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.




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.




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.




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:




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.




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




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.






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.)




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



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


Packaging 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:




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.

Pencil Review: Kaweco SKETCH UP Classic Chrome

More than half my writing by hand these days happens with an implement from Kaweco in Germany. They are brand new to me, but Kaweco has been making writing instruments since 1883.

I’m especially eager to share my impressions of their outstanding LILIPUT fountain pen, but I’m saving that post for later. Here I briefly assess their SKETCH UP pencil.


The Pencil’s Construction


The SKETCH UP is a heavy beast. You will feel manly or womanly every time you pick it up to sketch. Its octagonal barrel somehow adds to its impressiveness. You simply cannot ignore its heft.


2_Side View


Having used pretty much only No. 2 pencils my whole life–with mechanical pencils constituting my sole upgrade–the 5.6 mm lead felt mammoth, yet also softer and smoother than any other pencil I’ve used.

The SKETCH UP is not as long as your run-of-the-mill pencil, so it will fit into any pocket.

I am only slightly embarrassed to admit it took me a few tries to figure out the mechanism that feeds the lead through.


3_Pencil Point


You have to push the button at the top of the barrel with one hand (to release the lead) and use another hand to adjust the lead to the desired length, before releasing the push button again. Then you’re all set to draw.


Writing with the SKETCH UP


4_Kaweco SKETCH UP


Writing and sketching with the SKETCH UP feels great. Shading is easy and smooth. It’s maybe heavy for writing a lot of words, but even for taking notes, it would do well. Sketching, however, is its primary intended purpose, and for that it is a workhorse.

And, get this: it’s got a built in point sharpener. The push button uncaps to sharpen your point.


1_SketchUp with Sharpener


You can check out Kaweco’s SKETCH UP line here. (This pencil is Item #10000946, and came with a nice tin gift box.) And if you are so inclined you can order the SKETCH UP via JetPens or Most Wanted Pens.



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

Notebook Review: Hard Bound Cloth A5 (Orange!) by Sweden’s Whitelines

In college, when I was a prolific journaler, I filled up two or three wonderful lay-flat books with all sorts of feelings and existential insights/ramblings. My journal of choice featured semi-invisible lines, which were a guide to keep me writing straight, but subtle enough that I didn’t really notice once I looked at a filled-up page.

I noticed this fall that a Swedish company makes such a subtly-ruled notebook: Whitelines.

First, let me show you the outside of the orange A5 Hard Bound Cloth notebook:




The linen cloth gives the hardcover notebook an organic feel. The orange ribbon marker looks good, too. This is definitely a classy notebook.

What sets Whitelines apart from other notebooks is the… well… white lines it uses. Here’s what a page looks like:


Full Page of Writing


The white lines look great on the colored 80g paper. You can tell from the page above that there’s a little bleed-through, though. This was using a Pilot G2 07 gel pen. An extra fine fountain pen fares better.

The branding is minimal, but I can’t think of another notebook I’ve used that had the company name on every page:


Whitelines Logo on Page


I have gotten used to this in time and don’t really notice it anymore.

Apart from the really nice experience of writing on white lines, this notebook lays flat really well, even when you’re writing on the first few pages on the left-hand side. Kudos to the makers for getting that right! The sewn binding is welcome, too. This means the notebook will last a long time.

I use the Whitelines notebook as my primary journal, since it has a classic look and feel. And because this particular book is orange, I will (probably) never lose it.

Want to give it a go? Whitelines has a variety of .pdf samples of their pages here, so you can print them out and try it.

You can see more Whitelines products here. The Hard Bound Cloth A5–available in both orange and grey–can be found here.



Many thanks to the fine folks at Whitelines for the notebook for review!

Notebook Review: Northbooks 5×8 Dot Grid, Softcover

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to write 8 minutes (or more) every day. At least three days a week I plan to write by hand. Less than 10 minutes seems doable, modest even, but also enough to build on itself. Yesterday, without really meaning to, I wrote for an hour. This morning was just 10 minutes.

I’ve got at least these two other notebooks to fill up, but for every-day writing I’ve been using a nice 5″x8″ softcover dot grid notebook from Northbooks. I know this is psychological, but that its softcover means I feel more free to just jot things down quickly than I would in a leather or even hardbound journal. So it’s been perfect for my 8 minutes.

It looks like this:


Front Cover


I love the size. It will fit into a large jeans pocket and is easy to stash in a satchel or purse. I really like the look and feel of it.

The cover logo is minimalistic. If you have a ruled notebook, you see lines instead of dots. A nice touch. You could easily title your notebook and write it on the cover.

And I’m a big fan of the dot grid pages:




These will also be sketch-friendly.

The acid-free paper is of high quality and made in the U.S.A. The paper is 50% post-consumer, smooth but not too smooth, and the perfect thickness. There is no significant bleed-through, even when using a fine fountain pen. I was impressed by this.

Northbooks’s product page touts a lay-flat binding:

Lays Flatter Than Most Notebooks: Binding is not attached to the external cover, so our notebook opens flatter than a typical glued binding. Makes for fuss-free writing/reading.

The binding is plenty secure, as is the cover:





But binding and cover are intentionally separate, as seen here:


Lay Flat


This does, of course, mean flatter opening than a cover and binding that are glued together, but I still had to hold down one side of the notebook to be able to write in it. It does not lay flat on its own. (I’m not sure anyone would expect a softcover notebook this size to lay flat anyway.)

There’s plenty of room, even in this compact and portable notebook–96 pages (48 sheets)–for ideas, plans, to-do lists, art, and anything else.

You can learn more about the notebook here. One pays perhaps a higher price than expected for this notebook, but it is, of course, more expensive to make everything in the U.S. And this is a notebook that looks ready to stand the test of time. The 5-pack is significantly discounted, compared to buying a single one. You can see more Northbooks notebooks here.



Many thanks to the fine folks at Northbooks for the notebook for review! Check them out here.