for electricity.
  • Informal – You can relax and “play” in the notebook without the fear of some jerk from Wisconsin jumping your shit.
  • A “channel changer” – Shifting of cognitive and sensory “channels” stimulates creativity.
  • Less distraction – No e-mail or games a mouse click away.

My method for the Moleskine:

  • Write quickly to capture ideas.
  • Doodle in margins if you like.
  • Avoid making a fetish of the book.
  • Avoid trying to make it too pretty.
  • Be willing to leave ideas incomplete.
  • Date pages.
  • Try to write a bit of something every day, but don’t be slavish about it.
  • Read the previous day’s notes in the morning.
  • Carry it with you when you travel/run around.
  • Find a pen that you like.

History and pronunciation: It is thought that the Moleskine notebook emerged in Paris, France at the end of the 19th Century. It was first produced by book binders to meet a demand from artists. As far as I am able to determine, there are two “correct” pronunciations for “moleskine.” In English it is pronounced “mole-skin” with a long “o” and silent “e.” In French it is pronounced “mo-lay-skee-nay.” From Wikipedia:

“In the mid-1990s, Maria Sebregondi pitched the idea of resurrecting the iconic notebooks to the company Modo & Modo, despite the shelves of stationery stores already being stocked with blank books at the time. As a result, Modo & Modo trademarked the Moleskine brand and began production of 5,000 notebooks, officially reintroducing them in 1997.”

RELAX – No moles were harmed in the making of this notebook. “Moleskin” usually refers to a thick cotton flannel fabric used to make the covers of the notebooks. “Moleskin” is also popular as a first aid for hikers who have blisters from their shoes.

Fading the Tsunami: The real charm and superpower of the Moleskine is that it was “resurrected” in the mid-1990’s when the rest of the world was rushing headlong to buy personal computers and get onto the Internet. When the rest of the world was charging into the virtualized reality of computers, code and connectivity, the Moleskine reappeared as a lovely little tactile thing with beautiful, real paper.

Somewhere along the line some genius noticed that humans work differently than computers. Who would have thunk it? Time management expert, David Allen, said this:

 “… The easiest and most ubiquitous way to get stuff out of your head is pen and paper… The digital world provides a lot of opportunity to waste a lot of time,” Allen said. A paper notebook, by contrast, is a walled garden, free from detours (except doodling), and requiring no learning curve. A growing body of research supports the idea that taking notes works better on paper than on laptops, in terms of comprehension, memorization, and other cognitive benefits.

For a long time I have been troubled by the ephemeral nature of digital goods. One electronic hiccough can erase months of work – gone forever, never to return. Hard drives prefer to die when they have not been backed up recently. Formats change and evolve. I still have all of the floppy disks I made on my first PC, but I don’t have a drive that will read them. A veteran of innumerable disk crashes and power failures, I have become adamant about making hard copies of important work. I print my digital photos with an archival quality printer; a photo isn’t really real to me until I have a print. I back up my writing on hard copy and non-volatile storage. Even our family cookbook gets hard copy printouts and frequent updates. I still have the handwritten notebooks I made in high school. Few other things have stuck with me that well.

When I uncap my pen and put the nib to paper there’s a little bit of magic there. Something of me is breaking out into the concrete world. It will last and it will matter. I can’t make it disappear with a key stroke. I want it to look decent and be sure of my spelling because the moleskine doesn’t have a “Backspace” key. It’s a different kind of commitment to capture the vision.

I’m finding that lately, since I began to use the notebook again, that I really like the writing that begins as a quick note in the moleskine. It also seems that I am getting more ideas for creative work using this method. Did I write this on the notebook? Maybe four lines of it, but I’m much faster on the laptop. Life is a trade-off. I would suggest that you try this method. If you find yourself getting stuck or running out of ideas too much, get out the moleskine and a nice pen, and doodle and jot until something appears. You may be pleasantly surprised.


  1. You know what, Syd? I’ve been following your blog but never getting notice on my Reader of a new post, hence I’m refollowing you, this time direct from your site…fingers-crossed, Sir. Maybe, this time WP won’t let me down.


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