The Pocket Notebooks of 20 Famous Men

by Brett & Kate McKay on September 13, 2010 · 57 comments

in Blog

A few weeks ago, we published an article on the Manly Tradition of the Pocket Notebook. For that piece, we dug through old books to find references to how pocket notebooks had been used this past century by men in different walks of life. In the process of compiling those excerpts, we came across intriguing references to how some of the famous men of history used their pocket notebooks and decided to put together a whole post exploring that subject.

The result is this look at how 20 famous men used their pocket notebooks. The list is hardly comprehensive; the practice was so widespread among eminent men that it would likely be easier to compile a list of famous men who did not use them, than did. And the choices are a bit eccentric; men who were famous for their interesting and numerous notebooks are well-represented but also included are a few from the past and present that just happened to cross our path during the course of our research. Where images of the notebooks were available they have been shown; in their absence a description will have to do. These caveats aside, we hope you will find reading about this manly practice as inspiring and fascinating as researching and writing about it was for us.

Mark Twain

Twain’s first pocket notebooks were purchased in 1857 at the age of 21 during his training to become the “cub” pilot of a steamboat on the Mississippi River. He felt confident that the job would be fairly easy to learn but found he could not remember the instructions his teacher, Horace Bixby, imparted to him. Bixby advised Clemens, “My boy, you must get a little memorandum-book, and every time I tell you a thing, put it down right away. There’s only one way to be a pilot, and that is to get this entire river by heart. You have to know it just like A B C.” Clemens accepted Bixby’s advice and thus began a lifelong relationship with the pocket notebook.

Twain's notebook as a cub pilot

Twain kept 40-50 pocket notebooks over four decades of his life. He often began one before embarking on a trip. He filled the notebooks with observations of people he met, thoughts on religion and politics, drawings and sketches of what he saw on his travels, potential plots for books, and even ideas for inventions (he filed 3 patents during his lifetime). Many of his entries consist of the short, witty, pithy sentences he is famous for. He felt that if he did not write such things down as they came to his mind he would quickly forget them. He would also record little snippets in his notebooks of what had happened that day, such as what he had eaten and who he had seen. And finally, he wrote dirty jokes in the back of them.

Listing ideas for a title page.

Figuring out a light year.

He had his leather bound notebooks custom made according to his own design idea. Each page had a tab; once a page had been used, he would tear off its tab, allowing him to easily find the next blank page for his jottings:

Alexis de Tocqueville

On his two year tour of America and Canada, Tocqueville’s most important tools were the notebooks he made himself by folding and stitching sheets of paper together. In all, he filled 15 notebooks with his observations, thoughts, and impressions of his travels through North America. He organized his notebook pages into alphabetized headings like “Jury” and “Bankruptcy” and also kept a section for conversations and interviews. Two of his notebooks were exclusively devoted to legal issues. As he sat upon stagecoaches and steamboats, he would wrestle with the notes and reflections he had made, trying to distill out a “general truth” that tied them together and pointed to a more important and overarching idea. The result of this brain sweat were insights about the American people that still ring true to this day; the result of his notebooking keeping was Democracy in America; many of his notes made it verbatim into that classic book.

George S. Patton

Patton’s habit of pocket notebook keeping began after his freshman year at West Point. His first year had not gone well; he struggled with dyslexia and failed mathematics, forcing him to repeat his “plebe” year in the fall. He returned to school in 1905 with a steely dedication to this time be a success, and he started a small black leather notebook to help keep himself on track. He used his notebook to record daily happenings, explore ideas of leadership and war strategy, draw diagrams, and even pen poetry on love. But its most important use was as a place to write down the affirmations and principles that would guide his journey toward his ultimate goal- becoming a great general:

“Do your damdest always.”

“Always do more than is required of you.”

“You can be what you will to be.”

In 1921 Patton began another important pocket notebook-this time a field notebook where he complied his thoughts on war and the qualities of successful soldiers-ideas that had been percolating during the first decade of his military career. On the notebook’s cover page he wrote: “SUCCESS IN WAR DEPENDS UPON THE GOLDEN RULE OF WAR. SPEED-SIMPLICTY-BOLDNESS.” The pages of the notebook were filled with Patton’s maxims, such as:

“War means fighting. Fighting means killing, not digging trenches.”

“Find the enemy, attack him, invade his land, raise hell while you’re at it.”

“Officers must be made to care for their men. That is the Sole Duty of All Officers.”

But this tough general didn’t just use his field book for battlefield musings.

During WWII, a young German priest was surprised to come upon Patton sitting in a medieval church which had been miraculously spared destruction. The hardened general sat in a pew with his notebook and a pencil, quietly contemplating and sketching the stained glass windows.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson, a devoted early riser, would begin each day by taking measurements of the weather such as temperature, wind speed, and precipitation. And wherever he found himself in the world, whether at Monticello, France, or the White House, he would also make notes of things like the migration of birds, the growth of plants and flowers, and observations on geography and climate. To take these measurements, he carried a whole host of tools in his pocket, including a thermometer, a surveying compass, a level, writing instruments, and even a mini globe. He also carried a small notebook made up of ivory leaves on which to record his observations. He would write down his measurements in pencil and in the evening transfer the data to seven large notebooks, each devoted to a different subject. He would then erase the ivory plates, readying them for another day of scientific inquiry.

George Lucas

While working on a draft for Stars Wars, director George Lucas confined himself for 8 hours a day in his writing room, only knocking off for Walter Cronkite’s Evening News. But he also carried a pocket notebook with him at all times for taking down ideas, words, and plot angles on the go.

While mixing the sound for American Graffiti with Walter Murch, Murch asked Lucas for R2, D2, meaning Reel 2, Dialogue 2. Lucas liked the sound of that phrase and jotted it down in his notebook. This little note would of course come in handy later for the naming of that now famous robot. Names like Jawa and Wookie also began as quick scribbles in Lucas’ notebook.

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin began his pocket notebook habit while sailing as a naturalist aboard the HMS Beagle. While exploring the South American coast, he gathered specimens and filled 15 field notebooks with observations on subjects like zoology, botany, archeology, and linguistics, data like latitude and longitude, barometer readings, temperature, and depth soundings, sketches of maps and specimens, and personal information like diary entries, shopping lists, and financial information.

In Notebook B, Darwin began to speculate on the origin of species, here drawing his first evolutionary tree.

Near the end of the voyage he began writing in his Red Notebook, which he devoted to more theoretical speculations. Upon his return, he continued hashing out his theories in a series of notebooks he labeled with letters of the alphabet: A,B,C, D and so on. The notebooks were filled with memorandum to himself on things to look further into, questions he wanted to answer, scientific speculations, notes on the many books he was currently reading, natural observations, sketches, and lists of the books he had read and wanted to read. The notebooks provide a window into how Darwin’s theory of the transmutation of species, well, evolved. But the progression is far from orderly-the entries are chaotically arranged and wide-ranging; they jump from one scientific subject to the next and are interspersed with notes on correspondences and conversations.

When traveling and making field notes, Darwin would write vertically down the page with a pencil as this is easiest when holding the book in one hand and writing with the other. At home in his man room, he would rest the notebook on his desk and write horizontally down the page with a pen. And like Isaac Newton, he would sometimes start in from both ends of the notebook at once and work towards the middle.

Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven was a devotee of the pocket notebook and was seldom seen without one in hand or pocket. He would walk the city streets and forest paths with it clutched behind his back in case inspiration should come upon him while away from home. His notebook became a memorable part of his appearance and artists who depicted him often included it in their images.

He used his notebooks to write down personal thoughts, maxims, and passages from literature and poetry he wished to remember. But their key use were as musical sketchbooks, where he would compose the beginnings of symphonies and then tinker with them in page after page. He believed that writing stimulated his imagination and even at home he kept a small table by his piano where he would hash out his creations on paper.

His notes and sketches were indecipherable to his associates. Wilhelm Von Lenz wrote in 1855, “When Beethoven was enjoying a beer he might suddenly pull out his notebook and write something in it. ‘Something just occurred to me,’ he would say, sticking it back into his pocket. The ideas that he tossed off separately, with only a few lines and points and without barlines, are hieroglyphics that no one can decipher. Thus in these tiny notebooks he concealed a treasure of ideas.”

Later in life, the notebooks served a more practical purpose-as a means of communication. Because of Beethoven’s hearing loss, his friends would use conversation books to write down what they wished to say to Beethoven, and he would respond orally or in the book as well.

Conversation book

Ernest Hemingway

“The blue-backed notebooks, the two pencils and the pencil sharpener ( a pocket knife was too wasteful), the marble-topped tables, the smell of cafe cremes, the smell of early morning sweeping out and mopping and luck were all you needed.” -The Moveable Feast

One of Hemingway's first notebooks. Made in 1908 while he was in elementary school. "I intend to travel and write."

There has hardly been a more passionate devotee of the pocket notebook than Ernest Hemingway. “I belong to this notebook and this pencil,” he declared. The writer filled notebook after notebook, famously penning new story ideas in the cafes of Paris. He would sit there most of the day, waiting for inspiration to strike:

“I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence that you know.’ So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say.”

But Hemingway’s notebooks didn’t just come out at the cafes; he brought them on all his travels and adventures, jotting down notes wherever he was-a bar, a train, a bullfight. He was a keen observer of life, trying to capture the richness and texture of his experiences. He stored sights, sounds, and smells away for future use when they would reemerge as vivid passages in his short stories and novels.

Of course the notebooks were not just for literary purposes-he used them to record expenses, make lists of gifts he wanted to bring back to loved ones from his travels, and even to keep track of his first wife’s menstrual cycles.

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin, being the singular man that he was, used his pocket notebook for a singular purpose. At the age of 20, Franklin decided to seek the lofty goal of moral perfection. In order to accomplish his goal, Franklin developed and committed himself to a personal improvement program that consisted of living 13 virtues.

In order to keep track of his adherence to these virtues, Franklin made 13 charts in a small notebook he carried with him. The charts consisted of a column for each day of the week and 13 rows marked with the first letter of his 13 virtues. Franklin evaluated himself at the end of every day by placing a dot next to each virtue he had violated. The goal was to minimize the number of marks, thus indicating a “clean” life free of vice.

Franklin would especially focus on one virtue each week by placing that virtue at the top of that week’s chart. Thus, after 13 weeks he had moved through all 13 virtues and would then start the process over again. Initially, he erased the marks to reuse the notebook, but after doing this many times, it started to make holes in the paper. So he then switched to keeping  the charts in a memorandum book made with ivory leaves that could be wiped clean and reused over and over again.

Franklin did several courses of his program in a year, then one course a year, and then one every several years, before finally becoming too busy with other matters to keep it up. “But I always carried my little book with me,” he said. Indeed, he was so proud of this project that even 50 years later while living in France he would take out his ivory tablets to show acquaintances. The notebook was imbued with a bit of mystique; a French friend recalled he was thrilled to have touched “this precious booklet.”

While Ben never attained moral perfection, he felt the project did help him become a better man. When he was 79 years old, Franklin wrote, “I am indebted to my notebook for the happiness of my whole life.”

Larry David

Many comedians carry around a little notebook in order to jot down funny thoughts or observations that might come in handy later. Larry David is particularly devoted to this practice. He always keeps a small notebook in his breast pocket. When he worked on Seinfeld, he would scour his notebook for ideas for the show; episodes like “The Contest” came right out of it.

The notebook continues to provide fodder for his current show, Curb Your Enthusiasm, as described in this excerpt from a New Yorker article:

“Like many comedians, Larry David carries a pocket notebook for writing down ideas. ‘You’re in a parking garage, and Larry’s wallet is empty–he forgot to ask his assistant to go to the cash machine,’ [Robert] Weide, who directs several episodes a year, says. ‘So he says, ‘Shit, I have no money for the valet–could you give me a few bucks?’ So you find yourself giving money to Larry David, who has a few bucks. And then out comes the little notebook.’

‘What would I have done if he hadn’t been there?’ David said. ‘That could have been funny.’

The notebook is a ratty brown thing that looks as if it might have cost forty-nine cents at a stationery store. Its pages are covered with David’s illegible scrawl.”

The notebook even makes appearances in the show itself. In one episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm (which depicts a fictionalized version of David’s life), he leaves his notebook at the neighbors’ house, and when they bring it over, they ask for the $500 reward David had promised inside the front cover to anyone who returned the lost notebook. “Let me get you a check, Sherlock,” David seethes off screen.

Pages: 1 2

{ 57 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Andrius September 13, 2010 at 3:57 am

A very interesting read. The already mentioned list of famous people who never had notebooks would be very interesting as well ;)

2 Stefan | StudySuccessful.com September 13, 2010 at 7:07 am

Amazing. Since I carry around a notebook all the time I am always curious on how the great minds used it. Love to see the little drawing, the scribbled texts. Awesome.

3 Paul Vance September 13, 2010 at 7:29 am

I’m curious. Is using a smart phone and Evernote the same thing? Or is there something about carrying a notebook?

4 Benjamin Arie September 13, 2010 at 9:02 am

Another contemporary example is Richard Branson, billionaire founder of Virgin — he is well known to carry around a notebook whether in London or on his Caribbean Island. He’ll resort to writing on his hand if a notebook isn’t within reach!

5 prufock September 13, 2010 at 9:15 am

Cool post. I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of Twain, Hemingway, Darwin, Lucas, and David.

6 Denis Gauthier September 13, 2010 at 10:18 am

Another great post :)

7 Drew September 13, 2010 at 10:29 am

Great post! Since reading the initial post on the pocket notebook, I have started carrying one and have received immediate benefits from the practice. I highly recommend carrying one if you don’t already.

8 Jon S. September 13, 2010 at 10:34 am

@Paul, for me, there’s just something about the notebook. It’s not pure affectation, though. if it were, I think, the focus would be wrong. I feel *compelled* to write in a notebook; If it’s at hand, I want to fill it. Not so with any electronic program. I’m very analog-minded when it comes to sketching out ideas and making lists and whatnot. With the occasional exception of Google Tasks, I’ve never ended up using any digital program I’ve ever set up for more than a few days before returning to pen and paper. I don’t want to have to turn on my phone or PDA or click around to whatever program I need.

Now that’s just me, of course. The idea, I think, is that we should capture our thoughts, not carry around a particular medium for stylistic reasons. If a smartphone works you, by all means tap away! But if you’ve had trouble sticking to the habit of using them to capture your thoughts, you may just find that there is indeed something about notebooks.

best,
Jon

9 bhud September 13, 2010 at 10:42 am

I loved using pencil/pen and paper, but with having a smartphone, I find carrying both is cumbersome. I’ll jot down quick notes on my phone, then transpose them to notebooks later.

10 James Strock September 13, 2010 at 10:58 am

Great post! A wonderful concept that all of us can learn from. Thanks for sharing!

11 Keith Claridge September 13, 2010 at 11:06 am

What kind of size should they be?

12 Chris W September 13, 2010 at 11:16 am

My issue with carrying a pocket notebook is where do I keep it? I don’t even have room in my pockets for the things I already carry, wallet, blackberry, swiss army knife (which has come in VERY handy) keys… I suppose I could make sure my shirts always have a pocket in which to keep a little notebook… For those of you who carry a pocket notebook, where do you carry it?

13 Elizabeth September 13, 2010 at 11:27 am

A well-published poet recommended setting up a working notebook, consisting of a legal pad, an attached pen, and a waterproof cover made from a gallon-sized ziploc bag. This is especially appropriate for poets, who may have an idea pop up anywhere and everywhere.

14 JC Carter September 13, 2010 at 11:37 am

Jack Kerouac carried a notebook that would fit in his top pocket with him everywhere he went and, like an artist with a sketchbook, he would work on improving his writing skills by writing descriptions of mundane things in his long, rambling style, like a streetlight or a doorway.

15 Derrick September 13, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Great article. Very similar, if identical, to the practice of “commonplacing” (making entries into a “commonplace book.”)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commonplace_book

Regards,
Ted

16 Lindsey Hinkle September 13, 2010 at 12:47 pm

I agree with Jon S. There really *is* just something about paper. I, too, am analog-inclined and prefer to jot down thoughts and lists as opposed to typing them out.

@ Chris W – my brother recently sent me this link:

http://shop.thepetitepress.com/product/project-nerd-power-pocket-protector-set

While pocket protectors may not suit everyone’s style, I found these to be updated and clever…. possibly a suitable alternative to a notebook.

17 Alex V September 13, 2010 at 2:13 pm

I write songs, and I often find myself using the note function on my cell phone to jot down little poetic, lyrical chunks that are the building blocks for the songs I write.

great Post!

18 Rich September 13, 2010 at 2:14 pm

One point about having a paper notebook vs a PDA, is the permanency of your notes. I have several journals, notebooks and diaries from relatives from the Civil War up to about 70 years ago. If well preserved, paper can last decades or even centuries. If saving your thoughts and notes for posterity is important to you, then I don’t think that digital would be the way to go.

19 Joe September 13, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Honorary fictional example – Dr. Henry Jones Sr.’s notebook had all the information one needed to track down the Holy Grail! Now that’s a notebook!

20 Andrew September 13, 2010 at 2:48 pm

I’ve always carried around a small journal (but not small enough to be a pocket book), and it’s been very beneficial in helping me collect my thoughts about all kinds of things. My journal started as solely a prayer journal in the 10th grade (I’m now 23 in my first year of graduate school), and through college it expanded to include my thoughts on Bible passages, then theology and philosophy, and then thoughts on fiction stories, movies, people I’ve met, daily events, and even dreams I’ve had etc.

I recently bought an Amazon Kindle, and it allows me to make notes in the books. As helpful and convenient as it is, I still prefer the act of writing with pen and paper. I think that I remember and understand my thoughts better when I write them out instead of typing them out. My journals also feel much more permanent.

21 Colin N. September 13, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Could you imagine if you could find a nine year old today who even knew who Rudyard Kipling was?

Ugh.

22 Derrick September 13, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Joe
Henry Jones, Sr.’s Holy Grail diary. Agreed—THAT is a notebook!

Ted

23 Richard Williams September 13, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Here’s a good one – Stonewall Jackson:

“The maxims–Jackson’s self-selected principles of personal conduct and self-improvement–are brief and to the point. They were recorded by the general in a small blue-marbled notebook over a five-year period, starting in 1848, and are largely drawn from the collective practical and philosophical teachings of others who influenced Jackson’s life, including Lord Chesterfield, John Bunyan, Joel Parker, O. S. Foster, George Winfred Hervey, and, most significantly to Jackson, the Bible. The notebook disappeared after Jackson’s death in 1863. More than 120 years later, in the course of researching a detailed biography of Stonewall Jackson, Robertson uncovered the maxim book while examining other materials in the Davis Collection of Civil War manuscripts at Tulane University.”

You can buy the book here:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1581824858?ie=UTF8&tag=virginiagentl-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=1789&creativeASIN=1581824858

24 Ezmelts September 13, 2010 at 5:48 pm

While I find myself with already filled pockets, I do have a notebook handy and visible inside my car (lots of ideas sprout up while stuck in traffic) and also next to my bed, for those times I can’t go to sleep because my mind is racing.

25 Julia September 13, 2010 at 5:59 pm

Personally, I like to use index cards and organize them later. I haven’t used notebooks for jotting down ideas in since high school. It just didn’t seem efficient enough a system for me.

26 ARP September 13, 2010 at 5:59 pm

James Joyce was known to write down ideas on little scraps of paper. When he got home, he’d empty his pockets of all the scraps and write his novels. Some say that’s the reason some of his novels feel disjointed- it may not have been a literary mechanism- just the way he gathered his ideas and wrote.

27 Martin September 13, 2010 at 7:26 pm

Thoreau was another good example. As an amateur (and later, a professional) surveyor and general observer, he would writes pages and pages of field notes. He would then reflect on them, expand on them, and finally transfer everything to his journal, which would eventually exceed 2 millions words.

Cool blog post.

28 Christina September 13, 2010 at 7:46 pm

This post got me into a google frenzy today…and I stumbled upon this post…also by AOM

http://www.frugallawstudent.com/2007/10/02/hack-your-pocket-moleskine-into-a-wallet/

29 Paul Evans September 13, 2010 at 8:19 pm

How did you manage not to include John Wilkes Booth, Jack Kerouac, and former U.S. Senator Bob Graham (D-Florida)?

30 James September 13, 2010 at 9:47 pm

I carried a moleskine and a bic pen (sometimes space pen for writing outside in winter) around as my PDA for years, before getting iPhone 4. I minimize pocket stuff, and my phone is essential, so out went the notebook

31 Daniel September 13, 2010 at 10:12 pm

I find carrying a notebook to not only be a good source of inspiration for capturing your thoughts, but also for copying things down to memorize. Once you take the initial time to copy something down, you would be amazed at the length of passages you are able to memorize by only spending a few minutes here and there working on it. I haven’t carried a notebook in about a year, but I think its time to start again.

32 Matt D September 13, 2010 at 10:26 pm

I can’t stress the utility of a pocket notebook enough, back when I was a newspaper reporter I couldn’t leave the house without AT LEAST one notebook. Now that I’m the job hunt again I’ve got my “Recession Journal,” a Moleskine pocket notebook where I write down my job seeking to-do list, contacts, UI info, random thoughts and potential leads. It lives in the pocket of my briefcase alongside a few copies of my resume and a pen, and the briefcase is in turn either hanging from my shoulder or in the front seat of the car.

33 Eagle Driver September 13, 2010 at 11:57 pm

Outstanding article, thank you very much for educating and reminding me of the need to take notes. So much happens and so many thoughts along with the events, that it is incredibly simple – carry a notepad. Incredible, thank you again for engaging my thoughts. A great technique for not being another mindless sheep following the herd.

C’ya

34 Jason September 14, 2010 at 9:52 am

I’m a graduate student as well as amateur artist. Although I always end up carrying around a smartphone and at times an iPod, I still make sure to carry around a pocket notebook. I mostly use it for commonplacing, sketching, or recording thoughts about my research.

I like moleskine-style notebooks (but not necessarily that brand) with a pocket that can hold index cards, post-it notes, or slips of paper people hand me. My pen of choice is the Sakura Pigma Micron 03 which produce nice, dark, thin, smear-free lines and are great for sketching!

35 Timothy September 14, 2010 at 12:57 pm

I remember the exhilerating feeling I got whilst gazing upon a notebook of Leonard da Vinci while it was on a museum tour a few years ago. To see with my own eyes the ink laid down by the hand of the master was humbling. The fact that it was written in Italian (which I don’t understand) and was reverse-reading didn’t detract from the experience.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonardo_da_Vinci#Leonardo_as_observer.2C_scientist_and_inventor

36 Zahir September 14, 2010 at 7:26 pm

@Chris W

back-left pocket–we never use it! Get something slim and well-bound. I’ve been using a Muji, but I think Moleskine are stronger bound. Mine is thinner than my wallet, and I hardly even feel it after a few days after it shapes around my ass hehe.

If you wear suits daily, you can keep it in your inner suit pocket. No excuses! A life worth living is worth recording

37 Rowland Jones September 16, 2010 at 3:07 am

Wonderful stuff. Yes I know all the facts about iphones etc; but if Da Vinci (or any of the above) had used the equivalent of an iphone (or a Zip disk…remember them) we wouldn’t be able to see them now…

38 Guru Eduardo September 16, 2010 at 1:20 pm

“an insight not recorded is soon forgotten and the connection to its source is broken”

I loved this article. Personally, I use 3X5 cards, which are so easy to carry in a pocket to jot down ideas and insights. I can save the cards until l get chance to transcribe them somewhere more pernament.

A pen and paper..I don’t leave home without them!

39 Loren September 17, 2010 at 4:27 pm

Wow, I found this post really fascinating! I really want to print it out, but when I click on the “print” button, it prepares an article on Lost Cities to print. Hmmmm. Help!

40 L V Banta September 17, 2010 at 4:38 pm

I loved both of these articles. Specific dimensions would be helpful when available. Thank you !

41 chris September 19, 2010 at 7:31 pm

i use Moleskine “Cahier” notebooks. craft brown cover (much tougher than the other covers). graph paper. pack of 3 for $6.

42 Eric September 19, 2010 at 9:40 pm

OK, You have me sold on the idea of a pocket notebook. It would be far more convenient than the plethora of notecards, sticky notes, and napkins that I currently use to jot down notes and momentary musings. I’m particularly fond of Mark Twain’s notebook with the tear-off tabs. I have several notebooks in the attic that are full of blank pages merely because finding the first blank page was so much of a hassle that I’d just start writing anywhere.

But finding such a notebook is proving difficult … and I’m not quite up to following Twain and having a set custom made (though the personalized name stamp on the front would be cool). So aside from hiring a bookbinder or cutting up another notebook, can you recommend anywhere I could purchase such a notebook?

43 Promod Sharma | @mActuary September 22, 2010 at 8:40 pm

Thanks for this detailed post and the comments above. Looking at actual pages is fascinating!

I carry a 5″x8″ notepad in my bag and scan the pages into PDFs for archiving. I used to turn more content into text, but scanning is much faster. Using sensible filenames helps in retrieving content.

I carry a smaller notebook in my jacket pocket and retype those thoughts into my computer later.

44 Dan September 25, 2010 at 4:50 am

What a great post! As a lover of fountain pens, I would be thrilled if someone was to write a post on the fountain pens used by these great men, or other famous persona for that matter.

45 Law Office of Bowman and Associates September 29, 2010 at 11:30 am

Is anyone else having issues printing this? I love it!!!

46 jon October 3, 2010 at 6:44 pm

I used a pocket notebook for years but then switched to taking notes on iPhone when I got a 3GS last year. That lasted for about 8-9 months. Recently, however, I switched back to the pocket notebook because I still don’t think the technology has yet caught up to be as good as notebook/paper yet for this purpose (thought it is very close).

The key thing about having a pocket notebook is that there it is very easy with a fleeting moment to whip it out of your pocket and jot a note down. There is zero friction. With a phone, you still have to take it out, open up the app, and type in your note. Since I’m not as fast as tapping out something as with just scrawling, and it’s also easier to scribble with a pen if you’re walking, this extra little friction adds a small mental weight, and I think I ended up taking down less stuff than I would have otherwise. What really made me switch back was iOS4, which slowed down my phone a lot and made the phone randomly fail to save notes – this is very very bad since that’s the whole purpose.

The positive sides of iPhone note-taking are that it’s basically unlimited storage so you don’t have to worry about running out of pages on the road. In addition, if someone can create a good, reliable cloud synching service to store all notes, that will be a huge benefit. You wouldn’t ever have to worry about losing notes. Right now I don’t think the current solutions like Evernote or Simplenote do this very well.

47 Ryan Tyler October 12, 2010 at 11:41 am

I came here by way of “The Craftman’s Humility,” which is so far excellent. Moleskin advertises that Hemingway used their journal, but I didn’t know some of the others. I was impressed to see that Patton drew in his journal. I always assumed that he and I would have little in common. Maybe I’ll read a little more about him.
Thanks,
Ryan

48 Francis October 12, 2010 at 12:42 pm

I have an iPad with several notes apps, but still find myself reaching for my Moleskine instead when I need to take down some notes. Not sure if it’s simply habit or a subliminal preference, but I’m rolling with it.

49 Eric W. October 12, 2010 at 12:55 pm

I am in the Recreation field. I’ve worked for State Parks, National Parks, and even the Bureau of Land Management, taking care of campgrounds, park visitors, and maintaining the facilities and nature they encompass. And I have found a pocket notebook invaluable for years.
I really started carrying one with my first job in retail, 16 years ago.
With most park jobs, there’s a lot of freedom and autonomy to the profession. So you’re constantly looking for work to do, while working. It’s a self-motivators job. As I’m walking regular rounds or working on one task, I’m jotting down ideas or things I see to work on tomorrow or even next week.
On an average day, I work 70 miles or more from any help or resupply, and I most likely will not see the office for a week or more. Jobs to complete are up to me to figure out, or handed down from above with me to finish at my leisure. Hundreds or thousands of people are visiting in a day, and law enforcement is spotty. I record suspicious vehicle numbers and descriptions, those sites or cars that I’ve had to talk to about violations and those I need to talk to, attendance figures, Names of regular visitors I just met, and any other information I think I might need to use later.
I’m also listening to talk radio most days at work, and my notebook has lists of books I think I might like from author interviews I heard, statistics I hear and want to remember to improve my political arguments later, interesting facts, and even lists of things I need to accomplish when I make it home at the end of the week.
Now my pocket notebook even makes its way into my coat pocket at home, and still records all the information I might come across in a day at work, but now it’s personal.

50 Albert Jonkjer November 27, 2012 at 11:55 pm

UIsed to carry a Symbian PDA for some days, but now with the presence of notebooks capable of all the muti media functions and not to mention acccess to cloud WEBAPPS, I think of carrying the notebook next to a regular mobile phone.for some more years..I know I am late.

BTW intertesting thread.

51 George F Matheis Jr January 3, 2013 at 11:42 am

I am an index card guy too and just got this
http://www.riteintherain.com/inventoryD.asp?item_no=C991T&CatId={4712AAEA-F549-4225-8442-3ECF66A5CA34}

52 adam January 29, 2013 at 9:48 am

I used to keep a pocket notebook in my labcoat at work to jot down ideas and to-do lists. Now I just put them in my lab notebook. To keep track of ideas for projects in my free time (sometimes I get an idea while driving and don’t want to forget it!), I use my smartphone.

53 Robert Karl Skoglund February 28, 2013 at 9:13 am

Anyone who writes keeps a notebook. I have dozens of them going back over 50 years. All of my pants have a tailor-made pocket just above the right knee on the outboard side. It holds my notebook and two pens.

The humble Farmer

54 Steve May 22, 2013 at 9:51 pm

As others here, I have notebooks going back 20 years and more. I like Moleskins, though of late their quality has declined. I wonder if the comparatively voluminous daily menswear of older notebook users facilitated carrying them around at all times? Lots of pockets, big ones. I’ve used European men’s handbags to carry notebook, glasses, wallet, etc. when wearing warm weather togs, but would rather not. Perhaps the Humble Farmer, whose musings I used to listen to in Maine, has the right idea.

55 Michael November 17, 2013 at 6:57 pm

Loved the post! Being able to write out my thoughts by hand vs typing them on my phone seems to help in processing ideas. Personal notebooks are great so I’m not left trying to sort through all of my notes written on restaurant napkins! Writing is a lost art; it’s great to be inspired with the above pictures!

56 Paul February 1, 2014 at 8:19 am

Love the voice transcription of modern smartphones. Use the “notes” app on iPhone (5); works like a charm. Wondering if I should periodically print them out for “posterity” (Lord knows they won’t be using iOS 7 in 7 years, let alone 70!)

57 michael mata February 25, 2014 at 3:57 pm

I like the pocket notebooks from office depot they are 3.99 are really durable the spine is flexible the cover is too the notebook takes a beating from how I use it from being in my back pocket but it’s great the best I’ve used plus I can buy three for the price of a moleskine

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

Site Meter