I have experimented with dozens of organizers and note-taking systems over the years, abandoning most before I use up the refills. I’m fickle when it comes to stationery supplies, I admit. They’re more than a mechanism to record my thoughts: they’re an antidote for boredom, a shot in the arm when a project needs energy. When my brain begins to sag, one technique to reverse the process is to go shopping, find exactly the new setup I need–and then spend the next however long whining about how it doesn’t work. I’m a paper snob, an office supply cry-baby, a notebook wienie. It’s the truth. I won’t deny it.
And as if my constant craving for something newer and more efficient isn’t enough, there’s another complication–the way I think. I’m sure methodical thinkers have their own troubles, but coming up with a way to track thoughts isn’t one of them. All they have to do is buy a nice, blank, bound book, and start writing. No messy reordering necessary. No sorting through piles of books or reams of tablets to find that one critical idea they know they wrote down, but can’t find. All they have to do is find the proper topic notebook, leaf through a few pages, and voila! They have what they were looking for. Jerks. I hate them. I envy them. And this post has nothing to do with them. They can leave now, take out their calligraphy pens, and start scribing. There’s nothing here for people like that.
No, I’m not a methodical thinker–I’m a chaotic thinker, from way back. From the womb. Thoughts fly in from every direction, and are often lost before I can catch them. If I want to hold onto something, I must write it down–I’ve always been this way. But then, even written, what good are they? How do I find what I need? How do I create order from the chaos?
As much as I’m drawn to bound books and spiral notebooks, they don’t work for me. They’re efficient, and compact, and I like the way they feel, but they aren’t useful–I can’t retrieve things from them. I need a system where the pages can be sorted and moved around, shifted into a meaningful order. Which generally means three-ring binders. They’re universally available, cheap, and versatile. They come in lots of colors, lots of widths, and can be customized. Perfect. Well, sort of.
I don’t like writing on 8 1/2 by 11 inch paper. Personal quirk. I like smaller pages. I like a notebook that can fit into a smaller space, that doesn’t require a full-on backpack to carry. I like it to sit on the small table next to my chair, and on the rim of the bathtub, and the armrest of my car. Big doesn’t work for me. Enter half-page binders; right size, still versatile–but too fat. They’re mostly available in one-inch width or wider, which I don’t like. I know, whiny, right? And picky? But I want what I want…
Enter the Levenger Circa system, junior size. It’s a little strange, since it uses disks rather than rings to hold the pages in place, and is a little clunky to get used to, but so far it’s doing the trick–and I’ve had to order refills!
In my writing room I keep a wider-sized book (the size of the disks dictates the width of the book), which I use as an archive. This book is divided by tabs, one for each active story, with a catch-all Miscellaneous tab at the back for itinerant ideas. I keep smaller books around the house, and one in the car. In these I record whatever thoughts or plot points my brain comes up with, then transfer the pages into the archive, where they’ll stay until it’s time to transcribe them–generally when I switch full-focus to that story. The only rule for the small books is that I must record thoughts or ideas for a specific story on a page designated for that story–otherwise, I’d still have a disorganized mishmash.
There’s even a small pocket notebook, 3 x 5, which allows me to jot down quick notes if I don’t have a bigger book with me–and because it has matching perforations, I can transfer those sheets to the bigger book as well. No more writing on envelopes or receipts; I’m losing very little material these days to poor record-keeping.
If you like bigger pages, you can stick with the standard 8 1/2 by 11, or even make hybrid notebooks–the junior pages will fit into the bigger book the same way the pocket pages fit into the junior–so you can infinitely combine whatever size you’re working with at the time. And if you buy a hole punch, necessary to create the proprietary perforations, you can add your own content–maps, photos, receipts. Anything you feel like including in your system. I’ve been using it for months now, and haven’t tired of it yet.
One caveat–it isn’t cheap. But once you buy the disks and covers, and a hole punch, you can forever use whatever paper you want, so you aren’t tethered to the more expensive stuff. I like it because it’s flexible, and it works, but would of course be interested in hearing about other systems. Who knows when boredom will strike?