How I Use My Knockoff Moleskine

Fisherman in India

Several months ago, I bought a knockoff Korean moleskine journal.  At first, I thought I’d use it just to jot down story ideas. Since then, it has developed into a journal of miscellany. I’ve grown dependent on it like a ninja depends on guile and explosive powder, a pirate depends on rum, or the Three Wolf Moon t-shirt manufacturers depends on irony and snark.

At least ten times a day, I find myself writing down some piece of information, useless or otherwise. Almost as often I find myself referring back to something I wrote in days previous. This journal of miscellany works like a fisherman’s net, allowing me to catch most of my ideas, pick and choose the good ones, and throw the rotten or misshapen ones back in the water.

What I Use It For

  • For Writing Projects I keep a list of post titles, story ideas, quick outlines, etc. While I’m working on blog posts, I tend to generate several ideas for other posts. I have a few pages devoted only to headlines. Because of this running list, I have a lot of terrible ideas and a couple good ideas to choose from.
  • For a Travel Journal This durable journal is the perfect size (5.25″x8.25″) for travel. When taking travel notes, I record the date, time, and place for each entry. This makes it easier to cross-reference location notes with all the pictures I take. Also, the little pocket in the back is a great place to put travel ephemera like ticket stubs and receipts.
  • For Note-Taking and Research Articles, books [Link], videos; whatever I think I might reference later. Some entries get a bastardized version of the Cornell Method, others don’t. My notes fill more pages than anything else.
  • For Language Learning I’ve devoted a few pages to new Korean words and phrases. For the most part, though, Korean gets a second notebook.
  • For Lists I keep a running lists of books to read, bands to check out, movies to watch, local places to visit, and gifts to buy. I also have a couple of default packing lists.

For more ideas,  check out this article called 13 Things to Do With a Moleskine.

How I Set It Up

I’ve used a few tricks to make this journal rock as hard as a journal can rock (writing this, I feel the crushing realization that I’m getting old. Excuse me while I mourn for my lost youth). Some people use tabs to divide their notebooks into sections, but I gave up on that pretty quickly.

  • Individual Pages Along with a keyword or <meta> tag at the top, I put the date and the page number at the bottom. If I run out of room while taking notes, I’ll put a ‘link’ in the form of a page number to the next available clean page.
  • Indexing Starting from the front, every other page is numbered. The back four pages are devoted to being the index. After finishing an entry, I flip to the index and write the keyword(s) and page number. Setting up the index is an imprecise science; I’ve run out of room in the E-K area, but have plenty in T-Z.
  • Front and Back Matter In the front pages, I’ve got a couple of WTF Korean stickers, taped-on tourist-attraction ticket stubs, and a ‘reward if found’ message written in English and Korean with my contact info. I found a daily checklist and taped it in the back, but I never use the damn thing.

Final Thoughts

If you want a simple way to capture a bunch of ideas and keep track of a lot of random stuff,  even a half-assed application of this setup will let you catch a lot of ideas. Just remember to throw the rotten ones back.

Remember, though, that the moleskine is just a trendy brand of high-quality notebooks. All the famous moleskine users, that’s just great marketing copy. Just buying and owning a moleskine doesn’t endow anyone with magical, instantaneous inspiration. Using it does.

Years ago, I used to have a collection of notebooks and journals. In almost all, the first couple pages were filled, the rest empty. Sad, sad, sad. The trick is to keep it handy, stick with it, and make note-taking a habit.  The information must be retrievable and the handwriting legible. A journal of miscellany is only as good the quantity and quality of what’s in it.

For further reading, check out The Monster Collection of Moleskine Tips,  Tricks, and Hacks.

Over to you: Do you use any kind of paper-based brain enhancements?  Hipster PDA? Organizer? Scraps of paper scattered about your house? What do you think about the cult of the moleskine? Is it justified or just a meme on par with Three Wolf Moon and Pirates?

Photo Credit: SteveWeaver

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Leighann Garber December 3, 2009, 10:11 am

    Haha. Scraps of paper scattered about the house? Yup, that’s me. 🙂 I actually have one oil-and-coffee-spattered ripped-out spiral notebook sheet with notes and lists out the wazoo. Don’t tell anyone, ok? ;-P I’ve got a couple good journals sitting around that I know I’ll never use for journaling. I might just put them into commission.

    I was going to tell you that “Moleskine” is spelled wrong, but thankfully I Googled it before I embarrassed myself. 🙂

  • Seth December 3, 2009, 8:38 pm

    Hello Leighann,
    Your secret about that poor, mangled spiral notebook is safe with me.

  • JA Lineberry December 4, 2009, 12:51 pm

    I really enjoyed this entry. I’ve been considering picking up some sort of planner/random crap/journal for awhile now. I often find myself needing to write something down that I want to remember for later (story ideas, random facts, things to look up, facts to verify, words I want definitions for, etc.). So, good advice.

  • Seth December 5, 2009, 9:17 am

    Thanks JA. I’ve never actually had any luck with a planner; I like the slightly chaotic element of adding stuff wherever I like. The only problem is when I forget to put it in the index!

  • Alexandre Boudreau December 5, 2009, 12:01 pm


    I love how you’re organized. I keep saying to myself that i’ve got to note down my thoughts and ideas, and often I do, but I only do when I’m in front of my laptop. Although that’s most of the time, my creative thinking mostly happens when I’m not in front of my laptop, for some reason. So i’ve got to find a good way to note down my thoughts. Perhaps a digital voice recorder could do the trick? BTW, the little notebook for learning a language is indeed a great tool. I did the same when I learned Khmer a few years back. every new word I looked up in the khmer dictionnary I would right it down in my little notebook and read it over. But I haven’t practiced in hmmm… 4 years .. gosh, forgot most of it. arrg.

  • Peter December 18, 2009, 4:17 am

    Love this page and the links. Lots of good ideas for someone for whom forgetfulness is an. . .Sorry forgotten what.

    But the link The Monster Collection of Moleskine Tips, Tricks, and Hacks seems to be dead or broken. Unless I’ve mislaid it on my way from this page to that.

    I keep buying moleskines and am always congratulated by the salesperson on my taste but find I have to use them for specific subjects – eg birds, my PhD etc. I’m just not organised enough to keep a general one. When I try to, ideas and notebooks seem to be mutually exclusive like E’s theory of uncertainty: I can never have one while the other is present and vice versa. So now I have a large pile of Moleskines of a pleasing variety of shapes and sizes waiting for their particular subject to come along.

    The larger of the plain reporter’s notebooks, by the way, is ideal, used on its side, for mindmaps. But that’s probably on the link page that led me here. Now, how did I get here?

  • Seth December 19, 2009, 6:59 pm

    Hey Peter,
    I’ve tried doing notebooks for specific subjects, but for what I do, a lot of my categories are interrelated, so it’s easier just to throw everything in one. For advanced subjects, though (your PhD work), I can see devoting entire notebooks to a single subject. The trick is filling them up!

    Thanks for reading and extra thanks for finding that dead link.