Back from Michigan. I, note-taker.

Back from Michigan

I spent four days in Northern Michigan last week, in a house on Lake Ann. It was nice! I took a kayak out, we rode around the lake on a pontoon boat a few times, and rode inner tubes down the Platte River.

There were 11 of us there: My mother-in-law plus my two sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews, and a boyfriend. I had a pretty good time, but every time I’m up there I am reminded that I was not born into the “house on a lake” life.

This is Ben, feeling a little non-plussed about the whole thing.

A teenage boy sitting in a blue hammock holding a coffee cup. He’s wearing sunglasses and looking nonplussed.

I, note-taker

I went on a paper kick about a month ago. Digital note-taking wasn’t really working for me — I felt too much like fiddling around and fussing, and I was getting that whole “everything is just going into a digital pit” feeling.

I started the paper kick with a legal pad and a simple daily list, plus a second legal pad with three holes so I could put things in a binder if I needed to keep them. I’ve since moved on to a dotted-rule B5 notebook and I’m doing something more akin to bullet journaling now, because it helps to have pages for projects. Right now I’ve got an old Baron Fig I had around, but Leuchtturms come with numbered pages and index pages, so I think one of those is next. A5 has always felt a little cramped, B5 feels a little more capacious.

(I said “akin to bullet journaling,” because I watched a three minute video on the official Bullet Journal site, absorbed some of it, probably forgot other parts, and believe that what I’m doing – rolling todos, month pages, topic “spreads”, light markup – is probably close enough. I am all for dude monetizing his big idea, but the home site is pretty hostile unless you want to buy something, and the first few written tutorials I could find were a little head-spinning.)

I ran through a bunch of pens and pencils trying to figure out what felt best to me for handwritten notes. I thought I was a real “Pilot G2 0.7mm navy ink” kinda guy, but I am not as huge a fan of them as I once thought: The ink is sort of globby and smeary, which makes the smoothness less nice. The G2 0.5mm is a little too fine for my tastes, but I do like that I can fit a lot on a line, or on a 3x5 card, because less ink means I don’t have to write bigger and wider.

I like putting little facts, actions, or conversation notes on 3x5 cards as a sort of holding tank. I keep loose ones in an old cardboard watch box of about the right width after I get the actions out of them and into my main list.

But it turns out that I also like Pilot 0.7mm Frixion pens a lot. I had a bunch sitting around from when I gave Rocketbooks a try several years ago, so I gave one a shot for a day and it was a nice combination of “darker than a mechanical pencil, less runny and smeary than a gel pen, and erasable.” Even the 1.0mm is non-runny enough that I can make small characters and pack more into a 3x5 card or stick to the tight density of a dot-ruled page. No, the black isn’t the sort of deep black of a gel pen, but I prefer Pilot’s “navy” ink, which is just a dark blue, so that’s fine.

Erasability matters, because I have been concentrating on my handwriting. I think it’s pretty normal for people to come to a sort of half-cursive/half-block writing style over time. I have, anyhow, but realized I had gone without handwriting for so long that my hybrid had become somewhat rushed and unreadable. So I went back to half-remembered lessons about handwriting improvement and re-adopted the two rules that helped me the most I was thinking about my handwriting:

  1. Write distinct characters.
  2. Make sure you close every character.

I don’t worry too much about the letter forms being just so: I just want to make sure I’m writing deliberately enough that I don’t have to guess every third word from fragmented context.

Anyhow, part of the process of Doing It Better involves noticing when I merge a couple of characters or don’t close one (or both at the same time) and I make myself back up, erase, and do it correctly.

Since Frixion refills are shaped the same as G2s, I can keep my nice Mechanical Era and Tactile Turn pens, too. I just have a couple of Pentel Click Erasers handy at my desk.

Two silvery metal ink pens on an orange background.

Doing more with pen and paper has reminded me of how much I like what pen and paper do to my brain. When I’m taking the time to write carefully and legibly, it gives me a feeling of deliberation and focus. The rate of words is slower than if I’m typing — I haven’t timed myself but understand the average adult maxes out at around 20 wpm when writing by hand, vs. my fairly consistent 110 WPM on a keyboard — so I have a little more time to think about what’s next. It’s very calming.

I’ve also taken the opportunity to practice letting a lot of other kinds of perfectionism go. My daily pages are sort of a mess of different pens and pencils, scratch-throughs, misaligned text, and abandoned headings. I’m letting all that be fine so I can work on legibility.