Why Use Paper Notebooks?

Like many people who love paper, I have waaay too many notebooks. (Yet also, never enough.) At some point, sitting in front of a computer screen became less fun for me, and started to feel like work. Also, I have difficulty staying focused with devices.

I got a lot more interested in how I could use paper notebooks to get away from screens a little more.

So, why paper notebooks?

  • They get you away from screens, and you can still think, create, and look up things you want to know.
  • Most digital documents look machine-like and regimented, ho hum, no matter what is in them. But notebooks are deeply personal and human: your notebook is more interestingly individual than your fingerprint. My handwriting is scrawly*, my dividing lines are wobbly, and my notebooks are messy, and I like to draw birds in my notebooks. I also love seeing others’ notebooks with lines drawn with rulers; and artful lettering styles. Your notebooks are more yours than any app will ever be.
  • What do you choose to write down? What do you choose to leave out? Apps force you to fit the developers’ preconceptions. But a notebook? You can map out Whatever. You. Want.
  • You can take a notebook anywhere, no chargers needed. Even the shower.
  • It’s hard to understand for sure what the full impact of something is on the environment; but consider the production, extraction, and human and natural resource costs of creating e-devices, versus creating a paper notebook. I can put an old comp book in my old compost bin. I still love devices, but I try to hold on to them longer, and use more notebooks so the devices feel less necessary. YMMV.
  • The non-digitized contents of a paper notebook can only be stolen or held for ransom if a notebook rustler is in the same physical location as your notebook. Automagic 2FA!
  • You do not need to pay for apps or upgrades to use your notebook decades from now. It will just be there, quietly waiting for you.
  • Notebooks can hang around waiting for centuries, actually. Your notebooks may well outlast you.
  • Using a notebook can be a sensual experience that a screen-thingy cannot compete with. For pure physical joy of use, I’ll take a fountain pen and notebook any day.
  • Notebooks never beep at you with messages or nag you to update apps. With a notebook, you can truly wonder, and think, and put down whatever is on your mind without it interrupting you! Ever!
  • You can use notebooks to collaborate, if you want, like Beethoven’s conversation books. My daughter keeps a notebook for guests to write and draw in.
  • You can play with notebooks in three dimensions. You can make spitballs, fortune tellers, cranes, snowflakes, and airplanes as well. Try that with a tablet.
  • No need to restart it, power it down, or charge it
  • Did I mention that you can draw birds and animals and robots and spirals and footballs and triangles and snakes and sea monsters and secret codes and pies and fireworks and boxes and gremlins and flowers and clouds and sports cars in the margins any time you want? I might have said that already, but this bears repeating.

brush pen doodles of people's faces and a grumpy owl on a page of a composition notebook

I’ll be posting more about how to make your paper notebooks really useful. I’ll be writing about:

  • How to find your stuff in your notebooks — various indexing and content management systems
  • Things to do with notebooks you could not resist buying, but don’t like using intensively (so, I tend to impulsively buy cute impractical notebooks with drawings of cats in them… )
  • And here’s one thing to do to help you get in the practice of actually using a pocket notebook.


Priceless literary manuscripts once thought lost are acquired by British library consortium (2021) The Art Newspaper - International art news and events. Available at: https://www.theartnewspaper.com/2021/12/17/priceless-literary-manuscripts-acquired-british-library-consortium (Accessed: 17 May 2022).

‘Where to View Leonardo da Vinci’s Notebooks Online for Free’ (2021) My Modern Met, 19 May. Available at: https://mymodernmet.com/leonardo-da-vinci-notebooks-online/ (Accessed: 17 May 2022).

Ida B. Wells diary pages from 1930, from Guide to the Ida B. Wells Papers 1884-1976 (no date). Available at: www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/scrc/fi… (Accessed: 17 May 2022).

Beethoven’s conversation books: how they give us unique insights into the composer’s life (no date) Classical Music. Available at: https://www.classical-music.com/composers/beethovens-conversation-books/ (Accessed: 17 May 2022).

‘How to Make a Paper Fortune Teller (Step-by-Step) | Mombrite’ (2020), 10 September. Available at: https://www.mombrite.com/origami-paper-fortune-teller/ (Accessed: 17 May 2022).


* In my sixth grade year, I had to stay after school a lot to practice penmanship. The ensuing power struggle did not help much. Ironically, later I got into calligraphy.

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