The Freedom Simply to Begin (First Draft Co.)

When creating something—whether writing, sketching, jotting lyrics, or laying out a plan for a new project—getting started is often half the battle. To feel the freedom simply to begin—to make a first draft—makes the work possible.

Any writing teacher or art instructor will tell you that good creative work begins not with a finished product, but with a draft. That may seem obvious, but lots of folks involved in creative pursuits forget that the first goal of putting something down to paper should be, well, to put something down to paper. It need not be a finished product; in fact, in all but the rarest bursts of inspiration, it’s the working over the initial insight or burst of effort that leads to a refined or compelling outcome. As Ernest Hemingway put it, in a dictum variously attributed to others, “Easy writing makes hard reading.” It’s the constant, if not obsessive commitment to drafting and revising and redrafting that leads to strong work.

That’s one reason I like the name of the company that produces this journal, which suggests that what happens in the pages of its product will be a starting place, a beginning. “We started First Draft Co. with a passion to build tools and experiences that inspire creativity,” the web site announces.

 

front-cover

 

The blank book provided for this review looks impressive from first glance. But it also has a solid feel. The hardcover boards, covered with library buckram, give heft, and make the book feel like more than a sketchpad or casual notebook. The satiny place ribbon also conveys something classy and useful, making it easy to resume work once the journal has been put away.

 

open-inside

 

The pages are blank—no lines or dots—leaving the creator ultimate freedom. The elastic cloth band holds the pages and cover together. Slipping it off takes a couple of seconds but that need to perform a ritual act allows for a moment or two or reflection, allowing a pause for gathering one’s thoughts, perhaps one’s scattered presence for the promising task at hand.

 

with-pen

 

Some specs:

  • 104 gsm bright white paper (fountain pen-friendly, smooth, makes for a top-notch writing experience)
  • Smyth Sewn binding (yes! lays flat easily)
  • sustainably sourced paper
  • 224 pages (you won’t need a new one any time soon)
  •  5.5” by 8.25”
  • Made in the U.S.A.

You can find the First Draft Co. notebook (together with the Blackwing pencils and gorgeous desk gear they offer) here.

 

–Reviewed by author and guest blogger Timothy Jones

 


 

Thanks to the kind folks at First Draft Co. for the notebook for review, provided without any expectation as to the content of this write-up.

The Rhodia Webbie for Long-Range Planning (by Hand!)

Back before the days of advanced task management apps, I rocked a Franklin Covey 7 Habits of Highly Effective People planner. It had everything. Insert pages for contact information (before we kept that all in our phones), daily layouts for schedules and to-do items, and a section in the back for values planning and writing out my personal mission statement.

Task tracking for me is significantly easier on a device, since I can see what I have to do (and check it off) from just about anywhere. But hashing out the bigger picture life stuff doesn’t seem to quite fit in OmniFocus or 2Do.

So for long-range planning and goal setting, I’ve gone back to paper.

I now have as many dedicated-use notebooks as I have to-do apps—a liability transferred to merely a different medium—but a notebook just for “the 30,000-foot view” has been helpful. Here’s what I’ve been using—the black Rhodia Webbie:

 

rhodia-webbie-0

 

As you can see, it looks much like the hardcover, 5″ x 8.25″ Moleskine. But the Webbie (a.k.a., Webnotebook) is better, not least because it’s got 90 gsm Clairefontaine “brushed vellum paper,” which seems to be made for fountain pens. (Moleskine, by contrast, is not fountain pen-friendly.)

Much like its counterpart, the Webbie has a hard and smooth leatherette cover. I’m not in love with the cover, but I’ve grown accustomed to it and it is fine. The notebook is bound shut with an elastic wrap-around strap. This offers a nice way to store a pen with the notebook, in fact.

 

rhodia-webbie-1

 

There’s an expandable back pocket, so you can keep papers, receipts, photos, etc. with the Webbie.

 

rhodia-webbie-2

 

An 8.5” x 11” piece of paper, folded in half, just barely fits inside the notebook, though its edges come out a bit. No matter—this is not a notebook with U.S. dimensions! It’s A5, which is as tall as the Moleskine, but wider, which I find more natural for extended writing.

It does remarkably well with a fountain pen. The smooth paper feels wonderful, and provides no feathering or bleeding of ink. For that matter, there’s hardly any show-through.

 

rhodia-webbie-3

 

rhodia-webbie-4

 

My one complaint about the Webbie (besides the fact that my text editor keeps wanting to auto-correct it to Rhoda Debbie) is that the ribbon marker feels too short. It just barely extends out of the notebook, about an inch or less.

Other than that, the Webbie is as good an all-purpose notebook as I’ve written in. And it’s working great for me to replace the role those 7 Habits planning pages once played. There’s plenty of room on a page to do some serious writing, note-taking, brainstorming, or drawing, but the size still makes it portable enough to go anywhere. In terms of specs, look, feel, and quality, the LEUCHTTURM1917 notebook is quite similar, though the Webbie is a bit slimmer and has slightly fewer pages.

With 192 pages of paper (96 sheets), the Webbie ought to last its users for at least a couple months before they need a new one.

You can find the Webbie here or here.

 


 

Thanks to the kind folks at Rhodia for the notebook for review, provided without any expectation as to the content of my write-up.

The Near-Perfect Driftwood Leather Field Notes Cover (Popov Leather)

Now that your Field Notes: Sweet Tooth Edition have arrived (and they do not disappoint!), what are you going to put them in? Your pocket, of course. But unless you’re wearing chaps, you can’t put your notebook into your pocket and into leather at the same time.

Well, actually you can. And there’s hardly a better way to do it than with Popov Leather’s perfectly constructed and reasonably priced Leather Field Notes Cover. Popov has a wide array of leather covers (here). In this post I review the Driftwood leather cover with pockets ($49). You can protect your pocket notebooks, make them smell good, have pockets in your pockets, and avoid chaps–all with one piece of gear.

The packaging, if I may quote Kendrick Lamar, is A1:

 

0_In Wrapping

 

It looks great out of the wrapper–there’s even a personalization option:

 

1_Front Cover

 

The only lack I could perceive in this top-notch piece of EDC gear is a place to easily keep a pen. (And maybe, too, a way to keep the notebook shut, but it stays flat and closed on its own just fine.)

I made a slight modification to mine so I could have a pen with it at all times:

 

2_Fron Cover w Pen and Band

 

Inside on the left are two card slots for credit cards, cash, business cards, driver’s license, and so on:

 

3_Left Inside Pocket

 

When you order, you can select the color of thread–the blue pops, but not too much. It looks great.

And if you haven’t gathered already from the images above, the stitching is flawless (and done by hand):

 

5_Stitching Close-up

 

6_Stitching Close-up 2

 

7_Stitching Close-up 3

 

It was from the Popov Leather site, in fact, that I learned the mechanics of why hand-stitching lasts longer than machine-stitching.

You can easily fit two 3.5″ x 5.5″ notebooks:

 

4_Two Notebooks

 

Already the leather is softening and getting a distinctive look. What kind of leather, you ask? Horween’s Chromexcel, of course. And have I mentioned how detailed the Popov Leather site is? Lots of makers are using Horween, but why? Popov tells you.

I’ve got two use cases for this notebook cover that have worked really well.

Setup the First: Into the left slot goes the notebook I use for weekly meal menus and handwritten recipes or food prep notes. The right slot holds the notebook I use for shopping lists. (I know… that’s getting a little specialized on the Field Notes.) But then I can keep grocery store receipts in the card pockets and have everything in one place, which helps not just with long-range menu planning, but also budget tracking.

Setup the Second: Daily note-taking with more catch-all pocket notebooks. Card pockets for little notes and other scraps of paper.

So this one is a winner. A Popov Tweet suggests a pen loop may be in the works for future editions, but Field Notes covers with loops are the rarer breed anyway. Bonus: you get a free Field Notes notebook inserted into the cover.

The look, feel, smell, and craftsmanship of the Driftwood Leather Field Notes Cover are about as good as it gets. Check it out here.

 


 

Thanks to Popov Leather for sending the Driftwood cover for the purposes of the review. Their kindness in sending the sample did not keep me from an honest and objective assessment in my review. I also cross-posted this review at the new Words on the Goods.

Fountain Pen Review: Kaweco STUDENT Fountain Pen Vintage Blue (Extra Fine)

Ah, Kaweco: The German writing implement company is almost a century older than I am, yet I just learned of them this last year. Now in addition to my review of their SKETCH UP pencil, I bring you a review of the Kaweco STUDENT Fountain Pen. The color of the pen is Vintage Blue; the nib is Extra Fine.

 

The STUDENT Fountain Pen’s Construction

 

The STUDENT Fountain Pen feels just about perfect in the hand–ballpoint pen writers will find it to be of suitable length. It’s sturdy but not heavy.

And it looks great:

 

Cap On

 

Here it is with the cap off:

 

Cap Off

 

It can fit just fine into a pants pocket, though you may not want it bumping up against your keys. (I prefer a case for my fountain pens.) You will notice in the image above that there is a built-in clip. The vintage blue color and silver clip make it look really good in a front shirt pocket–and it will stay there, too.

 

Writing with the Pen

 

Kaweco STUDENT Pen

 

I’m still new to the world of fountain pens, but I do know that even flow in fountain pens is not a given. With the STUDENT pen it’s all smooth sailing. This particular pen ships with royal blue ink, which looks fantastic. It’s easy–even for fountain pen neophytes–to buy and pop in ink cartridge refills.

As to using this pen posted or unposted (i.e., with the cap on or off), I suspect the intention is to use it however you prefer. The downside to keeping the cap off, of course, is that you might lose it! With the STUDENT fountain pen, long periods of writing might call for keeping it unposted, so as to slightly reduce its weight.

Finally, I passed the pen over to a fellow fountain pen user for this thoughts:

Nice, even ink flow. The pen is amply sized. I have medium to large hands and found that when the cap was posted the feel was hefty but comfortable and well-weighted. A smaller hand could use the pen unposted. I liked the rich blue of the barrel. Not gaudy, but also not muted.

 

EF Nib with Cap

 

You can check out Kaweco’s STUDENT fountain pen line here. (This pen is Item #10000781, and came with a nice tin gift box.) And if you are so inclined you can order the STUDENT pen via JetPens or Most Wanted Pens.

 


 

Many thanks to the fine folks at Kaweco for the pen for review! Check them out here.

The Word from Words on the Word on Word. Pocket Notebooks

Here, in one page, is my assessment of the Dot Grid pocket notebooks from Word. Notebooks:

 

Review IN SUM

 

Here are a few more notes I took before summarizing, if you want some more details:

 

Review Text Notes 1

 

Review Text Notes 2

 

Here are the hyperlinks:

Word. Notebooks // Word. Dot Grid

 

And now… images follow–click or tap to enlarge. (All the images above are of text written in Word. notebooks themselves.)

 

0_Package

 

1_In wrapper

 

2_Back wrapper

 

3_Back inside cover

 

4_Inside dot grid

 

5_Front cover

 


 

Thanks to the friendly folks at Word. Notebooks for the review samples, given to me with no expectation as to the content of my review.

This Blog’s First Handwritten Review (Inkleaf Field Notes Covers)

I wasn’t kidding about trying to write by hand more in 2016. To that end, I bring you my first handwritten review. Below I evaluate another Field Notes leather cover, this one the Slim Cover from Inkleaf.

And because my handwriting doesn’t hyperlink, after the images of my written review, I add the hyperlinks… and lots of pictures.

 

Review Text 1

 

Review Text 2

 

Review Text 3

 

Review Text 4

 

Hyperlinks:

Inkleaf’s Story // The Field Notes Slim Cover // Inkleaf’s home page

 

Images Follow–click or tap to enlarge:

 

0_Leather Cover in Bag

 

1_Front Cover Closed

 

2_Front Cover Open

 

3_Open on Table

 

4_Inkleaf in Action

 

5_Inside Elastic

 

6_Inside Elastic 2

 

7_Side View

 

If You Want to Cover Your Field Notes in Leather… (ColsenKeane)

In my quest to write by hand more regularly, I’ve learned two things:

  1. There are LOTS of companies that make 3.5″x5.5″ pocket notebooks, not least of which is Field Notes.
  2. Not content to let those little notebooks exist unadorned, a number of folks have created leather covers.

One such company is ColsenKeane, a creator of custom leather goods. Their founder, Scott Hofert, believes in manufacturing high-quality goods that will last for a long time:

In our modern society, it’s next to impossible to find long-haul products. Passion-infused items crafted with fanatical detail. At ColsenKeane, we believe our leather pieces are creating form, function AND narrative.

I’m grateful to ColsenKeane for sending me a Field Notes Cover so I can bring you this review. The color is “Brown Crazy Horse.”

 

* * * * * * *

 

You can tell these folks take delight in their work, a trait I appreciate. Here is what the packaging looked like:

 

Packaging Wrapped
wrapped

 

Packaging Unwrapped
unwrapped

 

It was so well presented, I almost didn’t want to open it, but I ripped into it quickly enough.

 

1_Front Cover Unwrapped

 

2_Look Inside

 

It came with two Field Notes inserts. This is one of the salient features of this leather cover–it’s specifically intended for two notebooks.

 

3_with Field Notes Inserts

 

Just because you can insert two notebooks doesn’t mean you have to. This is one of those how full do you like your wallet? questions. Avid notebook users will probably have more than one memo book, each for a different purpose. So I like the decision to set up the cover to be able to accommodate two notebooks.

There is an option for three-letter monogramming:

 

4_Monogram

 

The elastic place marker is not something I would have known I’d appreciate, but I do:

 

5_Ready to Write

 

Everything is held together by elastic. The leather, of course, will last for ages–the elastic may not. So far I’ve had no issues with mine, but ColsenKeane does sell replacement elastic (or you can get your own), if need be. Elastic and leather feel like a funny combination, but ColsenKeane has done a nice job of putting everything together.

Let me show you in pictures–you basically just slide the open notebook into one of the elastic pieces, and it fits pretty securely.

 

8_Elastic 2

 

9_Elastic to hold book

 

The elastic closure to keep the notebook closed is probably not utterly essential, but it has a good job to do, especially if you’re putting the notebook cover in your pocket.

 

6_Strap Closure

 

7_Front Cover Wrapped

 

The leather cover works great for other non-Field Notes notebooks, too, especially if they’re 3.5″x5.5″:

 

10_Word Inside Cover

 

The little Baron Fig Apprentice notebooks are 5 inches (not 5.5) high, so they’re a little looser, but they actually work pretty well in this cover, too:

 

11_Two Confidants

 

Or you could mix and match:

 

12_With Apprentice and Field Notes

 

There is no pen holder, per se, but it’s easy enough to clip a pen to the cover.

ColsenKeane’s Field Notes cover is really well constructed. Two thumbs up for that. Of course, you don’t need a leather cover for your pocket notebooks. Pocket notebooks do just fine in your pocket without leather covering them.

But the Field Notes cover looks really cool and smells and feels good, so I’ll keep using it, as long into 2016 (and beyond?) as my analogue kick continues. It is an awesome piece of workmanship, and enhances the writing experience, giving me another Pavlovian motivation to be on paper more and at the screen less.

More info about the leather cover is here.

 


 

Many thanks to the fine folks at Colsen Keane for the notebook cover for review! Learn more about the company here.