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18 February, 2017

OT: Ten pragmatic tips regarding pens & notebooks

A follow-up to my previous guide to fountain pens. Game Developers Conference is next week and you might want to take notes. Some practical advice for what I think it's the best equipment to take notes on-the-go...

1) Get a spiral-bound, A5 notebook. 

It's the only kind that not only stays easily flat open, but they completely fold in half and have thick cardboard backs, making it easy to hold them one-handed when you don't have a table.

Muji sells relatively inexpensive ones that are of a good quality. Midori is another brand I really like for spiral-bound ones.

Midori "polar bear" spiral notebook.
Muji fountain pen. Lamy safari. Kaweco sport. TWSBI Mini.
Rhodia is a favorite of many, but their spiral-bound notebooks (e.g. the very popular DotPad) have side perforations to allow to remove pages, unfortunately, these are very weak and will detach. Not good to carry around, only for temporary notes/scratch.

Stitched (threaded binding) and taped notebooks are the second best, they easily lay flat because only a few pages are stitched together, then these groups are bound together with tape. 
Notebooks held with only staples in the middle are the least flexible. 

2) You might want to prefer more absorbent paper for quick notes on the go.

Usually, fountain pens are used with smooth, non-absorbent paper that helps to avoid bleed-through, feathering, and allows the ink to dry over time, bringing out the eventual shading or sheen.

Unfortunately, this might not be the best for quick note taking (even if I don't mind it at all, the dry times are still quite fast with fine nibs), there are absorbent papers out there that work great with fountain pens. The Midori Cotton notebook is an example.

I also usually buy only notebooks with blank pages, not lined or gridded. That's because I tend to draw lots of diagrams and write smaller than the lines.

A Midori Cotton notebook, threaded binding.
Lamy studio and a Faber Castell Loom.
J.Herbin Perle Noire.
3) The best fountain pen for daily notes is a Vanishing Point (fine nib), bar none.

I have a fair collection of fountain pens, but nothing that touch the Namiki/Pilot Vanishing Points (a.k.a. Capless). They are incredible writers, especially in the smaller point sizes (from medium to extra-fine, which are the ones you'll want for notes).

They are fast and clean, due to the retractable nib, and they don't spill in airplanes either (to my experience, you might still want to travel with pens mostly full/without air bubbles and keep them upright during the trip).

Pilot Capless Decimo
The Capless Decimo and its bigger brother, the Vanishing Point.

4) The best cheap fountain pen is the Muji aluminum pen.

This might be actually hard to find, I got one from a store a year ago but never found another one in my subsequent visits since then.

I have the longer model, not the foldable one (which is somewhat worse). It's very cheap, it writes very well, it's not bulky but it's very solid, it works well in planes and it can easily hold a spare cartridge in the body. 
I also like that it uses a screw-on cap, which is a bit slower to upen but will ensure that ink doesn't get suddenly suctioned out the nib (as some tight push-on caps do, by creating a vacuum).
The only downside is that it's fairly skinny, which might not be too comfortable for some.

Alternatively, a starter pen that is as good (or maybe even better, my only Muji might have been an outlier...) is the Lamy Safari, a solid, no-nonsense German performer. It's a little bit more expensive than the Muji one, but it won't disappoint.
I hear great things about the Pilot Metropolitan as well, but I personally don't own one. Namiki/Pilot is probably, though, my favorite brand.

5) If you write a lot, avoid very thin and short pens.

Once upon a time, I used to love very compact pens, and still today I won't ever buy too bulky ones. But I did notice that very thin pens stress my hand more. Prefer pens with a decent diameter.

Some compact pens: a Visconti Viscontina,
A brass Kaweco Lilliput and a Spalding and Sons Mini.

6) You might want to prefer a waterproof ink.

Inks are most of the fun in playing with fountain pens! Inks that shade, inks with sheen, inks with flakes, pigmented inks, iron-gall inks... all kinds of special effects. 

It's all fun and games until a drop of water hits the page and your precious notes are completely erased... Extremely saturated inks might even smear just with the humidity from the hand!

So, especially if you're on the go, the best ink is a waterproof or at least water-resistant one, and one that flows well while drying fast. 

Often, the more "boring" inks are also the best behaved, like the Montblanc Midnight Blue or any of their permanent inks (black, blue, gray). 

My personal favorite, if I had to pick one, would be the Platinum Carbon Black, it's the best black ink I own, it flows perfectly, it's permanent and looks great.
Unfortunately, it's a bit harder to clean, being a pigmented ink, so I use it only in cheaper pens that I have no problems dismantling (it's a perfect match for the Muji pen).

I tend to prefer cartridge converters in my pens and I usually fill them from bottled ink with a syringe, it's less messy.

8) You won't look back at most of your notes.

Taking notes for me is just part of my thinking and learning process. I like it, and as I don't have a great memory, they work as some sort of insurance.

I have a notebook with me at all times, and every time I finish one, I quickly take photos of all pages with my phone and store them in my dropbox account. Easy.
I still find much easier to work on paper than with my anything else when it comes to notes and diagrams, so much that I will even often just draw things on paper, take a photo with an iphone and send it to my computer during discussions with co-workers, to illustrate a point.

That said, unless the notes are actual, actionable things I need to follow-up on (e.g. meeting notes, to-do lists, ideas to try, sketches for blog posts), I mostly don't look back at them, and I gather that this is common for most people. So, be aware of that!

9) Stick a few small post-its at the end of your notebook.

I always have a small number of different shaped post-its at the end of my notebook, so if I need to put a temporary note on a page, I can. I also use small removable stickers as bookmarks, often.

Another thing that I sometimes do, is to use both ends of a notebook. One side, e.g. from the front, I use for "permanent" notes, things that I am fairly certain about. Meetings, summaries of things I learn, blog posts and so on. 
The other side, e.g. going from the back, can be used as a scratchpad for random quick drawing, computations and so on, if you don't have a separate notebook for these...

10) Try not to go too crazy.

Fountain pens can instigate a compulsion to start a collection, easily. That might be good or not, depending on your point of view. But never fool yourself into thinking that there is a rational need for expensive pens.

Truth is, fountain pens are already a useless luxury, and lots of expensive ones are not really great writers, certainly not better than some good cheap ones. A pen is a pen.

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