Paper Matters

When I got serious about writing fiction in 2009, I discovered words came to me at the most inopportune times.

  • In the shower
  • While driving down the highway
  • Waiting for a red light to change
  • Waking me from a dead sleep and demanding attention

Becoming an author changed the way I organized my life. A passport-sized notebook went into my purse. I stashed another in my car. I slipped a reporter on my beside table and wrote notes in the dark so those ideas would still be there in the morning.

Through a lot of trail and error, I’ve discovered a few things about how to make the most of these notebooks, and I’m about to go down a new path.

While I love the simplicity and uniformity of Moleskine journals, especially the top-bound reporter, the paper isn’t forgiving to many of the writing tools I use. Same with my Leuchtturm1917* Bullet Journal. Ballpoint pen and pencil work fine, but the moment I pull out markers or a fountain pen, I can only use one side of each sheet of paper because of ink bleeding or ghosting or feathering.

*Update – The new Leuchtturm1917 Bullet Journal Edition 2 is amazing for fountain pens!

When ink bleeds through the page onto the back of the same sheet and often onto the next page. Think of a Sharpie.
When you flip the page and can see a ghost of the words written on the other side. Not horrible but a bit distracting.
When paper absorbs and spreads ink to the paper fibers, leaving behind a blurred image rather than a crisp line.

Recently I went on a quest to find the perfect paper for all my needs. In the past this meant shelling out cash for a journal, only to disocver the paper was too thick or too thin or too rough… You get the drift. This was all before I realized there is a science to paper and a whole group of people out there who talk about it online. If you want a great intro into the world of paper, watch this video on YouTube.

Paper Basics

Paper Weight – Paper is classified by its weight, measured in grams per square meter (gsm or simply g). Rhodia is 80g and holds up great to fountain pens without much feathering or ghosting. It’s the go-to paper for fountain pen lovers to test out their new pens and ink.

Binding – How the paper in bound is a personal thing. My preference changes depending on how I use the notebook/pad. I prefer a saddle stitch on my thinner notebooks, a glued binding on for bullet journals, and a stapled or spiral binding on a top-bound notepad where I take everyday notes.

Archival Quality – I don’t need to spend extra cash on acid-free or pH-neutral paper for my scratch pad, but I want those qualities on much of my other writing paper.

Rule – I like lined rule for those quick notes, but I prefer dot-grid for my planner or bullet journal because of the flexibility it gives me. Many notebooks also come with a grid or blank pages as well.

What inspired this post was my latest writing organization conundrum. I want a thin notebook for each story I write. Currently I have notes from various stories jotted down in multiple journals. So when I need to figure out the name of a sibling, I have to go on a treasure hunt in journals, computer files, or the published ebook or paperback itself. I’ve wasted many hours this way, so I’m trying to work smarter, not harder.

A small, thin, easy-to-carry-everywhere notebook is on my wishlist, but the paper has to be good enough to stand up to my beloved fountain pen ink. I want lines for this because I writer faster on them. And if each cover is a unique color, that would be a bonus so I can visually organize as well.

So I went hunting at my favorite pen and paper store, Goulet Pen Company, and discovered their notebook sampler packet. It’s just what I needed to make my decision. They sent me seven small notebooks/notepads so I could test out the paper before committing, and the sizes are too cute for words!

The Paper Sampler and My Review

I love that this sampler was available for me to try. It saved me money and guesswork.

Notebook/NotepadPaper Weight/FeatureRuleBinding
Rhodia No. 1280g – acid-free5mm dot-gridtop staple
Rhodia Premium No. 1290g – acid-free7mm linedtop staple
Clairefontaine Notebook90g7mm linedstaple
Apica CD-570g6mm linedstitch
Maruman Mnemosyne B7 Notepad68g5mm linedtop spiral
Traveler’s Notebook 001 Passport RefillMD fountain pen friendly6.5mm linedstaple
Goulet Notebook – pocket68g5mm dot-gridstaple
Notebook Sampler from Goulet Pen Company

Rhodia is great, and I’ve already had their white No. 16 A5 Dot-Grid notepad, but never the 90g cream paper of their premium line. I love the No. 12 size for to-do lists, and cream paper is so much less…caustic to the psyche, which I discovered helps in getting my tasks done faster.

Is it possible for white paper to scream at me to get to work whereas cream paper gently nudges? Apparently. At least I’m not rebelling against my lists this week. Needless to say, I’m buying more Rhodia Premium No. 12 notepads.

I love the Goulet Notebook with Tomoe River paper. I’ve heard amazing things about this paper this last year. Despite it being a lighter paper, 68gsm, it holds up to fountain pen ink and water-based markers. And being so thin, you get more pages in less space, which means more room on my bookshelves for novels. It’s great paper and the praise was deserved. My only complaints are that this notebook has a staple binding and the cover colors are limited to green, brown, cream, and red. A bit dull for my taste that leans toward lime green, robin’s-egg blue, and coral.

The Maruman Mnemosyone Notepad is great for jotting down reminders for myself when working on client edits. I don’t need a lot of space since most is done in-document, but there are still global notes I need to Search/Replace or keep track of to do later on. The layout of this paper is great for me since the page is broken into several sections depending on the size. I don’t even mind the spiral binding on this, which I often avoid.

I like the idea of the Traveler’s Notebook (TN) a lot, I really want an A5 size for my book notes and this notebook is only available in a passport and standard, which is 8.5″X 4.5″. I’ve done some digging on Etsy and come across several artisans who create leather covers in the TN fashion that will fit my A5 preference, so I might go in that direction. The nice thing about the TN system is that it’s customizable, so I could stick three or four thin notebooks in the TN cover and have all my WIPs in one binder that’s about the size of my current bullet journal. I like that idea a lot. And I get to choose which notebooks I buy too.

I want customizability, color variation, and stitched binding with paper that is easy to write on, resists feathering and ghosting, and it all needs to be affordable so I don’t hesitate to use this new system I’m devising.

The notebook I’ve decided to give a full test-run on for my novel plotting is the Apica CD-11, A5, Lined. The sampler included this teensy adorableness (quarter added for size). Apica comes in seven colors but also has black fabric on the binding so it will look uniform once shelved. When out on a table, I’ll know the green notebook has notes for story X while the red one is for story Y, which is great for a visual organizer like me. If I use the TN system, I’ll know which notebook to flip to.

And yes, I bought one in each color.

Apica isn’t the same quality of paper as Tomoe River Paper, but it’s fast drying and buttery smooth, so it’s perfect for fast jots. The last thing I want is to wait for ink to dry or pull out blottting paper before I can close my notebook and move on.

I can’t wait to see how my one-notebook-per-story system works. I’ll keep you updated.

Do you have favorite notebooks? Notepads? What sort of system do you use to organize your life? Have you tried out he Traveler’s Journal system? I’d love to hear.


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