16 July 2008

Taking note of notebooks

Although many of us have tried, you can't write everything in a Filofax. If you keep a journal or commonplace book, or write prose or fiction for business or pleasure, sooner or later you need to use bound notebooks.

But which one to choose? The question is in the air. I was already considering a post like this when a reader emailed me to suggest it! I've noticed more notebook-related activity on other blogs as well.

When I made my all-Filofax, all-the-time commitment a couple years ago, I found I also had to choose a type of notebook I could use on the side. My first Filofax was an A5, so I knew right away I'd need an A5 notebook, since the Filofax refill paper is so expensive. And I wanted detachable pages, since I definitely wanted to be able to move pages back and forth. For example, my A5 Filo is for work. If I kept my personal journal in an A5 notebook, then when I had a work-related inspiration while writing in my journal, I could simply start a new page and then punch Filo holes in it. And vice-versa -- I could slip Filofax pages into the A5 notebook.

I decided on the A5 Miquelrius pictured here. I chose it for the following reasons:

- It comes in the A5 size and is readily available in the U.S. (Online from The Daily Planner and on the shelf in The Container Store and Borders bookstores.) A5 notebooks are hard to find here, so this is a big plus!

- The pages are pre-punched with standard 2 holes for A5 binders. If I want to, I can take the pages out and recategorize them in binders. (For that reason, I start a new page for every day's journal entry and when I write about a different subject.)

- The pages are perforated. See above.

- Bright colored covers. Not a requirement, but a nice benefit. I prefer bright colors to gray, beige, and so on.

- Another benefit that wasn't a requirement: color-coding on the edges of the pages. You can see orange-bordered pages in the right-hand picture above. You can use different colors for different subjects, although I haven't done that yet.

- The paper stands up to my favorite everyday pens without bleed-through. It's not good enough for heavier nibs or fountain pens, though. [Update: Your mileage may vary: A reader has reported good performance with fine-point fountain pens.]

- High page count - 140 leaves. Since the A5 size is small, I'll fill a lot of pages, and I don't want to generate lots of little books. Also, I just like thick books!

So with all these advantages, why am I having second thoughts about Miquelrius?

- As it turns out, I actually do very little moving pages between the notebook and the Filofax. Since January, I've only slipped in 3 Filofax pages. I don't think I've ever moved a notebook page into the Filofax. In fact, I haven't even bought the hole punch to do so. So the A5 size isn't as much of a necessity as I predicted, and I've started looking longingly at a variety of other kinds of notebooks, especially large Moleskines!

- I haven't ended up taking pages out of the notebook and putting them in binders, at least not yet. Furthermore, A5 ring binders are even harder to find in the U.S. than A5 notebooks, and I haven't even found any that I like!

- I'm unhappy with the single-wire spiral binding, since it isn't as durable as a sewn binding. With use, the spiral twists, which you can also see in the above-right picture. The book doesn't lie flat for writing when folded back. The holes at the top and bottom of the page start to tear and pull away from the binding.

- Also, with a spiral binding, there's no spine to label for shelf display! If I'm going to be keeping the pages in the notebooks rather than rebinding them, that's a big concern.

- The ruling is wider than I like. It means I go through a lot of pages! With only a little information on each page, it takes a lot of flipping to find something specific that I wrote.

All that said, I still like writing in these notebooks, and I'll be writing in them tonight and tomorrow and the day after. But it feels good to get these thoughts off my chest.


  1. For years I have been keeping a Commonplace book without even knowing what it was. I found that having a bound notebook meant set pages and sections that weren't expandable if needed to be. I also love my A5 Filofax but I have too much info to put into it - not all of which I need to carry around. So I came up with the perfect solution for me. I am not sure if you have them in the States but here in Oz we have lever arch folders. These are A4 in size with D shaped rings that open and close with a lever - hence the name. They come in two ring sizes, the large being 75mm and the smaller ones being around 25 or 35mm. This gives a lot of space for lots of pages. But A4 is too big to carry around. So I cut my folder down to an A5 size, using my filo as the template. The first time I stuffed up because the rings of the filo are in the spine but the rings of the folder sit on the back, therefore it was too small - not enough folder edge to protect the pages or allow for dividers. Second time around I got it right, with lots of measuring I now have a lever arch fold of A5 size that can take the pages from my Filo and vice versa. Although the folder has only two rings this makes hole punching easy and cutting paper to A5 size isn't too hard. I have also been able to customize my section dividers buy cutting A4 ones down to size. I hope this all makes sense. I have some pictures if you would like to see what I mean.

  2. Wow -- that's what I call creative problem solving! I'd love to see some pictures! Can you post them on Flickr?

  3. [Inky] "...I'm unhappy with the single-wire spiral binding, since it isn't as durable as a sewn binding..."
    My A4 notebook has hard covers and coated double wire rings. I haven't noticed any spiral twisting even after 100 pages work stained pages. That said I concur that wire ring spines are never going to look good on a shelf.

    I can see myself adopting an element Silver_Elixir's D ring solution for neatness.

  4. I have some pictures on flickr. One is titled 'My Creation' and is the front cover of my folder. Another is called 'Word Section Divider'. I will take some more over the next day or two to show more detail.

  5. Hi.

    I know these notebooks, and have had a few of them. Also some in A4 for lecture notes and such. The paper is actually great for my fountain pens, but I have fine nibbed pens.
    What bothered me a bit about them is that I could not write comfortably on the left side. This is actually a problem of most spiral-bound books, only clairefontaine has this problem solved.
    This is the same problem that left-handed people complain about, but I think right-handed people have the same problem only concerning the other side of the page.
    How cool would it be if filofax would make notebooks with detachable pages that are already punched for the binder? Not pads, but real bound books, kind of like the moleskine watercolour books. Could we suggest this to filofax? Will they listen?

  6. I love notebooks almost as much as I love planners. I usually have several notebooks going at once as journals, records-keeping, etc. My favorite notebooks for general purpose are Clairefontaine, because I love the paper, colorful covers, and various sizes/ formats (ring bound, hard cover, etc.) I have used various Moleskine notebooks over the years, and they are good, but Quo Vadis now has notebooks that could give Moleskine a run for their money. Their Robert le heros and Habana notebooks have nicer-looking covers than Moleskine’s, and they have that smooth Clairefontaine paper. Link:


    They also have various formats of planners with the same covers and paper.

    Another notebook that I love is Cavallini & Co. Moderno leather journals. The leather is gorgeous, smooth and soft, and comes in several colors. You can have whatever you want embossed on the front, which makes them especially great as gifts. These also come in day-per-page planners, which are also really nice. Link:


    My newest obsession is the Dodo Pad. I stumbled across this while searching Amazon.com, and was pleasantly surprised at the clever designs. Apparently Dodo Pads are very popular in Britain (where they are made) and are just starting to make their way across the pond. They have planners in calendar and academic years, desk or wall format, as well as a blank notebook, household binder, Christmas organizer, book for cooks, garden organizer, etc. The website is funny and entertaining. The Dodo Pad looks like a fun way to stay organized. In fact, one reviewer writes, “Dodo-phernalia make great presents as well as being hugely practical and they are so much more fun than a Filofax.” Ouch, for those of us who love Filofax, but this statement definitely peaked my interest. Here is the website:


    Be sure to click on “What is a Dodo Pad?” at the top to learn more about how these work. I’m fascinated by the weekly format, the quotes, dates of interest, space to doodle, etc. Here is a review that sums it up nicely:


    I love the idea of combining powerful organizing with clever humor and creativity. I have already ordered a wall calendar and I can’t wait to get it and check it out!

  7. Thanks, Laurie! I love the Dodo stuff!

  8. Yeah, when I saw the cover (which you can see in the link below) and saw that they call it "a combined memo-doodle-engage-diary-message-ment book," I had to find out more! I'm strangely fascinated by these. They somehow appeal to my desire to be organized, but not TOO organized!