Going Old-School

I am working on a script for a podcast, and I was utterly failing at it. I was writing too much, not focusing on what was important, getting lost in the text that I was working on. After trying to write the script in Google docs and failing, and trying to record without a set script and failing, I tried a trick that helped me before when I was stuck with a writers block.

I used a typewriter.

For me typewriters are magical machines that on the one hand force me to slow down and consider every word, and on the other hand let me get into a writing rhythm that other writing instruments just don’t allow for. There’s a beat to writing with a typewriter. It makes you earn every word.

If you’re a writer, get thee a typewriter, and earn every word.

Going Old-School

How I Use My Notebooks: Yearly Goals (Resolutions)

Near the end of one year and the beginning of another various articles and podcasts about New Year resolutions start popping up. They either give tips on how to make resolutions, debunk resolutions in favour of something else, and almost all of them try to sell you something.

This post is about how I create yearly goals (i.e. resolutions), using things that I already have, in a way that has worked for me since 2015.

I wrote about the way I do “New Years Resolutions” in the past. I call them that because I like the non-business ring of “resolution” over the “business-jargon” sounding goal. My “resolutions” are, however, S.M.A.R.T. goals: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. I manage them using the least used notebook that I had lying around (a Baron Fig Confidant), and whichever pen I have at hand. They aren’t made for instagram, rather I use my plain ugly handwriting, and what marking are on the page are there because they’re useful. Over the past five years I’ve attained about 90% of what I set out to achieve, with even an annus horribilis like 2018 not putting me too much off track. My goals are tiered, much like Kickstarter stretch goals, with most goals having a fairly easily attainable first tier, just in case life decides to kick me in a tender place.

I’m going to go over this year’s goals, and last year’s goals (apart from a few that I’ve censored for privacy’s sake). I know that February is usually the month when people give up on their resolutions. I hope that this post will help and inspire people to give yearly goals or resolutions a chance.

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My 2020 resolutions

Above you can see my 2020 resolutions. A lot of them are things that appear in almost every year. The professional goals are all new (I didn’t manage my professional goals with my personal goals until this year, and even now only a small part of my professional goals are here). 

Every goal at this point only has the basic, first tier goals set beside it. The first three goals for example, all reading related, will eventually have stretch goals. They’re interesting to note here because back in 2016 I only had one reading goal: read 24 books. Once I got back into the habit of reading, I started to challenge myself with longer and more challenging books. These are all my base reading goals. I usually stretch them to around 50 books a year.

Why don’t I start with 50 books then? Because the point of these goals is to build myself up for success. The basic goals are the “even if I have a horrible year I should be able to reach these” goals. They are there to remind me that there’s a tomorrow, and something I can and should do about that tomorrow, even if a family member is hospitalized (or worse). The stretch goals are then built in small increments, reaching to my my final goal for the year.

Why don’t I write my stretch goals down from the start? Because the point is to keep myself focused on the next small step. That’s why things are broken down to the smallest increment that makes sense: one book, 10k, one month.

There’s a reason for each goal on this spread. I won’t go into each one specifically, but they all fall into the following general categories:

  • Read more.
  • Write more (my writing goals are censored, because if I publish them, I won’t do them. I know myself well enough by now).
  • Use the stuff I own.
  • Challenge myself to get out of my comfort zone.
  • Social goals (partly censored).
  • Health goals (running, cross-training, bloodwork, dentist visits).
  • Professional goals (partial list).

Everything has to fit in on a two page spread, or I lose track of things. That’s why I spill over to other pages in the same notebook to track some of the details of my goals:

Tracking page for fountain pens, ink, tea and pencils.

Here are my 2019 resolutions. A pink check mark means that the basic goal is finished. You can see the increments things grow by (my stretch goals):

2019 resolutions

You may have noticed that the “fill triggers” goal isn’t filled up at all. This is the “relevant” part of the S.M.A.R.T. goals. I used the trigger system from Marshal Goldsmith’s “Triggers” book for a few months in 2018, and I decided at the beginning of 2019 to not continue with it. It was a conscious decision, and so I just ignored that goal. 

Here are my 2019 “spill” pages, just to get an idea of how the whole thing works together:

10 different fountain pen inks. Can you see where the stretch goal is marked?

Here are pencils, fountain pens, notebooks and races tracking:

And my largest tracking list, books:

The Baron Fig Confidant that holds this list has a bright cover and sits right in front of me, on my desk, at all times. I set up my goals that at every day or two I crack the notebook open and update the lists. Once there, I scan everything and check if there’s something that I can do to get it done. The point is to have this list on the top of my mind as much as possible, or else I’ll just forget about it, or it becomes something that I avoid checking out.

This is a system that supports me every day, giving my goals and aspirations much needed structure. I hope that this will help you build a personal system of this kind for yourself.  

How I Use My Notebooks: Yearly Goals (Resolutions)

Waterman Phileas Review, or Why, Waterman, Why?

The Waterman Phileas was my first fountain pen, one that I bought after careful research on eBay, shortly after they were discontinued. It cost me £15 at the time, a small fortune for me, and the most I had ever spent on a pen. My RSI was at its worst, and I had to take a lot of notes (I was still in the university), so I splurged mostly out of desperation. Internet research brought up fountain pens as something that could possibly help with my RSI, and so I decided to give it a try. I found the Fountain Pen Network and combed the boards for information about fountain pens for newbies like me. Two pens kept coming up as good first fountain pens to buy: the Lamy Safari, and the Waterman Phileas. It was relatively newly discontinued by Waterman, and so I could find it easily and buy it NOS from a reputable seller. It’s been over 11 years since I bought it, and it’s still one of my favourite pens, and one of my most frequently used ones.

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Look how pretty this pen is! 

The Waterman Phileas is named after Phileas Fogg, Jules Verne’s “Around the World in 80 Days” protagonist. It comes in blue, green, red and black, and is cartridge converter pen with a large two-tone steel nib. The nib and pen have an art deco look to them, and the pen is also designed to look somewhat like a cigar. It’s a classic “fountain pen” look that makes it appear more expensive than it is, and it’s part of the reason why you’ll see it popping up in various commercials, even to this day. It’s a very beautiful and elegant pen that just looks classy.

Unlike it’s cheaper sibling, the Waterman Kultur, the Phileas has a brass insert in the body, which means that it has got some heft to it, weighing (filled, with a converter) 24g, as opposed to the Lamy AL-Star’s 22g (filled, with a converter). The weight is perfectly balanced for writing, especially for beginners, since it encourages you to lay off putting pressure on the pen. The pen let you feel that it’s putting the pressure on for you.

The look of the Phileas is phenomenal, especially for the price, but it’s the nib that made me fall in love with it specifically and with fountain pens in general. I chose the extra fine nib, and it is nothing short of magical. Take a look for yourself:

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From hairline to European fine – the Phileas line variation at work.

Yes, that’s line variation. No, it doesn’t come from applying pressure to the nib. It works like a less extreme Sailor Zoom nib: vary your writing angle just a bit and it will go from 0.4 mm lines to 0.7 mm ones. The nib is also smooth, but gives a little feedback, which reminds me a little of the feedback you get from using a really good pencil. Couple that with the fact that the Phileas is a cartridge converter (with a sizeable converter), and so very easy to clean, and you’ll understand why this is still my favourite sketching fountain pen.

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Drawn with a Phileas, except for the witch’s cloak and hat.

The Phileas accepts long international cartridges, and Waterman is one of the few makers that make those cartridges. They excellent (especially the blue-black) and very convenient when travelling with your fountain pen.

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Look at that nib! It’s hard to photograph, but it’s such a great design.

Which brings me back to the beginning of my story. It’s 2019 and I have a substantial collection of fountain pens, most of them costing well over 10 times what the Waterman Phileas cost me. None of them are 10 times the Phileas as a pen. I could have stopped here, but the Phileas has proven to be a gateway into fountain pen madness for many people over the years. It’s a pen to fall in love with, in a way that I haven’t ever fallen in love with my Lamy’s, good-though-they-are. Its design is classic and timeless, and its quality is unparalleled for the price (yes, even today).

SO WHY HAS WATERMAN DISCONTINUED IT? WHY? WHY?

This should have been their Lamy Safari, TWSBI Eco or Pilot Metropolitan  – a more classic version of the beginner’s fountain pen, as opposed to the other’s more modern design. It boggles my mind that they not only discontinued the Phileas, but also it’s cheaper cousin, the Kultur. What on earth are they doing over there? Do they not want new people to fall in love with their pens? It’s the same weird move with their ink line (their refusal to jump on the limited edition/shimmer/sheen ink bandwagon), but even more baffling. YOU WOULD SELL THESE WATERMAN!

So frustrating.

Anyway – if you can get your hands on a Waterman Phileas for a reasonable price, I highly recommend it. It’s a charming pen that will never go out of style.

Waterman Phileas Review, or Why, Waterman, Why?

Two Years of Daily Journaling

This week I celebrated two years of daily journaling. While I’ve been keeping journals for years, until the last two years I’ve only done so sporadically. Journaling was something that I did only when things got really rough, to keep myself going, or when I was travelling, to preserve the memories of my trip. I used pocket notebooks for my sporadic journals, as it was more important for me to capture things than to reflect on them. It was a utilitarian process, not an enjoyable one. I knew that once I decided to really start a journaling habit, that would have to change.

These are all the journals which I’ve used during the past two years.

So the first thing I did was pick a notebook that I knew I’d want to use, and use daily. The only rules were that it had to make me happy, and that it had to be large enough for me to be able to actually write in it, not just jot things down. I wasn’t looking for the best notebook with the best paper in the best format (I don’t think that exists, actually, but for us stationery geeks the search is always on), just a good enough notebook for me.

My notebooks of choice.

I also decided very early on that I couldn’t use a fountain pen for this, because I wanted a pen that I could write with even not under the most ideal circumstances. I was also planning for both the notebook and the pen to bash around freely in my bag. These were going to be used and look used.

Can you see how bloated these notebooks are? Moleskine makes them sturdy enough to take a beating. 

I chose Moleskine large ruled hardcover notebooks as my notebook of choice, and the uni-ball Signo RT 0.5 gel ink pen as my pen/refill (UMR-85N) of choice. I wanted a sturdy lined notebook that I’d enjoy using and looking at once it was done, and after years of neglecting the Moleskine for other notebooks I came back to it because of some of their limited edition designs. I knew that I was going to use the uni-ball Signo RT 0.5 as my pen or refill of choice (inside a BigiDesign Ti Arto or Ti Arto EDC), so I didn’t need fountain pen friendly paper. I had decided to pick up the steady journaling habit by starting with a travel journal, which I already had some experience with, and then carrying on from there. On the first evening of a trip to London I happened to walk by the Moleskine store in Covent Garden, and I decided to go in and check out what they had. There was a beautifully designed Batman limited edition notebook in exactly the kind of format I was looking for, and it was only available for sale at the Moleskine stores. I bought it, unwrapped and stamped it with the Moleskine Covent Garden stamps, and I haven’t looked back.

That pen and notebook combo has hardly changed over the years. What has changed is the format I use to journal, and the amount of daily journaling I do. When I started out I was used to only jotting a few lines down here and there when I journaled, so I knew I couldn’t expect to write 4-5 pages per day right from day one. Starting with just a paragraph to half a page a day, I pretty quickly moved to one page per day of just writing.

Then I saw a Neistat Brothers video on Youtube and realized that I could use my journal as a visual capturing device as well, and anything could go in it, so long as it made me remember a moment or a place.

Limited Edition Cola Zero tab created for the 2019 Eurovision song contest in Tel Aviv. I don’t even drink Cola Zero, but this little piece of metal is still totally evocative to me.

That’s when the notebooks really started to get bloated. From clothing labels to business cards and ticket stubs, if I can put glue on it and it’s visually appealing or evocative, it goes in. I almost always also write a little note for future me, to remind myself what I’m looking at and why it’s there. That change really made these notebooks a kind of personal artifact for me, and I can’t say how precious they’ve all become.

A bit of cat themed washi tape and a Uniqlo shirt label. Sometimes things go in because I find them visually appealing or they make me smile.

At a certain point I started getting ambitious, moving from writing one page a day to two pages, then four pages, then six. That’s when I had to take a step back and make sure that I wasn’t burning out on journaling for all the wrong reasons. I enjoy writing and I enjoy journaling, but I’m also trying to write fiction, and my journal can’t become something that consumes that, an excuse for not writing. It’s also easy to get carried away and want to finish the notebook as fast as possible just so you can open a fresh one, or brag (even if it’s only to yourself) that you’ve finished a notebook. Nowadays I write one or two pages a day for most days, moving up to more pages only if I really have something special to write about.

Doodling seasonal fruit in the margins.

Life also happens, and oftentimes it’s scary and ugly, a black hole that threatens to consume all that is good in your life, including journaling. My mom got unexpectedly and very seriously ill last year, and we’ve been struggling with her disease ever since. When she was in hospital I couldn’t bring myself to journal. I backlogged those (thankfully few) dark days, and I realized that I would have to accept that as much as journaling is important to me, family comes first, so backlogging is going to have to become acceptable. I try to backlog as little as possible, but some days just demand that.

If I want to remember a good meal I’ll sometimes draw it.

I also draw a little in my notebook, tiny thumbnails of things that I want to remember later, or that I just feel like drawing. These are usually food doodles, as I don’t really like to photograph my food.

I still use my journal in trips, and ticket stubs and bit and bobs like these make it more interesting.

If you’re looking for some journaling tips, I wrote two posts on that subject here and here. If there’s one thing I can leave you with it’s that if you want to journal, you need to figure out a way to it make it work for you, and be ready to adapt as your life changes over time. There is no perfect journaling system, or perfect journaling notebook, there’s only what works for you.

Go write.

Two Years of Daily Journaling

The Master Pencils Union No. 84 Pencil Review

My latest flea market find is a red/blue Union No. 84 pencil from The “Master” Pencils Ltd, the English pencil company that also created the Golden Master pencils that I reviewed in the past.

The Union No. 84 is an oversized pencil, with a red and navy core. I love the choice of font for the imprint: it looks clean and professional.

The pencil is thick, built like a children’s pencil, and so the cores are extra large as well.

The navy core, almost black in appearance:

Finding a sharpener that can sharpen this pencil was a challenge. You’ll need one that’s designed for children’s pencils, yet is high quality enough to handle wood that has toughened over time, and a core that is still soft and brittle. I went with the M+R double brass sharpener Nr. 0603. Beware of the red core when you sharpen this pencil, as it can stain your hands.

Here’s the Union No. 84 next to the Caran d’Ache Bicolor 999, the golden standard for red/blue pencils. You can see their size differences quite clearly.

The navy tip of the pencil:

The red tip of the pencil:

The red tip of the pencil was much softer and more crumbly than the navy tip, but even though I was worried about it, it didn’t break with use.

I tested the Union No. 84 against the Bicolor 999, and discovered a few interesting things. The Union’s blue is indeed a shade darker than the Bicolor’s but it’s not as dark as I would have expected. The red shades of both pencils are virtually identical. The Union feels more like a pencil than the waxy Bicolor, with more feedback, and more shading possible when some pressure is applied. Both pencils erase poorly, but the Union erases better than the Bicolor, particularly the Union red, which doesn’t stain the paper.

I tested the pencils on a Baron Fig Confidant, my go-to pencil testing paper, and erased them with the Maped Technic 600.

The Master Union No. 84 is a lot of fun to draw with, beyond being useful for highlighting and correcting text. It feels like a proper pencil, and not a waxy crayon, and it shades enough to allow for doodles like this one:

The Union No.84 is great and fun, and so was the Spiderman movie. I highly recommend them both.

The Master Pencils Union No. 84 Pencil Review

Writing Update

  • I’m still editing my novel after getting notes from my beta readers. Most of the notes are super helpful, and it’s good also to go over the book after a while.
  • I’ve tightened the prose in places, plugged a few plot holes, and clarified a few scenes — which is not something that I expected to do on the third or fourth draft.
  • Scrivener is life. Thankfully my novel was split to scenes, so it was easy to move things around to restructure the narrative after the feedback I got. It was also easy to split the scenes into new chapters, and take quick snapshot backups of each scene before I edited it.
  • As usual, the first third of the novel is the part that needed the most editing. I’ll give it another once over once I’ve finished editing the final chapters.
  • It took me a long time to get into the editing mood, but things are going pretty fast now. I’ve started using a task list in Drafts and it’s proven useful in keeping me organized and motivated, without allowing me to be sucked into productivity pr0n.
Writing Update

In Case of Loss

One of the most iconic things about Moleskines is the “In case of loss, please return to” on the front endpaper. You are supposed to write your name and address on the supplied four lines, together with an enticing, but not too enticing reward. According to Adrienne Raphael this feature of the Moleskine sees little use. If you’re Casey or Van Neistat you label every notebook cover with Whiteout, offering a cash reward.

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I just write my name and email, and with “let’s talk” in the reward line. I started filling the “In case of loss” at first because at the time I could barely afford to buy a Moleksine and they were really difficult to obtain, so I wanted a chance to get them back if I ever misplaced them. Over the years filling these lines has become a habit, a ritual that makes the notebook mine instead of just another notebook. I never thought that I would come in use.

Until last year.

I used my Moleskine to journal during a night flight from London to Tel Aviv. In the rush out of the plane I didn’t notice that I forgot my notebook in my seat pocket, together with my beloved Ti Arto. I got home at around 3 AM after a sleepless night, and crashed to sleep. When I woke up a few hours later and realized that I lost my journal you could hear my howl around the block. I beat myself up and then contacted the airline (the brilliant British Airways), as well as the Ben Gurion and Heathrow lost and found, in the faint hope that someone found my notebook and didn’t toss it out with the garbage.

A few hours later, while I was still mourning my loss, I got an email.

The Customer Service Manager on my flight had found my notebook, saw my email address on the “In case of loss” page, and had emailed me. There are good people in the world, and one of them was the manager on my BA flight.

Two weeks later my journal arrived through the mail, and I nearly cried when I saw it.

You see, when I first filled that from page this wasn’t a special notebook. I had bought it on sale, it wasn’t a favourite limited edition of mine, and I had just randomly selected it from the shelf when I filled my previous Moleskine.

But then I wrote in it.

By the time I lost it the notebook contained memories of my dog, which died two months before, notes from my London trip, ideas for a short story, and a lot of snippets of everyday life. It had become meaningful, irreplaceable.

So when you crack open a new notebook, any new notebook, take a moment to jot down your name and email at least. You may plan on only using it for grocery lists right now, but you never know what the future holds.

In Case of Loss

Blackwing 811 Review

It’s the insane, glow in the dark Blackwing, and I managed to snag a box!

OK, enough with the hype. Plenty of other reviewers have given this limited edition pencil a spin, but my experiences and thoughts about “The Library Pencil” seem to be different enough to warrant a few quick words about the Blackwing 811.

First of all, the pencil is attractive. It’s darker than a banker’s lamp (I have one, so I checked), and the gradient is very well done. This could have looked cheap and tacky but it doesn’t. I would have liked a darker ferrule and I think that the pink eraser is ugly, but even so it’s a pretty attractive pencil.

The lighter part of the gradient disappears for the most part on the first sharpening, so that’s a shame. The coating on the pencil is grippier than the coating on the Blacking 54, 56, 24, 725 and 530 (and lacquered pencils in general), but less grippy and gritty than the coating on the Blacking 4. It has a matte feel.

It’s got a “firm” core, which means it has the Blacking 602. I absolutely hate that Blackwing doesn’t write its firmness on the barrel, or use “standard” hardness ratings, or makes it easy to see what the core grade is on the box or on their site. That’s like buying a fountain pen and not knowing whether you’ll get a fine or a broad. It’s bad enough that manufacturers play fast and loose with pencil grades within the standard 10H-10B range. Having a company invent its own grade and not even have it make sense, and then not even make it visible is a big no-no in my book.

Here’s a sketch of my banker’s lamp (which is a bit wonky after my cat dropped a giant pile of books on it) done with the Blackwing 211. I’d say it’s a B or a 2B, depending on the maker, but in no way is it a pencil that I’d call “firm”. It’s great for quick sketches, but I wouldn’t recommend it for under-drawings.

Blackwing 811 Review

How I use my notebooks: Tournament of Books tracking

Most stationery blog posts focus on reviewing products and less on how people actually use all the paper, pens and inks that they buy. I thought I’d try to write a bit more about how I use my stuff, and not just on how cool is all the stuff I have.

This is my latest Field Notes, the Campfire Night. I use a binder clip to keep it closed as it bashes around in my backpack. Without the clip the pages get crumpled and torn after a few days of use. The clip used to be nice and copper coloured but now is just nice and worn silver.

Apart from my day to day to do lists, this notebook currently hosts my Tournament of Books trackers. There’s a list of books that are participating in the contest, divided per round. Those that I’ve read are marked off with blue pencil. This is for my personal use, so you’ll not see any Instagram level calligraphy here. I wasn’t planning to photograph this and blog about it when I created these.

This is where I’m logging who I think should win each round. When the tournament starts I’m going to log who actually won each round on the opposite page.

Since doing this challenge means reading 18 books in a very short period, I’m tracking my reading progress in this notebook as well as in my reading journal, just to make sure that I’m on track (I won’t finish reading these in time, as I’ve started too late, but my goal is to finish reading them all by mid April).

That’s it.

How I use my notebooks: Tournament of Books tracking