On Fountain Pens

Since late in 2016, I’ve been writing long form drafts, note-taking and planning almost exclusively with fountain pens. I returned to writing drafts in long hand (as a respite from keyboard-related carpal tunnel) in 2012.

I already knew that I remembered notes I wrote by hand better than those I keyboarded. I’m not new to handwriting, but I quickly discovered that writing with a fountain pen was much easier on my hands than using gel or ballpoint pens.

With conventional pens, you’re physically moving the pen across the paper, and exerting force to move the “ball” so that it coats itself with ink, and transfers it to the paper. Because the pen needs to be impelled with some deliberate force to move, writers grip the pen, creating tension in the hand and arm, which often leads to writers cramp or dystonia.

With a fountain pen, the nib (the pointed metal object at the business end of a fountain pen) spreads the ink; the ink is liquid and the pen is inclined to glide across the paper with little force being needed. Moreover, the fountain pen’s tendency, because the ink is liquid, is to join letters, requiring less effort from the writer. Ball point pens, on the other hand, use thicker ink, and require more effort.

Other reasons to consider using a fountain pen, if the ease of writing alone doesn’t tempt you, include the enormous variety of inks; there are hundreds of shades and a number of different kinds of ink (permanent, archive quality, waterproof,  . . . ). If you sometimes need to draw or sketch a diagram or chart, a fountain pen can be a marvelous tool for sketching as well as writing. And, like other analog tools, fountain pens are extremely portable; if you’re not comfortable with the idea of carrying a bottle of ink with you, you can find ink cartridges for almost any fountain pen.

If you’re new to fountain pen writing, a fine point nib or even extra fine (rather than medium or broad or italic or stub) is usually easier to use and still produce legible writing. If you want to use bottled ink (it’s economical, environmentally kind, and there’s an enormous range of color options and ink types), make sure that the pen comes with a converter (an expensive device to fill a fountain pen with ink from a bottle) or that you can purchase one for that specific pen.

There are a number of economical options for those interested in trying writing with a fountain pen before buying a more expensive keeper. There are low-end pens that are $3.00 to $5.00 dollars each, including disposable fountain pens like the Pilot Varsity. The Platinum Preppy fountain is an affordable (c. $3.00) alternative to a disposable pen; it uses Pilot cartridges, so it’s refillable. There are also a wide range of reasonable pens that are under $30.00, like the Lamy Vista, the Lamy Safari, the TWSBI ECO, or the Pilot Metropolitan. These are perfectly good pens and will last for years.

You’ll have better results  with fountain pens if you use slightly better than average paper; a Mead 5 Star notebook is tolerable, but heavier weight paper (c. 70 gsm or better) will work better and you don’t have to break the bank.

Moreover, you’re not limited by the offerings at Amazon; check out the options at JetPens.com or The Goulet Pen Company, both of which offer reasonable “starter pens” and notebooks or pads of paper suitable for fountain pens.

Bullet Journal App

I’m still using my Bullet Journal® notebook, and Ryder Carroll has released a Bullet Journal app for iPhone, under the name Bullet Journal.app for $2.99. It’s available on iTunes or the app store.

It’s not an app that functions as a an actual journal, rather, it’s intended to help people set up their first Bullet Journal, and be a guide to getting the most out of a Bullet Journal. The internal name is Bullet Journal Companion, and that’s apt; it’s a companion for your analog notebook. The app was released in February of 2017, and while I downloaded it then, I wasn’t really impressed. There have been several updates, and a new feature, the Library, has been added, as of the version released on May 17, 2017.

When you launch the app, the first screen you see is a linked table of contents:

Reflection

The Reflection section is an exercise in mindfulness, as the Web page announcing the Bullet Journal Companion app notes:

Keeping track of what you need to be doing is important. Keeping track of why you’re doing those things is critical. Reflection will help keep you focused on the why through daily trackable reminders prompting you to unplug and review your notes.

The idea is that you set an AM and PM time to reflect each day on why you’re doing what you are doing. There are several inspirational quotations, and you can “log” or track the fact that you did in fact reflect by tapping a calendar date.  If you set up Notifications, the Bullet Journal Companion will remind you to reflect.  I’m not one to find this appealing, but others may.

Library

I think that the purpose of the Library is to allow you to use your iPhone’s camera to take photos of a BuJo® page, give the Bullet Journal app permission to use the photo, and then associate it with a specific journal, date range and one or more tags to create a digital index of sorts. The search function appears limited to tags, rather than actual contents. I suspect that there are plans to allow OCR or some better ways of locating data than tags; as it stands it’s not terrible useful, and it’s certainly not innovative (see for example EverNote or Moleskine notebooks and app or Baron Fig notebooks and Codex.app.

Articles

Most of the articles appear to be also available on the official BulletJournal Website, though I admit I can’t find the one on Reflection on the site. The articles are a useful resource, especially for those getting started.

Guide

The Pocket Guide is a version of the step by step setup guide Carroll wrote for his Website. It goes through the basics of creating your first bullet journal with a blank notebook. It’s quite useful in that respect, and much easier than trying to look at a Web site while you work. I would absolutely have found it helpful when I set up my bullet journal. It’s updated, by the way, when the app updates, but the content is local to your phone, which means you can use it without being connected to the ‘net.

 Store

This appears to be an overview of the Official Bullet Journal notebook, also sold from the Website, but it doesn’t appear to be an actual store in terms of being able to buy one from your iPhone.

The Guide has merit for those starting out, but not $2.99 worth. The free .pdf Starter Guide you can download when you subscribe to the Bullet Journal Newsletter is, in my mind, more helpful. I’m not outraged at spending $2.99, but the Bullet Journal Companion app strikea me as somewhat useless; it’s not going to stay on my phone.

Spark by Ergodriven: A Better Way to Test A Standing Desk

When I first started experimenting with a standing desk, to see if it would work for me personally, I used odds and ends of household furniture two create two setups for test-driving standing desks.

But the Spark by Ergodriven is a much better option. It’s a flat-packed sturdy cardboard temporary lift, meant to be placed on an extant table or desk and thereby convert the furniture you already have to a standing desk. The Spark comes in threes sizes, allowing you to choose a desk suited to your height. It’s made out of surprisingly sturdy corrugated cardboard, and it’s pretty easy to assemble.

It’s also dirt cheap. Small Sparks for people under 5′ 4” or Medium Sparks for people 5′ 4” to 5′ 11 are $20.00 from Amazon; Large for people over 5′ 11” are $25.00. And because it’s flat-packed, it strikes me as something to consider if you do a lot of consulting that involves working from hotel rooms. You could have Amazon ship the Ergo Spark to your hotel, or stash it in your luggage and assemble it there. Most hotel rooms have a desk or table, and you can use the Ergo Spark to allow you to adjust your position from cramped and hunched, to standing.

My Bullet Journal Trial

I’ve been using a Bullet Journal for a month now (I started on January 9th, 2017).

General Impressions

My bullet journal trial has been successful. I’m going to continue using it, at least while I have limited ‘net access.

The portability factor of my bullet journal, and the ease of planning and tracking my time without access to the ‘net has really helped. My access to the Internet has been particularly spotty due to weather problems, so I started using the bullet journal just in time. While I’m still using my digital tools, I can work without them, thanks to the bullet Journal.

I am not one of the many artistic people using a BuJo, nor am I one with beautiful handwriting and perfect spelling. I use mine to track deadlines, keep lists of projects and due dates, and to track blog posts and writing-for-hire work. My BuJo isn’t pretty, but it is functional and it doesn’t require a lot of effort to maintain, leaving me more to write (and read!).
I’ve pretty much decided on my format. I got some super advice from this post.

How I Use A Bullet Journal As A Writer

I have three broad stages of writing (not counting intermittent stages of pacing, hair-pulling and long walks):

* Research and brainstorming
* Drafting
* Revising

I track all of them in my bullet journal. I brain storm ideas via lists of possible topics for various venues, with short notes about the venue and about points for research. I track research tasks—locating a particular book, obtaining and reading the book, potential interview subjects, etc. (These are lists, but in official BuJo parlance they’re called *Collections*).

I also track pitches, submissions, due dates and publication dates.

My Bullet Journal Set Up

  • I use colored ink (red for deadlines, due dates and holidays, green for other kinds of emphasis) to highlight and differentiate information.
  • I don’t use the standard Bullet Journal “key,” symbols to identify information by type that Carroll created; I use some derived from the lazy genius post I linked to earlier.
  • I use reduced-size monthly calendars, three months to a page through January 2018, for long-range planning.
“Future log”: AKA six months at a glance

Ryder Carroll calls these pages the “Future log.” His is a list of days/dates; mine is a miniature calendar. I use these for visualizing blocks of time as I plan what I need to do when. The visual indication of blocks of time in a calendar helps me “see” my time.

I’ve not yet needed the right hand page much, but I suspect I will, eventually.

  • Individual month pages; a list of days and dates, divided into weeks via a separator line.

I list projects due dates, and bills, and tasks that are repeated weekly on the appropriate dates.

  • Daily pages include appointments, tasks, and occasional notes.

I usually create the daily pages (or really, portions of pages; a day’s entry doesn’t take an entire page for me) the night before the day in question.

I list appointments or items due on that day, and tasks I want to complete. I fill in the box (or triangle) as I complete a task, or partially fill in those that require more than one day to complete.

During the course of the day I make brief notes about things I might want to know later; people I’ve met, birds I’ve seen, sometimes the weather, especially in terms of birds.

Collections

“Collections” in Carroll’s terms describe data that is not primarily task or appointment related. Mine include:

  • Books to read
  • Books I’ve read
  • Things to write & pitch that are not yet contracted
  • Blog posts—I move these to specific days as needed in terms of drafting and then publishing them.
  • A list of long term projects in the research phase
  • A list of birds for the year
  • Recipes that I need to use fairly often but don’t know by heart (sometimes I prefer paper in the kitchen)

Future Plans: I Need a Notebook

I’ll use the current no-name blank book I have through March, I expect, but I’m going to need a replacement soon,  since I’ll have run out of pages.

While there is an official trademarked Bullet Journal, available from Leuchtturm.us and BulletJournal.com, most of its extra features (three ribbon markers, designated Index pages, a printed key code and guide to Bullet Journals) don’t matter to me.

What I Want in a Bullet Journal Notebook

 

  • I want something around 5 inches by about 8 inches.>
  • I want better quality paper.

By that I mean paper that I can use pencil on and erase, and that I can use fountain pens on with minimal bleed-through.

  • I think I want dot grid paper. That said, it’s not a deal breaker for me, and paper quality is.
    Dot grid paper has faint dots marking a grid. The dots help me keep my handwriting legible, and they’re useful in creating the occasional charts or diagrams I sometimes use in planning writing.
  • Other features that are common—elastic bands that keep the notebook closes, ribbon markers, pockets, pre-printed pages—are less important to me.>

Possible Notebooks

I’m currently considering the accepted standard notebook for bullet journals, the Leuchtturm1917 Medium Hardcover, or a Rhodia Webnotebook. Both come in dot grid (as well as graph, lined, and blank). The question of Leuchtturm vs Rhodia is apparently a bit of a quandary for others, too.

Leuchtturm1917 Hardcover Medium

The Leuchtturm1917 Medium Hardcover is an  A5 size hardcover bound journal, available with dotted, grid (“squared”) or lined pages. It’s 5.7 x 0.6 x 8.3 inches, and has 249 pre-numbered pages (125 sheets), a reserved set of pages for an index in the front of the notebook, two ribbon markers, and a pocket for notes inside the back cover, and an elastic band to keep it closed.

Rhodia Webnotebook

The Rhodia Webnotebook with dot grid paper. It’s roughly the same size as the Leuchtturm A4 at 5.6 x 8.3. The paper is 90gsm, versus the Leuchtturm1917 which uses 80 gsm paper. But the Rhodia, while it has heavier weight paper, also only has fewer pages; 192 pages (96 sheets).

There are other minor differences (the Leuchhturm1917 has pre-numbered pages, a reserved area for an index, and two ribbon markers, where the Rhodia has one, etc.), but essentially, for me it comes down to a question of more pages (Leuchtturm1917) vs higher quality paper and less bleed through (Rhodia).

The popularity of bullet journaling has made the Leuchtturm1917 Medium Hardcover scarce, especially some covers in the dot grid paper. But if you venture outside of Amazon, you can find various covers and sizes at JetPens.com (where you can also find the softcover black A5 Medium journal/notebook) and The Goulet Pen Co. Or at Leuchtturm.us where you can find a wide variety of Medium Leuchtturm1917 hardcovers in various colors.

Having just drafted this post and link-checked it, I’ve discovered a third possibility via Amazon. A newcomer called Scribbles that Matter — Dotted Journal Notebook Diary. There are four colors of leather cover, all with icons, but with black, gray, pink or teal backgrounds. The icons on the cover don’t thrill me, but I like the 100GSM ivory dotted paper with185 numbered pages (plus a key page, 3 index pages and 2 pen test pages, two ribbon, markers, a pocket, and a pen loop). List price is $24.99, but right now, it’s $19.99, and I confess, that paper is really tempting. There’s a Scribbles that Matter lined paper journal as well as the dot grid version. I see from the Scribbles That Matter Facebook page that they’re planning on new covers in different colors (possibly including a really nice blue, and contrasting elastics), and they’re at least discussing covers without icons.

I haven’t had a chance to do any local shopping yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find something locally. I quite like the blank book I’ve been using, which has high quality paper with minimal bleed. I’d use it again, honestly, but I do think dot grid paper will be helpful.

Bullet Journaling

I started noticing references to bullet journals from people in various writer-related communities and on Twitter about six months ago. I’m not one for journaling so I didn’t pay much attention. This fall I saw a serous discussion about bullet journaling and quality paper notebooks on one of the writing and stationary pr0n sites I keep an eye on. Intrigued, I thought I’d maybe take a closer look later.

Later arrived with a bang this month. I’m temporarily working remotely without reliable access to the ’net, and without a lot of anything else, either, since I’m at my mom’s place. No standing desk here; in fact, no desk. Just me and my laptop, iPad and iPhone (with a tiny data plan), and intermittent WiFi. Most of my time and project management tools tools are digital and cloud based; I use Wunderlist, Evernote, and email, a lot, for managing time and tasks. They’re great tools but they’re not really viable without reliable Internet.

I generally travel with a cheap spiral bound notebook, a mechanical pencil or two, a couple of gel pens, and a highlighter in my laptop bag. This time, planning on sending postcards, I also brought a Lamy fountain pen. My plan was to do what I used to do, back in the day, and use the notebook to make lists and track projects.

Then I remembered the bullet journal, and did a little reading.

The Bullet Journal® (sometimes shortened to BuJo® for short) was invented by Ryder Carroll. A video about bullet journaling he created and posted to YouTube is frequently identified as the way devotees first discovered bullet journaling. Carroll developed his system over time, and via use. He wanted an analog way to track time, to keep track of what needs to be done today, what was done yesterday, and planning for the future, that didn’t require a great deal of time to manage. He wanted it to be analog because of the way our brains work when we use pen and paper.

The online tutorial Carroll created claims “All you need is a notebook and a pen . . . ” 

I scrounged an old blank book that was a giveaway from a bookclub. I numbered the pages, created an Index, twelve months of month-at-a-glance calendars, a set of calendar spread pages for known scheduled events, a few lists (“Collections” in BuJo parlance”) of books I needed to read, and posts I needed to write, and my first daily page. 

The basic sections (“modules” in Carroll’s terminology) are:

  • Numbered pages with topic headers
  • An Index that tracks where various items are in terms of the numbered pages. 
  • Rapid logging: a method of quick memos using a basic set of codes that are customizable. Symbols indicate whether  a task was completed, migrated to a later date or scheduled, other symbols denote ideas, notes, and priority. 
  • A calendar for the year’s events; Carroll calls this the Future Log
  • Monthly calendars in a list form; Carroll call this the Monthly Log
  • Daily lists of what you plan to do on that day, created the night before or in the morning of the day in question. Carroll calls this the Daily Log.

These are very easy to set up in the minimalist style Carroll advocates; the calendars are essentially lists, with days identified by short codes: M 23 is Monday the 23rd. Set up doesn’t have to make than an hour, beginning with a blank book. 

An important technique inherent in Bullet Journals is migration. You migrate a task or event to another date if you don’t complete it. Eventually, if you keep migrating the same task, you either recognize the procrastination and complete the task, or you realize that it’s not really important.  As Carroll notes:

The purpose of migration is to distill the things that are truly worth the effort, to become aware of our own patterns and habits, and to separate the signal from the noise. 

The key concepts about why bullet journaling works for so many people are, according to Carroll:

Putting pen to paper helps retain things significantly better and there’s a lot of science to back that up. At the same time, technology allows you to share that information, parse the information, and compartmentalize it to work with it in new ways.

There’s a built-in time-management curb in Bullet Journaling in that

You can reduce the amount of things you have to do by transferring things by hand. If a task isn’t worth the time to rewrite it, it’s probably not important. Spend time with things that are important and be mindful of how you spend your time.

In my case, the analog aspect means I can track my time offline with ease. I’ll post an update in February, after using a BuJo for a few weeks, but in the meantime, if you’re curious, here are some of the links that helped me:

WTF is a Bullet Journal and Why Should You Start One? An Explainer.

The Bullet Journal, Minus the Hype, is Actually a Really Good Planner

How To Bullet Journal: The Absolute Ultimate Guide