The 10 Best Writing Notebooks to Capture Your Creative Thoughts

Perfect for the everyday writer.

Update: I’m designing and building my dream desktop publishing app, Desk PM, which has been inspired by many of these writing notebooks!

One of the things that might surprise you is the fact that I love physical notebooks and carry one around with me nearly everywhere I go.

You see, there’s something intimate about the experience of putting pen to paper and seeing ideas manifest themselves (spilt ink) into the physical realm right before your eyes – it’s nearly magical and I can tell you in truth that most (if not all) of my startups and creative endeavors have started in these notebooks (or paper napkins in a local eatery).

But I use them not only for product ideas and software imagination but also for blogging! I use them to jot down new blog posts ideas, creative ways to increase community (our Community Forums were birthed there), and ways to improve the design or features on my blog. Nothing is off limits!

Not only do I love them for all their various uses but I’ve tried too many of them to really count! I like experimenting with new mediums and seeing how they fit with my creative workflow and how they place my thoughts into manageable and understandable buckets.

Here are some of the ones that I love and that I’ve tried:

1. Moleskine Notebooks

Nearly everyone has heard of these “magical” notebooks and they are a staple within many productivity circles and creatives. I have many fond notes and no less than three successful startups have been started (and acquired) through the pen notes.

Classic.

You have nearly every option in terms of the size, the covers, and even the page lining. Check them out here!

2. Action Method

These notebooks have become more and more prevalent in my back pocket (thanks to a good friend who recommended them) and I really love the style and offerings besides the philosophy about getting things done through “action steps.”

These are fast becoming a favorite.

You can check out the choices here.

3. Field Notes

These are simple, flexible, and quick to whip out! I feel like you could take them into the Amazon jungle (I’m not sure exactly why I think that but I do).

I’ve seen more people turning to these as quick (and cheap) physical notebooks.

Quick, easy, painless.

You can get a pack (or two) right here.

4. Ecosystem Author

I’ve enjoyed using these in the past, especially since they are made with 100% post-consumer recycled paper! For those that like to keep the earth’s health in mind then these notebooks are seriously for you.

Eco-friendly!

Shop and save the earth here.

5. Habana Notebook

These notebooks are for the creative types and/or serious-looking executives that want to make an impression. Seems like I see more of the latter with them but perhaps that’s just me. The paper quality is serious-goodness.

Habana is for quality.

You can take a look at the selection here.

6. Ciak Notebook

These notebooks have been heralded by creatives as the only notebook that they’d ever choose to use. Hand-crafted in Italy they just scream creativity. Premium all over it.

Beautiful, without a doubt.

They aren’t cheap but neither are your ideas. Take a look here.

7. Rhodia Notebooks

I’m not sure why but I’ve started to see more people rocking the Rhodia notebook around creative conferences and meetups. Perhaps it’s just me or perhaps it’s because I’ve started using trying them out recently.

Hmm. They are quite nice.

Love the cover.

You can check out all your choices here.

8. Allan’s Journal

This notebook has such a rich history that you really have to appreciate it before you even start inking one up:

R L Allan hold the Queen’s Royal Licence under Letters Patent to publish the Authorized King James Version Bible in Scotland.  Queen Elizabeth still holds the copyright to the KJV Bible in the UK.

Note that he’s the only guy to have gotten this. Ever.

Rich history, beautiful craftsmanship.

Use one with respect and it might come back in spades.

9. WritersBlok Bamboo Notebook

I’ve found a love for having a few of these around since I just think they are cute as all get out. Don’t ask me why. I also like the idea of being made from 100% sustainable bamboo pulp paper. That’s just neat.

Cute but functional.

And of course the brand and name is seriously clever. Get them here.

10. “Old School” Composition Notebooks

For some reason I keep coming back to these and have more than a few stacks used up in my house (somewhere). I used them in nearly every school grade and they just work. And if that’s what get’s you going then go for it!

How could you possibly go wrong?

Sure, there’s a bit of nostalgia but whatever. Get yours here.

*Bonus – Muji Notebook

Since having lived in Japan for 4 years I have a unique love for anything that comes from that people group and culture and the Muji Notebook is no exception. Refined with a bare-bones aesthetic, these recycled products help you focus on just writing (just like my favorite writing app!).

The first picture in this post is of the Muji Notebook (but here’s another one for you):

Perfect.

So what about you? What do you use?

  • http://analteredreality.com Kevin

    Dude. Huge moleskine fan…it’s something about the paper…just…awesome!

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      seriously…!

  • Tim Graves

    Sweet! I use a Moleskine(soft-cover ruled, as the hardcover is cheap cardboard that breaks when I lay the notebook flat on a surface to write) primarily, as well as an Exacompta my pastor gave me to try out (he and his sons are fountain pen addicts, aiding me in becoming one myself <.<).

    How are the Muji notebooks with fountain pen ink? I'm presently using a Lamy Al-Star with a fine nib, and my other pen of choice is the Zebra G-301.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      ah. depends on the amount of fountain those fountain pens are spilling. i had a ball-point or a really light fountain on muji.

      • Tim Graves

        Cool, my Al-Star does well on the Moleskine, but I expect that. Slow to dry, but I also expect that. I was surprised, however, to find that it actually fares decently on standard notebook paper as well.

        I just know that I tend to carry my Lamy around as my go-to pen since it’s an all-aluminum body that isn’t going to break in my pocket. While the G-301 is preferable for quick writing (as I can’t stand ballpoint pens, won’t write with less than a rollerball), the pen’s design has a critical flaw: though it’s body is stainless steel, the grip, which also serves as the screw-on connector piece for the barrel, is plastic, and tends to bend, flex, and break in my pocket.

        I just have small hands and prefer lighter, smaller pens. The Lamy doesn’t exactly qualify as small or light, though it’s certainly better than most popular fountain pens in those respects.

        • http://john.do John Saddington

          me too. small asian hands.

  • Randy Cantrell
    • http://john.do John Saddington

      sweet! thanks randy!

  • Colin Michael

    Anything with a really stiff cardboard back is fine with me. I tend to like top-opening spirals, but if a side-open will lay perfectly flat I’m okay with it.

    • http://www.whisperbox.com/ R.D. Allen

      I used to use top-opening spirals, but they were too small for me. x) I guess I write too big as well as too fast.

      • http://john.do John Saddington

        i write big too. my handwriting is terrible.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      the spirals never laid flat for me though.

  • http://scrutinies.net Dorian Speed

    Not really a “notebook,” but I just discovered the Uncalendar and I really like it. It’s set up so that you have a lot of flexibility in how you use it each week. It’s not the sleekest in terms of layout but it does allow for a lot of open-ended planning, sketching, etc.

    Also, Target has composition books for 40 cents a pop this week. Old-school, indeed.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      ah. sweet! checking it out!

  • http://jarederickson.com Jared Erickson

    I didnt read this. but i liked the pictures! i love me some Muji!

    • http://www.carusophotography.com Jay

      Ha!

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      you make me seriously #LOL.

  • ThatGuyKC

    I have a pocket size Moleskine in my backpack at all times, but I need to be more consistent about putting pen to paper and not relying completely on electronic note-taking tools (Evernote, etc).

    I’d be interested to read your thoughts on the Moleskine app for iPhone & iPad. It seems to be pretty complex, but I honestly haven’t used it much.

    • Colin

      The moleskine app is plain HORRIBLE! They need to stick to physical notebooks and leave the apps to Evernote.

      • http://www.chrisburke.ca Chris Burke

        I have to disagree… But I also hate evernote

        • http://dustn.tv Dustin W. Stout

          How can you hate Evernote?! I am befuddled… I must know why.

          • http://john.do John Saddington

            i’m actually grown to be disatisfied with evernote.

            • http://dustn.tv Dustin W. Stout

              But why, John? Why?! :(

        • ThatGuyKC

          Heretic! Where’d I put that cauldron of tar and sack of freshly plucked check feathers?

          • http://john.do John Saddington

            #LOL!

      • ThatGuyKC

        It’s way too complicated to be sure.

  • http://getbusylivingblog.com Benny

    I love Moleskin notebooks. If I wasn’t careful I’d keep buying them. It’s just something about it that I really love to write in.

    Might have to try those Action ones. I’ve seen many people write about them.

    Love Muji stores!

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      muji is amazing!

  • http://marcuswilliamson.com Marcus Williamson

    Moleskine and Comp fo shos

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      you keep them or toss them when you’re done?

      • http://marcuswilliamson.com Marcus Williamson

        Lose them…

        I feel it boosts the cool factor up when I find them again ;)

  • http://iheartthechurch.com Justin Simmons

    Some great ideas for notebook junkies :) I tend to go cheap since I burn through em so quick!

    • http://www.whisperbox.com/ R.D. Allen

      Same here! My notebooks fill up so fast, I never spend too much time picking one out, haha, since it won’t last very long.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      you keep them around or toss them?

  • Jimmy King

    I prefer Rite in the Rain notebooks for writing, and Gridbooks for designing. And I always always always use this Rite in the Rain pen.

    • http://iheartthechurch.com Justin Simmons

      Thanks for the recommendation on the Rite in the Rain notebooks… might just come in handy while backpacking! Have you tested them with water?

      • Jimmy King

        I’ve dropped them in puddles and mud and used them in the rain, and they work as advertised = )

        I do recommend using one of their pens with it. They are fantastic.

      • http://john.do John Saddington

        link?

        • http://john.do John Saddington

          oops. i see it.

  • Trevor

    It is a relief to know that I am not the only one who “shops” for blank paper.

    The notebooks in my bag as of right now: Moleskine, Piccadilly(a cheaper Moleskine like notebook), and a 1 subject college ruled spiral notebook with several Sesame Street characters on the cover with the text “Everything I Know I Learned on The Street.”

    I am disappointed by the absence of one item. Where is the good ole Yellow Pad? I have used more yellow pads then any other type of notebook.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      omg. you’re right. #fail

  • http://www.solobizcoach.com Fred @ SoloBizCoach.com
    • http://john.do John Saddington

      ah. thanks for this! checking it out fred!

  • http://benrwoodard.com Ben

    You never asked/answered the most important question of all! Lined, Graph, or Blank? Why and When?
    This question has been a plague on me for the last few years. Which one allows us to be more productive?

    • http://www.whisperbox.com/ R.D. Allen

      Lined is what I use. Blank tends to only end in my writing slowly tilting as the paragraphs go along… xD

      • http://benrwoodard.com Ben

        I tend to limit my use of a notebook when it is lined. I’m wondering if there is some theory behind using lined or blank paper for more creative thinking?

        • http://john.do John Saddington

          i like both… but unlined helps a ton for design/ui/mocks.

  • Lance M.

    I’m currently a Moleskine user, but as soon as I’m out of room in it, I’m switching to Ecosystem.

    Read an article by Michael Hyatt, and how he uses the Ecosystem journals with Evernote.

  • http://Www.dustinbryson.com Dustin Bryson

    I use a moleskine, field notes and whitelines.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      whitelines… googling……

  • http://www.kyletroop.com KyleTroop

    I’m a fan of the Army issue notebooks from Federal Supply Company.

    They hold up extremely well and I know that the person next to me in Starbucks isn’t going to have one too.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      huh. going to check that out!

  • http://www.carusophotography.com Jay

    I use the Moleskine notebooks. I won an Ecosystem notebook from Michael Hyatt and really like it because the pages do rip out nice and easy.

    As for writing, I cannot get enough of the Uniball Jetstream 0.7 pens. I guard them ferociously. They write so smoothly and don’t smudge regardless of what you’re writing on.

    http://www.amazon.com/uni-ball-Jetstream-Retractable-Roller-70877/dp/B002FSZP5A/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1314276337&sr=8-1

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      sweet. thanks jay!

  • la pausa inútil

    hPDA!

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      ?

  • http://www.whisperbox.com/ R.D. Allen

    I use Composition notebooks. Mom gets them for me for school anyway, so I have a good supply of them. xD The one she got me for school this year has absolutely no school in it… just writing. >.>

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      awesome…! they work!

  • http://www.pastormarkhaines.wordpress.com Mark Haines

    I feel like a misfit after all these comments on notebooks and pens. I use Evernote.com on my phone, my laptop and my desktop. I carry a small customizable “arc” notebook from Staples but I hardly ever write in it. The technology is just so fast and easy I turn to it first.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      ah. perhaps you’re just not a physical paper/pen person! all good!

  • http://dustn.tv Dustin W. Stout

    It’s been quite a while since I’ve written in a physical notebook. I’ve been paperless thanks to Evernote, but I do miss my notebooks. I think I have begun to consider starting again. My biggest issue is always organization though. How do I find the notes I’m looking for if they’re buried somewhere in a few hundred pages?

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      i think there are some ways… i’ll share them in a few.. .pretty neat project i’m coming up with.

  • ThatGuyKC

    I think you should write a sister post to this one on 10 best pens for capturing creativity.

    • http://www.theoquest.blogspot.com Mike Andrews

      Great suggestion – I can never find a pen with a fine enough point.

      • http://john.do John Saddington

        definitely going to consider this…

  • Larry Port

    I’m embarrassed to say I’ve tried about half of these! Really loving the action steps ones. When I don’t have it around I draw on my notebook to echo how they segregate information on the page.

    FYI – is notebook buying an addiction? I like buying them more than I could possibly write in them.

    LP

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      i don’t think so!

    • jim

      hahahaha! “addiction” yes! I’ve got a lineup of several very different kinds on my dresser in my bedroom.

  • http://jamesbrooks.me.uk James Brooks

    Moleskine and Muji is where I am at.

    Right now I almost exclusively use the TINY Moleskine notebooks. I ALWAYS have one in my pocket with a mini pen. It’s perfect!

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      muji is dope! wanting to moe back towards that a lot.

  • http://www.lifeofasteward.com Loren Pinilis

    Good timing: I’m going through a series right now on capture devices and using notepads to jot down ideas throughout the day! I personally use moleskines – I like the mini volant notebooks. I can keep them right in my pocket conveniently.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      sweet! a link to the volant?

  • http://www.lookingtowardshome.com Neil @ Looking Towards Home

    For someone who would rather flick through a stationery catalogue than peruse power tools this post is the best!

    I noticed a few years ago that I had a tendency to let the medium get in the way of creativity in the sense that the better looking the notebook, the less I would use it so that I didn’t ruin it with my scribbles, but after reading you opine about the moleskine a few months back (that was you wasn’t it?) I thought I’d give it a go. I actually used a moleskine 2008 diary that had never been used.

    Result in Productivity and creative juice surge? Epic! This now follows me every as my travelling companion. I’ll be on the look out for the Field Notes as well now – I love the way it has “Pertinent Co-ordinates” written on the inside cover. That’s right up my alley that is.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      this experience mirrors much of my own!

  • Iestyn

    I switched from a grid Moleskine to Whitelines [ http://whitelines.se/ ] it’s far superior for wireframing.

    I’ve even made a whitelines grid .gif to use as a background for Adobe Ideas on the iPad, you can download it here http://dl.dropbox.com/u/30343/whitelines-back.gif

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      oh, checking this out.

  • Ryan Card

    I just recently stepped into the world of Moleskine. Can’t say I will ever go back.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      you may fall deeply in love……..

  • http://www.jmcartee.wordpress.comhttp:www.nineteen20six.wordpress.com Jarrod Cartee

    Im a huge fan of Ecosystem. Not only are the 100% recycled, parts of them are made locally in South Carolina.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      ah, nice…..!

  • blue

    I must give props to Leuchtturm and Zequenz notebooks. I used moleskine, action method, rhodia, whitelines and a bunch of other less expensive ones..
    but Leuchtturm really caught my attention. swiss quality.
    and Zequenz are great just because they are very flexible and versatile.
    I also use whitelines for generic work, because they’re easy on the eyes.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      sweet! any links?

  • http://thelmabowlen.com Thelma Bowlen

    My method is: recycled paper with a clean side held together by a big, fat clip binder. I feel guilty spending on paper when there’s so much recyclable paper around our office. I periodically scrounge through our recycle bin for sheets with print on one side and turn them into makeshift wonders. Stuff that’s confidential ends up in our shredding bin anyway so the recyclables are open season!

    I’ve been Googling DIY notebook making and found a sturdier replacement for my clip — padding compound! It’s the sticky stuff at the top of a pad of paper. Will be making it a project. :-)

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      ah, love that thelma!

  • http://vinylpoet.tumblr.com Tish

    I use moleskine but will try some of the suggested brands mentioned here

  • Maybelle Chase

    Scout Books are really good!! they have really cool covers!!! and very, very good pages!

  • jim

    Nice overview of a bunch of notebooks. Many I’m familiar with and own, and some were new to me. Would have liked more details about the all-important guts — the paper.

    For me, the aesthetic is secondary to how a notebook functions. I’d like to know more about the weight and quality of the paper, are sheets perfed, will notebook open and stay flat, are rules too dark, how well does the cover protect the pages, is it too stiff with dangerous pointy corners, etc. As a graphic designer and illustrator, I LOVE to experience the feel of various pens/markers/brushes/nibs/inks on various substrates. I’ve got different sketch books and notebooks for different uses. What I’ve had trouble locating lately is a nice work notebook for meetings (where I both takes written notes AND sketch stuff). I want something about letter-size or slightly smaller, it needs to open flat, have quality paper that can be written on both sides without much show-thru or other funkiness, rules or grid should be barely there (love whiteline concept), sturdy but flexi cover with radiused corners, and — importantly — pages that do not tear out on their own. No perforations is fine with me. Not more 100 sheets of something like 28# text-weight would be about right.

    Any suggestions?

    My next step to try may be to design and print my own pages (light grid on RHP and blank on LHP would work nicely) on paper I like, then go to Staples and have them punched and bound with wire-o spiral or similar. (but NOT GBC combs…. nope. Hate ‘em)

    If anyone has some ideas for commercially available notebooks that would suit my needs, leave a follow up comment or email me, please. Thanks!

    • Chris

      You should update this ranking by adding the Leuchtturm 1917, it is own of the best notebooks available on the market.

  • Machiko

    Hello,
    I am from Japan, live in u.s.a and love European stationery.

    For me

    Moleskine < Canteo < nuuna notebook