Between The Lines

Between The Lines

I guess writers kind of have a reputation for being fussy about stationery. Roald Dahl would only write with a particular kind of pencil, after all—I remember reading this when I was a kid and being amazed that anyone would be that particular, because I would literally pick up anything and write with it.

I’ve always liked nice notebooks, though, and was frequently given Paperblank notebooks for Christmas or my birthday … but I never really used them. Not a lot. I didn’t want to, because they were too nice. They were pretty and decorative and they sat on the shelves being neglected.

As I got a bit older I realised this was ridiculous, so I started writing in them a bit more, but I never filled them up. Not beyond the first twenty pages or so. It’s an effort to finish nice notebooks – I’ve managed it about twice. The first one was a notebook decorated with an old map of the world, which I wrote in every single day from January 22nd, 2012 until May 14th, 2012, because that’s when it filled up. I missed maybe two days, and I made up for them the next day. I wrote the same amount each day, and it was a journal and a diary and a place to jot down poems and story ideas.

The second was a black Rhodia notebook that I was given for my birthday this year, which I filled with poems and story notes and wrote in almost every day until I filled it up at the end of April. I had two of them—they’re labelled. One says 13.1 and the other 13.2, being the first and second notebooks used in 2013. I’m working through 13.2 at the moment.

But generally, my policy has always been to buy cheap notebooks, several for a pound, and scrawl all over them.

This hasn’t always served me particularly well. On one ill-fated holiday a few years ago, one of these notebooks was in my bag when I was climbing a mountain in the rain, and my bag got drenched. The ink washed off the paper and the pages dissolved, because it only had a paper cover, and therefore was completely not waterproof at all.

Nowadays, using these fancy leather notebooks that I can’t afford (but other people will buy for me), this is less of a problem. The water doesn’t soak all the way through, and I’m less likely to lose my work.

And I’ve become picky about my stationery.

The thing is, I’m not talking about these notebooks that I use to write. I don’t have to have specific dimensions for those, and I’ll generally write in any pen—I just need something that fulfils a few criteria (big enough for a line of a poem to fit on one line on the page, but small enough to fit in my bag without taking up room, or in the pocket of my hoodie or coat; preferably won’t melt when it rains). I’m talking about what I write on for school.

It has to be narrow ruled. Seriously. I can’t stand wide ruled paper, and I will never understand why they make us write on it for exams. My handwriting is small enough that it’s just a waste of space. You have to buy more paper if you use wide ruled pads, too—you can’t fit as much on a page. And it just looks so ugly!

Oh, and then there’s the paper where the lines are very black and very solid. It’s hideous. Paper should be feint ruled—it’s there as a guideline, right? It’s not decoration. I didn’t buy stripy paper for the sake of it, I just bought it so that I could write in straight lines. No thank you with those ugly dark lines.

As a result of these particulars, it’s almost impossible for me to buy A4 notebooks that fit my needs. I have to get them online. Even then, the ones I buy are a) more expensive than necessary and b) 7mm ruled, which is one above narrow ruled (6mm) and one below wide ruled (8mm). But it’s close enough, and they’re nice paper.

Then we come to pens. I write in fountain pen. This has a few side effects (for a start, I need quality paper, or the ink just goes straight through, and I like to write on both sides of the page), but generally makes my handwriting better than the unreadable scrawl into which it deteriorates if I write in biro. I also like to write in green ink*. Now, lower down the school we were told to write in blue or black, so I dutifully wrote in blue for five years, only using black when it was unavoidable.

And then I got into sixth form and they didn’t care any more, so I gleefully filled my fountain pens with green and purple cartridges, much to the annoyance of my teachers. (My English teacher marks in green, and is always infuriated when I hand in work that I’ve written in green ink, as he has to go and find another pen to mark it with.)

But green ink cartridges are fairly hard to get hold of in shops, so I buy those off the internet too. I’m nearly out of the ones I bought at the beginning of this year, so I’ll buy some more before long.

All of this means that my stationery is more expensive than most people’s. Not because I want to be posh or whatever, but because ordinary stationery just doesn’t cut it. And I’m a writer. I’m allowed to be fussy about things like this, aren’t I?

This post is mainly a result of having spent half an hour fruitlessly looking for notebooks for when I go back to school next week for the last six or seven weeks of term, and eventually paying more than I wanted to for ones that only just fit into my specifications. I’ve been so frustrated this year because using refill pads and folders means I tend not to file my notes, and lose them all within a couple of days. No longer! I’m using notebooks this year. Proper ones. Posh ones. Ones with nice, purple, 7mm lines and slightly shiny paper to stop the ink going through.

The green ink.

Because some things are necessary.

*massive advantage of fountain pens: when exam season rolls around and they insist that everybody must write in black or the exam paper scanners won’t pick it up, you can take the green cartridge out and put a black one in, and then you get to use the same pen but it’s the right colour. Trust me, it’s worth the effort.

30 thoughts on “Between The Lines

  1. I have the same difficulty using beautiful notebooks for jotters, and I use green ink; I wonder if this is coincidence or actually a sign they are symptoms of a particular trait?

    I got around the issue of cartridges being hard to find by using a converter in my Lamy. Bottles of green ink are considerably easier to find.

    1. I used to use a converter, but the pen I used it with broke, and my current one isn’t compatible :(
      I’ve been told that a preference for green ink is a symptom of schizophrenia. Whether or not this is true, I haven’t been able to determine, but if my characters count as ‘voices in my head’ …

        1. Ha ha ha, yes, I think it may be something my dad made up to mock me for my green ink usage. But I don’t know. Someone once told me that writing is just schizophrenia with a plot, and certainly I’m appalling in social situations, but I think that’s just introversion, and not a mental disorder. Hopefully. That would be inconvenient.

  2. I’m in law school, and nearly everyone takes their notes by computer. I do mine by hand. With narrow-ruled notebooks, naturally. I’m right with you on the wide-ruled notebooks. I was curious, though, are your notebooks bound with the little metal spirals, or wireless? That’s one thing I’m particular about; I can’t do the notebooks with the wired metal binding. The spirals always seem to get bent and it’s messy….of course, sometimes the wireless notebooks don’t hold together as they should, but still.

    1. I use spiral-bound notebooks because they open flatter than casebound notebooks, in my experience. They don’t tend to last long enough in my keeping for breakage to be a problem. That said, I’m only reverting to using notebooks rather than loose sheets of paper and folders after a year of trial and error (I used to use the exercise books we were given in school, which were paperbound and thin), so I can’t offer too much insight on them.

  3. I love my stationery too! I have simply loads of notebooks, most of which I haven’t written in (yet). I like all sorts of notebooks – from cheap reporters notepads bought for cheap in the Woolworths closing down sale, to big expensive Moleskines. I find it hard to start writing in a new notebook, as I somehow feel that the words I write have to be worthy.

    These days, I do most of my creative writing on computer, but I do occasionally like to do some by hand. However, I’ve only ever managed to write one novel by hand, and it was a children’s novel that came in at about 30k I think. I find writing by hand helps to slow me down and think more about what I’m writing.

    As for writing implements, I’m not a big fan of pens. I find that they can smudge the page (as least, they do when I use them!), and it’s frustrating when they dry up and simply won’t write. For this reason I prefer to write with pencils, and specifically mechanical pencils – I find having to sharpen a pencil frustrating and, if it’s not a very good pencil, it can be hard to get it just right. And mechanical pencils tend to come in three different lead sizes – 5mm, 7mm, and 9mm. My preference is 7mm. I find that 5mm leads are too brittle, and 9mm leads draw a line thicker then I would like. 7mm leads give me what I want. (I also use a mechanical pencil at work, and they only have 9mm ones there, which is annoying!)

    So, yeah, everyone has their preferences! :o)

    1. I prefer 5mm leads (but I always use mechanical pencils too), as my handwriting is small, and they help me to keep it readable. I like the twisty ‘nonstop’ pencils you can get better than the push button ones, because although they aren’t reusable and are probably appalling in environmental terms, you don’t have to fiddle around replacing the leads, and they don’t break as easily. However, as I carry my notebooks around with me, pencil tends to rub off and become hard to read after a while, when the pages rub together, so I avoid it for writing.
      I usually write prose straight onto the computer, though often I’ll draft a scene or some plot ideas in a notebook because they’ll come to me when I’m away from my laptop, but poetry I always write in my notebook first. That’s often because it’s triggered by something around me and comes at a strange time, but it also gives me a chance to edit it when I type it up. As I end up rewriting prose a lot anyway, that’s not quite the same concern. :)
      Ah, Woolworths closing down sales … yes, I bought a pencil case for 10p, and some Pic ‘n’ Mix for 11p. Always made me laugh that the pencil case was cheaper.

  4. :) I’m so glad it’s not just me that is like that with my stationary. My parents are continually puzzled at why, when all my friends are buying new clothes and jewellery, I spend nearly every penny of my money on stationary. I absolutely adore paperblanks notebooks, and am constantly buying new ones- despite the fact that I never even write with most of them.

    I’m also completely with you on the fountain pen thing. I write in fountain pen, never biros, and I’m very specific about my ink colours. I write in blue, but it has to be a specific brand of ink to ensure it’s the right SHADE of blue. I save my coloured ink for writing letters. :)

    My recent stationary related obsession is using very old fashioned stationary. When I’m not using fountain pen, I write with my dipping pen or my handmade quills. I also have a lovely wax seal with a phoenix on it- nobody else I know uses seals!

    Don’t even get me started on lined paper. Honestly. ;)

    1. I love seals! I have one too — it’s a calligraphic ‘M’. When I was about seven or eight I saw them in a castle in Scotland or something and completely fell in love with them, but my parents wouldn’t let me buy one. It was years before I got my own, and I use it often to seal letters, although they frequently break in the post so I save it for cards that I’ll deliver in person. I have another one where the image is just a feather pen and ink, but I don’t use that as much. I use both gold and red wax — the red more often, unless it’s black paper or something, and then it’s gold :)
      I have several dip pens (it was three at the last count, but this morning I was given some belonging to my great-great-uncle or something, so I have no idea how many I have now) as well as a glass one that I bought in Italy, and three feather pens. One of the feathered pens was very expensive: it’s a black feather with a decorative metal mount for the nib, and we bought it in some artsy shop in Durham. It was a Christmas present a few years ago. Not sure if the metal is silver or just silver plated but it’s posh :D I don’t use it as much as I should, though I went through a phase of handing in (blobbily written) homework that I’d done using those pens.
      Most of my money still goes on books, but stationery comes close behind. I try and save — I want to buy a harp, and it’s taking me years to get enough money — but sometimes spending is just unavoidable. Oh, and music. I buy quite a few CDs because I like owning music but don’t believe in pirating it…
      Lined paper is the bane of my existence because of its complications. Honest.

      1. :D I think that quills and dip pens and seals and wax and expensive pens and notebooks and paper are much more rewarding than the things other people spend money on. I’m very excited- I’m moving house soon, and although I haven’t decided anything else, I’m already planning exactly what my desk will look like! I want to to have a proper ink well and keep all of my old fashioned stationary there. :) There’s just something about old-looking stationary that really appeals to me.

        p.s. I’m currently writing in green ink. XD

        1. I’d love to have an old fashioned desk — my grandad had a dark wood one with a green leather section in the middle. It was lovely. However, I tend to find them the wrong height/size for me, which is inconvenient. There’s also not a lot of point my keeping things on my desk as it’s dominated by my laptop, which I have to move. I have a desk tidy in which is contained my four dip pens (I miscounted earlier) and my sealing wax and seal :) The ink is elsewhere, though, as are matches, so it’s mainly just for show that it’s kept there. Hahaha!

  5. My writing almost always takes place when I am sleep deprived or drunk…because of this my laptop as a writing aid is a life saver :-P spell check!!!

    1. I’m actually better at spelling when I’m tired. When I’m awake I sort of stare at words for ages trying to work out why they don’t look right. However, when I write when I’m tired I tend to find that I can’t read my own handwriting, so from that point of view a laptop is more convenient.

  6. I prefer to write on a computer, but when I handwrite I mostly use mechanical pencils. I can’t stand to use wood pencils because the letters turn out bigger unless I sharpen the pencils constantly. Then when I go back and make notes for the next draft, I use these colorful pens I have: blue, purple, pink, and yes, sometimes green. :)

    I used to not want to use my pretty notebooks because they’re so, well, pretty, until I decided that was silly.

    Here we call it wide-ruled and college-ruled, and honestly I can’t tell the difference. I’ll write on whatever, including my hands.

    1. Oh, I write on my hands all the time. It’s appalling — sometimes it goes all the way up my arms. (But I demonstrated that a couple of posts ago.)
      I suppose I’m college-ruled then. I’m just clearly much more mature… :)

  7. Haha, I’m not picky in the slightest with things I write ON, but I’ll only ever use biros, or other less-smudgeable pens. Otherwise my retarded pen-holding method results in unreadable smudge.

    I like to think the fact that I once wrote a whole chapter on a set of six napkins makes up for my pickiness on that front though.

  8. I enjoyed this post. And I totally understand what you mean about the type of paper, and its oddly fun to read your rant about it. I never really write on actual paper, but when you talk about it, I totally get it.

    And I’ve always had gifts that were too nice to use, so I’m with you on that. Felt silly later in life, but I’ve definitely done that.

    BTW, there are some very British English things about this post, which is very fun for me to read. Starting with the use of pound, of course. And then A4 paper. Not sure what “biro” is. Sixth form and your English teacher “marking” rather than “grading” your assignments. I’m really not quite sure how your school schedule works. We mostly started in August or Sept and went until June (or possibly late May). Hearing you refer to it as “term” is fun for me as well. We don’t have “refill pads and folders.” I have to imagine this is similar to using a three ring binder. (?)

    We do, however, use the term “hoodie” and I think its funny we both use that. And somewhat unexpected. For us, it’s a hooded sweatshirt. For you as well?

    And I hope you have less difficulties finding the right sort of notebook in the future!

    1. A biro is a ballpoint pen! :) And folders are the same as binders, refill pads are notepads with the paper you put in your folder.

      To explain terms… school is usually from September to July, the there are three terms. The terms are:
      The first day back after the summer holidays until the Christmas holiday
      The first day back after the Chrismas holiday until the Easter holiday
      The first day back after the Easter holiday until the summer holidays again. :)

      It’s the same kind of thing as a semester. And a hoodie is the same thing for us!

      (Sorry to reply to this, seeing as it isn’t my blog, but I’m British and now go to school with a lot of American people. I’m used to the differences. :) Is it true that Americans don’t use the word posh?)

      1. Ahh, you replied. I should have checked all the comments before I did. But I went into more detail, ehehe.

        You know, ‘posh’ isn’t actually a word. It’s an acronym.

        1. Port out starboard home, yes? Something about posh people standing on the right side of the deck when on a boat. XD At least, that’s one explanation…

          1. It’s to do with the best cabins in a boat. On the way out, the port would be on your left (hence ‘Port’), so you would have cabins there to wave to all your family and ensure that the populace would see you being all fancy in your cabin. On the way home, it’d be on the right, so you’d have a cabin there for the same reason. These were the best cabins so they’d write on the ticket POSH and of course, it became associated with the people who could afford that.
            I think I’ve remembered that all correctly…

          2. It’s to do with the best cabins in a boat. On the way out, the port would be on your left (hence ‘Port’), so you would have cabins there to wave to all your family and ensure that the populace would see you being all fancy in your cabin. On the way home, it’d be on the right, so you’d have a cabin there for the same reason. These were the best cabins so they’d write on the ticket POSH and of course, it became associated with the people who could afford that.

    2. I’m just going to go and explain all these things now … that didn’t even occur to me, ha ha ha! Sometimes I feel like we’re speaking completely different languages. But yes, a hoodie is the same for us. Unlike a jumper. Apparently that’s completely different.

      A biro is a ballpoint pen, I guess. Sixth form is the last two years of school (Lower Sixth is Junior year for you guys; Upper Sixth is Senior year).

      Okay! School schedule is like this!:
      September — Autumn term begins. It runs until mid October, when we have a one-week break (‘half term’), and then go back to school until just before Christmas. At Christmas, we have two weeks holiday.
      January — Spring term begins. It runs until mid February, when we have a one-week break (‘half term’) and then go back to school until just before Easter. At Easter, we have two weeks holiday. That’s our Spring break, but they arrange it to coincide with Easter.
      April — Summer term begins. This varies according to where Easter falls in the year but basically, this is after our spring break. It runs until late May when we have our half term break again (It’s currently the last weekend of half term for most people over here). Then school starts again and runs until mid-late July. We then have around six weeks holiday before school resumes in September.

      However, this can vary. Charley, for example, has longer summer holidays than me, because she goes to a private school, and they have longer school days but also longer holidays. Most state schools have the same schedule as mine, although in some areas there are more, shorter terms rather than the three we have. Also, for year 11 students (age 16), summer begins when exams finish, usually in late June, so they get a longer holiday. Likewise year 13 (upper sixth; last year of school), and obviously they don’t have to go back in September!

      We have standardised exams (GCSEs at 16, AS Levels at 17, A2 Levels at 18), and we get the results for those in August.

      Refill pads are, erm, like pads of paper that you take the paper out of? You know, you’re not supposed to leave the pages in, you just pull them out when you want to use them. Right. And ring-binders over here tend to have either two or four rings. Two is more usual, but some are inconvenient. Never heard of one with three. That’d be weird, because no paper is punched with three holes here… mental.

      I feel like I should write a British English / American English page for my blog so that there’s a reference resource for anybody ever confused. Hahaha!

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