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I Love My Tiny Notebook

Let’s face it. Our memories aren’t what they used to be. It’s true for all of us, though the old guys like me do feel the pinch a bit more acutely. Add to that that game systems are constantly changing, we’re always trying new games, genres, and systems, and that we’ve got our own games to plan and it’s plain that quite a bit is going get lost in the press. And that’s without even considering all the non-gaming related information with which we have to deal.

My tool of choice for jotting down quick notes is the pocket notebook. These tiny notebooks are great for saving ideas for later that you’d otherwise forget, and for taking notes when you want to remember details. They allow you to work almost anywhere (in fact, this entire post was outlined while waiting in the drive-through for my lunch). They can provide useful storage for other things. Mine holds a pen and all my receipts that I have to balance later.

However, due to the demands of use there are several criteria I’ve learned to look for when buying a new tiny notebook. First, they have to be durable enough to survive in your pockets. This means that the cardboard backed flimsy disposable varieties right out. It also means that avoiding the wire spiral variety in favor of a bound book or covered rings or spirals is preferable. In addition, size is an important issue. You ideally want the largest notebook you can comfortably fit in your pocket. Usually this is 3″ by 5″, but may vary depending on where you keep yours. There are other features that are definitely worth spending a bit more for as well. Extra storage such as pen holders, document pockets, etc… are always handy. Refillable notepads have two major benefits. First is price. A really fancy pocket notepad can set you back almost $15 as opposed to the 70ยข that an economy notepad will. Offsetting some of this cost via refills is nice. In addition, refills mean that you can leave existing notes in your pad when you refill.

There are a few problems to watch out for when making use of a notepad. First, is the general durability issue. Unless your notepad is exceptionally strong, it will sustain wear and tear from being carried around incessantly. Treat it accordingly. In addition, it’s not only one, but two things to carry around with you (the notepad plus a writing tool).

There are, of course electronic alternatives to tiny notepads. The big factors to consider when deciding whether to upgrade to an electronic solution are cost, learning curve and functionality. Electronic tools that can function as a notepad host a myriad of other useful functions but take a little longer to learn to use and a lot longer to pay for. If these functions look tempting enough to pay the extra money and time, then an electronic solution may be for you.

All in all, I’ve found that carrying a notebook with me has greatly aided my performance both as a GM and in other areas of life, but not just any equipment will do. Spend some time looking for the right piece of equipment, and you’ll fall in love with your tiny notebook too.

16 Comments (Open | Close)

16 Comments To "I Love My Tiny Notebook"

#1 Comment By Adrian On May 12, 2008 @ 3:30 am

Amen to that. I have gone so far as to get myself some good quality moleskin notebooks. ( [1]) They are real works of art. There is even a variety that has graph paper in it.

These of course fit into the fancy end of things… But it is definitely satisfying to fill one up.

#2 Comment By Ishmayl On May 12, 2008 @ 7:48 am

Great link, Adrian – I’m going to order a few of those today, I imagine!

I will also point out a particular notebook I like. It’s not pocket-sized, but it’s sturdy, the pages don’t easily rip out, and it’s still small enough to fit inside a textbook and make notes while you pretend to be studying!



#3 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On May 12, 2008 @ 8:01 am

Great Links!
I don’t have any personal favorites. I’m still looking for the “holy grail” so to speak. I’ve just found through rigorous trial and error what features work for me. When I find them all together in one bundle, I’ll be one happy gnome.
My current notebook I picked up at my local Target. It’s a side-bound wire ring (which I don’t care for. It’s already starting to mangle from pants-pocket stress) but it has a nice 1/16″ cloth and board jacket with a clasp that I’m wild over.

#4 Comment By Scott Martin On May 12, 2008 @ 9:27 am

I’m not good about keeping a binder on me at all times. I regret it whenever I realize that I’ve had a lot of good ideas through the week… but don’t have any at hand when I’m ready to get my session notes written up. You’d think I’d learn…

#5 Comment By Scot Newbury On May 12, 2008 @ 10:33 am

For me, I skip the notebook and use a stack of index cards with a binder clip to hold them together. Simple to use, low cost, portable, easily refillable and can be filled easily if I want to keep them – typically I toss the card out after I’ve incorporated the notes into whatever project they belong to.

#6 Comment By Martin Ralya On May 12, 2008 @ 11:38 am

I have a very spotty memory and am obsessed with taking notes. Along with emailing notes to myself, I carry a Palm (the cheapo Z22), a moleskine specifically for my novel, and keep two mini-notbeooks in my car: another moleskine for recording mileage, and one for random ideas I get in the car.

The three moleskines I use are the Ruled Notebook and the Ruled Reporter (which flips at the top, which I love), plus the Pocket Volant (softcover, super slim). I blame our own DNAphil plus NaNoWriMo for getting me into moleskines, and while they’re expensive they’re worth it.

I’m looking forward to filling them because I’ll be able to pop them on the shelf and refer back to them later — I don’t think I’d like a refillable quite as much.

You love your tiny notebook, and I love this post — great start, Matthew! Now go buy a moleskine. ๐Ÿ˜‰

#7 Comment By Patrick Benson On May 12, 2008 @ 4:44 pm

I use tiny notebooks and a digital voice recorder myself. I then upload the notes into my PC as MP3 files. The voice recorder is great for when writing isn’t really safe and/or practical (such as while driving).

What I really want is a tiny portable tablet style pocket PC so that I can sketch, write, record, take photos, etc. That would be the ultimate ntoe taker!

#8 Comment By Adam Nave On May 12, 2008 @ 5:02 pm

I use a Moleskine too, just a pocket Cahier. It was $8 for three, so it’s not too expensive. I keep it in my back pocket and it has curved a bit, but the cover is holding up well. I think the paper is not quite absorbant enough and it bleeds a bit onto the facing page, but maybe that’s just my cheap pen.

I used a Pocket Mod for a while, but they tend to disintegrate after a bit. Still, they’re a good cheap alternative.


#9 Comment By Martin Ralya On May 12, 2008 @ 6:26 pm

@Adam: D’oh, hearing the name made me remember — the Pocket Cahier is the other one I’ve used, not the Pocket Volant.

#10 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On May 12, 2008 @ 8:58 pm

SmartPhone for the win.

It’s great to sit in a doctor’s office waiting room, furiously thumb-typing your latest brainstorm while everyone else reads six-month old Time Magazines…

Right behind that is a laptop with good battery power. I typed two of my GnomeStew posts while flying cross-country. ๐Ÿ™‚

#11 Comment By Adrian On May 13, 2008 @ 2:38 am

I was thinking of this post as I was scrawling in my moleskin on the way home from work on the train tonight.

I didn’t realise just how popular moleskins were.

#12 Comment By MoonHunter On May 13, 2008 @ 9:48 am

I had given up on little note pads a long time ago. At the table, my campaigns elements and notes are kept on a full sized pad of paper. Sometimes I will tuck/paste print outs into that pad, just to keep everything right there. However, I don’t live with that pad. Nor does it interface with my computer well, so there are things in two places.

What has replaced it all for me is my PDA. Besides being generally handy, also being my phone and web browser, I always have it. I have a thought, I type it in. It is right there. I can retrieve and edit it later. I can update things. I can look at the material I had previously done and downloaded into my PDA. I have it all right there. And I have a back up of everything everytime I synch my machine. It is the best spent 200 bucks I have ever spent on gaming with the added bonus of it making the rest of my life work well. (Okay I bought it for reverse reasons, or at least that is what I told my wife.)

#13 Comment By Ghoulglum On May 13, 2008 @ 1:37 pm

I always keep a pocket sized notebook with me. You never know when you’ll get a good idea & it’s always good to have those ideas where you can get them later.

#14 Comment By Dhelm On May 14, 2008 @ 9:11 am

As a player, I still regularly use a moleskine, but as a DM, I’ve traded my pen and notebook in for an ASUS eeepc, which also functions very well as a reference for game materials and rules (assuming electronic versions, pdf, etc are available for the game system.) Granted, it is an order of magnitude more expensive (my 4G eeePC was $412.80 US, including shipping and tax) than a moleskine or economy pad notebook, but it also comes with all the functionality of a pc.

#15 Comment By technochris81 On May 17, 2008 @ 10:48 am

i have a tiny notebook, but never think to use it for DM ideas. i’ve got in the habit of using it as a planner. i include my work schedule, my play schedule, various to-do lists, and even grocery lists. however, with the DM stuff, i’m usually just like: “Oh, I’ll remember that.” And then i do–about 50% of the time.

However, sometimes, when i really want to remember a good DM idea, i’ll just write up a text message and then save it to drafts instead of texting it to anyone. It’s served me well in a pinch. However, i don’t do this often enough either.

#16 Comment By DNAphil On May 29, 2008 @ 7:00 am

I am a Moleskine snob. I keep the small notebook for work and personal notes, and a larger one for gaming ideas and brainstorming. In the past few years, I have filled 3 of the larger books with gaming ideas, maps and such. As for the small ones, I am up to my 12th book.

#17 Pingback By of Dice and Dragons » Pen, Paper, Index Cards and a Cellphone? On July 8, 2008 @ 1:20 pm

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#18 Pingback By Pen, Paper, Index Cards and a Cellphone? | of Dice and Dragons On May 17, 2012 @ 8:33 pm

[…] a month ago the folks at Gnome Stew had an interesting post entitled I Love My Tiny Notebook which talked about the fact that as a gamer (particular those of us that GM) we frequently have […]