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.