Planning, Journaling, and Writing: Analog Tools

Alhough I’m a technical writer, a lot of my writing, particularly of late, has been in non-networked environments. I use analog tools (paper, pens, and pencils) quite often, not only because of unreliable connectivity, but because writing helps me think in ways that keyboarding doesn’t. I often use paper and pen to draft my scholarly writing for just that reason. And there’s a lot to be said for a portable work environment that doesn’t require electricity to function.

Journals and Notebooks

Leuchtturm 1917 Medium Size Hardcover Notebook 5.75 by 8.25 (A5)

This is the bullet journal notebook that people have made the “standard.” It comes in hard and softcover versions, with multiple cover colors. The pages are numbered already, and there are pages reserved for index pages or table of contents pages at the front. There are two ribbon markers, an expanding pocket inside the back cover, and 249 numbered pages of dotted grid paper. The paper is off-white or ivory and 80gsm. It’s decent paper for the price and will work OK with most fountain pens; it’s better quality paper in terms of fountain pen ink than Moleskine, but not as good as some other heavier papers. I’ve used it with a fine point Namiki and there’s not too much feathering and no bleed through. Gel pens might be a better option. Bullet journal enthusiasts favor the dotted grid style of paper, but there are blank page versions and lined versions as well.

AmazonBasics Classic Notebook 5 by 8.25 — Plain

  • 240 archival-quality pages made from acid-free paper
  • Cardboard bound cover with rounded corners for a finished look
    Integrated bookmark; elastic closure helps keep notebook securely closed
  • Expandable inner pocket for stashing loose items; measures 5 by 8.25 inches

This is a good option for someone who wants to try journaling before investing in a more durable or expensive notebook. It’s decent white paper, though not really suitable for fountain pen use. The notebook linked here is plain without lines; it also comes with  ruled paper as well as squared or graph paper versions. The lined version works well for a conventional journal or notebook for portable writing gear.

Scribbles that Matter™

Scribbles that Matter is a British company making high quality bound notebooks. I’ve been watching them grow via their Facebook page, and love what they’re doing. I’ve been waiting for the new Pro versions, and they’re finally here. That’s the Pro version to the left; it has a solid color cover (there are numerous colors) with a contrasting elastic band and pen loop.

  • The notebooks are all 5.7 x 0.7 x 8.3 inches, and contain 3 Index pages, 1 key code page (a page for you to record your symbols and abbreviations, useful for bullet journaling and note-taking), 201 pre-numbered pages and 2 pen test pages.
  • The paper is high quality, 100 GSM ivory paper with a dot grid.  It’s wonderful for fountain pen use, whether you’re bullet journaling, note-taking, or journaling.
  • The Scribbles that Matter notebooks have a flexible faux leather cover, two colored ribbon markers, a pen holder and an expanding pocket inside the back cover.
  • The rounded-corner covers come in two basic versions, Iconic, which features graphic icons on the cover, and Pro, a plain cover with no icons, each of which is available in numerous colors.

Moleskine Classic Colored Notebook, Extra Large, Ruled, Underwater Blue, Soft Cover (7.5 x 10)

Sometimes you simply want a large, expansive place to write. The Molskine Classic Extra large notebook provides exactly that, with 192 pages of lined acid-free 70gsm paper, a bookmark ribbon, an elastic closure and an expandable inner pocket. There are several other cover colors. This is not fountain-pen friendly if you use anything other than a fine point pen.

Field Notes Pocket Notebooks

Field Notes Kraft paper pocket notebooks are exactly what they sound like; small 3.5 X 5.5 inch stapled notebooks with 48 pages of paper. They come in plain (unlined), ruled (lined paper) and graph paper style. I’ve linked via the image to a bundle of three notebooks for $9.95, containing one plain unlined, one ruled lined notebook and one with graph paper.


There are a number of reasons to use pencils. Here are some of mine: they’re erasable which means it’s easy to clean up and remove a pencil draft of a chart that you plan to formalize in pen, and they’re particularly useful for sketching, especially if you use multiple hardnesses. I also like to draft in pencil because I can make changes so very easily.

Uni Kurutoga Mechanical Pencil Standard, 0.5mm, Blue

The Kurutoga Mechanical pencil is my personal favorite. It uses a unique mechanism that slightly rotates the lead so that it’s always sharp. The erasers and lead are both refillable (you can use other lead but Kurutoga’s lead is less fragile and smudge resistant. Eraser refills are also available.

Tombow Mono Eraser Knock

I use a Tombow Mono Eraser Knock because it’s easier than uncapping my Kurutoga to erase, and it allows me a great deal of control over what I erase with a minimum of smudging. The Tombow Mono is easily refillable with Tombow erasers.


For every day use, I favor fountain pens. I favor fountain pens because they really are easier to write with in terms of hand fatigue and writers’s cramp. I like the fact that I can find so many colors of ink, especially bottled ink (which is exceedingly economical), I like that I can use archive quality inks, and I like the control a good nib offers in terms of writing and drawing. I like that I’m using a tool that is awfully close to what writers a thousand years ago used (ok, they used a quill, but a nib is directly modeled on a quill). I also like the fact that using a fountain pen means less landfill (some cartridges are recyclable, but bottled ink has little or no waste). Most of all, I like the slower speed careful writing requires; it allows me to think about the words and what comes next.

Fountain pens do tend to perform better on better quality paper; fine nibs are more forgiving than medium or broad. If you’re new to fountain pens, a fine point is often easier to write with and produce legible writing. A common first-timer mistake with fountain pens is that people accustomed to ball points or roller balls bear down too hard, making it difficult to write (even tearing the paper or damaging the nip or point of the pen). Go easy.

Pilot Varsity Disposable Pens

These disposable fountain pens come in seven different colors; the first I owned I bought seven years ago. I’ve written more than thirty pages with it, taking notes at a conference. It then spent eight years in storage. I was astonished to discover that not only does it still write, it seems to have about a third of its original ink left (it’s hard to be sure, but holding it up to a very bright light there does seem to be an ink level line).  They are cheap fountain pens; but for the money, they work surprisingly well. They’re a Medium nib, and they do require a better grade of paper if you don’t want to deal with bleeding. That said, I’ve used them on Mead 5 star paper and Ampad paper pads without an issue.  They can be slow to “start” and might need a shake or an hour or so stored upright, tip down. You can buy single pens or multi packs with three blue and three black Pilot Varsity Pens or a pack of six Pilot Varsity disposable fountain pens.

Platinum Preppy  Fountain Pen 0.3mm Fine Nib, 7 colors set

These are inexpensive refillable cartridge-based fountain pens. This is a multicolor pack with Black, Blue black, Red, Pink, Yellow, Green, and Violet pens and matching inks. You can buy additional cartridges here, since the pens come with one cartridge in each pen. The ink color matches the cap of the pen in question.

Fine point fountain pens are generally are easier for new fountain pen users to use and produce legible hand writing. If you want a single fountain pen to try as a starter pen, consider a fine point Platinum Preppy in blue black. You might prefer the pen in blue or ordinary black instead.

Pilot Metropolitan Fountain Pen

This pen is available in Fine, Medium, Broad and Italic nibs, and in several different colors.  I’d suggest if you’re just starting out with fountain pens, that a Medium or Fine nib are probably the best choices. It comes with a single cartridge, usually, and a “squeeze” converter that allows you to use bottled ink. It lists for $15.00; you can find it for 10.00. If your Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen doesn’t come with a converter, it’s a good idea to buy one. You can use a Pilot Con-50 converter . You can use the same converter to fill your pen repeatedly, rinsing it out after you fill the pen. Using bottled ink is not only cheaper, it means you have a lot more color choices. You can only use Pilot Cartridges, otherwise.

Lamy Safari Fountain Pen

The Lamy Safari is a decent-writing fountain pen for someone who’s ready to spend some money on a pen that they can use for years—but that isn’t a major financial investment if you lose it at the coffee shop. The Safari comes in nib sizes from Extra Fine to Medium, with an occasional hard-to-find Broad. Most people use Fine or Medium. The pen can be refilled using Lamy cartridges or you can buy a Lamy piston-style converter and use bottled ink. The pen should be under $30.00. Don’t pay more.

Lamy Vista Demonstrator Fountain Pen Fine

This is one of my favorite every-day use pens. It’s not expensive, I like the “demonstrator” style of the clear barrel, which allows me to see how much ink is left, and I very much like the ergonomic design in terms of writing a lot by hand. The pen comes in Fine, Extra Fine and Medium nibs. You can use Lamy cartridges or buy a Lamy piston style convertor and use all sorts of bottled inks. This pen is usually $25.00.

Pilot Namiki Vanishing Point Fountain Pen Blue Matte Fine Nib

My Namiki Vanishing Point is my probably my favorite everyday-us-at-home fountain pen. The nib retracts; there’s no cap. The Namiki Vanishing Point takes either Pilot cartridges or, using a converter that comes with the pen, bottled ink including Pilot’s own Iroshizuku inks. Japanese nib measurements tend to be smaller than European or American nib classes because Japanese writing systems require a fine, flexible point, so a Fine nib on a Namiki is awfully close to a European Extra Fine.

Other Pens

I also use gel pens; they’re very portable in terms of ink and refilling when you’re not at a desk, there are lots of colors, and they come in a variety of point sizes, which makes them excellent options for annotating books.

Staedtler Triplus Fineliner.03mm Assorted

These are good everyday drawing and coloring pens, and are favored by those who make charts and diagrams, or use a stencil to illuminate a journal. They come in a wider variety of colors, and several point sizes. These are extra fine nibs and have very little to no bleed through on better quality paper.


Cards and Paper Tablets

I still use scratch paper for planning and temporary notes, even if I later keyboard it to create an outline or flow chart, or add it to a Scrivener project.  I use paper stickie notes and tags for annotating books and printed docs, and sometimes, to stick on the wall as temporary charting tools. And I’ve used easel-style stickies for projects that need a larger area or than are group-based.

Index Cards

Sticky Notes

Sticky notes are great for marking up hardcopy or printed books, or posting on the wall for a quick flow chart or outline that’s easy to shift and re-order. 

Post-It Self-Stick Easel Pad

Sometimes you need a really large sticky-note, even if you’re working on your own. These work.


Westcott See Through 6-Inch Acrylic Ruler

I keep a small six-inch plastic ruler in my bullet journal. I use it for measuring, and especially, as a straight edge.

BULLET JOURNAL STENCIL SET — Banners, Dividers, & Icons | Fits Leuchtturm & Moleskine A5 Notebooks

If you want to make visual dividers and use icons and you’re not an artist, these stencils can help. They’re transparent plastic, and slightly flexible. They’ll fit inside an A5 notebook. They’re meant to be used with a fine point pen, like a Sakura Micron Pen or Staedtler or similar.