Choosing and Using Your Writer’s Notebook

By Marcus D. Niski

Choosing Your Writer’s Notebook

The notebook is a crucial writing tool for recording observations of place, space, research notes, all of which are fundamental to the ascetic and practical activities of any writer.

Choosing your notebook is a very individual thing and there are no real guidelines for this other than choosing one that looks and feel right for you as an individual.

Believe it or not, I feel that this is a crucial part of the process in as much as that if your notebook does not feel right for you, then there is a good chance that it will sit on the shelf and not fulfill the special role that it is intended to fill.

Some hints and ideas that will help you choose a notebook that is right for you include attention paid to the following:


Try wherever possible to select a notebook that is made of acid free paper, as this paper will inevitably last much longer due to its proper archival quality.

Non-Acid free paper will tend to yellow and break down over the years, hence it is worth spending a little extra to get good long lasting paper on which to write.


Always choose a notebook that is solidly bound, as one which is poorly bound will quickly fall apart when the binding breaks down. The best forms of binding are those that use the traditional sewn paper interleaving and are then glued and finished along traditional classical binding lines.

Physical Feel + Touch:

Crucial: your notebook must have a feel that is right for you otherwise you won’t use it. Feel and touch are vital ingredients to a notebook that you will use


Size is important, as you must think about the maximum size that is satisfactory for you to carry around with you. Notebooks that are too heavy, bulky or awkward will not work well for you.


Don’t spend too little or too much. Remember that once you select a type of notebook that you want to use bear in mind the repeat cost each time you buy one once your old notebook one has been filled up.


Choose a notebook that you will be able to secure a regular supply of once you have settled on a particular type.


Overly ornate notebooks will often cause you to hesitate in using them.

The notebook is to the writer what the camera is to the photographer: an essential tool of observation and recording – so never forget to keep your notebook you at all times – inspiration often strikes randomly and its vital to capture your thoughts freshly and immediately which is the great value of the notebook.

Keeping writer’s notebooks has been one of my greatest enduring pleasures. At times an almost addictive pleasure, but one which is endlessly satisfying.

Marcus D. Niski,  14 May 2017

Why did I write it down? In order to remember, of course, but exactly what was it I wanted to remember? How much of it actually happened? Did any of it? Why do I keep a notebook at all? The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it …

But our notebooks give us away, for however dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable “I”…

On Keeping a Notebook (1966) by Joan Didion in Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Penguin, 1974  (first published 1968).

“My intention… was to describe… that which is not taken note of, that which has no importance: what happens when nothing happens other than the weather, people, cars, and clouds.”

Georges Perec in An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris

“ In 1969, I chose, in Paris, twelve places (streets, squares, circuses, an arcade), where I had lived or else was attached by particular memories.

I have undertaken to write a description of two of these places each month. One of these descriptions is written on the spot and is meant to be as neutral as possible. Sitting in a café or walking in the street, notebook in hand, I do my best to describe…”

Georges Perec in Species of Space and Other Pieces

“ The people in the streets: where are they coming from? Where are they going to? Who are they?”

Georges Perec in Species of Space and Other Pieces

Quotations from My Writer’s Notebooks

By Marcus D. Niski

Over a long period of time now, I’ve collected a huge range of quotations and aphorisms from my reading and research that I’ve written down by hand in my notebooks, as well as engaging in the almost daily practice of writing my own observations and aphorisms – I suspect Paul Valery would be proud of my efforts indeed!

While I’ve made a sustained personal effort, Valery was undoubtedly one of the most prolific notebook writers of all time.

For those readers who are unfamiliar with his work, Valery was a master of observation and notetaking as the 29 published volumes of his Cahiers (notebooks) attest to:

 “Every morning he would get up at around five o’clock and write meditations, notes, and speculations in small volumes that he intended for no one but himself. There were more than 250 of these notebooks at the end of his life, and they are not only now available in published form, but are, ironically, among the most important and most read—most public—of his writings…” – Paul Valéry 1871–1945

Here are some of my favorite quotations and aphorisms on place, space, and writing from my collection of writers notebooks – particularly those around the themes of seeing, noticing and observing – the stuff of all great observational and literary writing whether about cities or otherwise …

Marcus D. Niski,  May 2017