Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

My Writing, Workflow, and Spiral Bound Notebooks

My Writing, Workflow, and Spiral Bound Notebooks

By Dennis D. McDonald

This blog post was inspired by The Pen Addict’s Podcast # 137, Notebook Emergency.


While I sit in front of a computer most of my working day and use the keyboard and mouse a lot, when I have to write something I usually write it out by hand using one of my fountain pens, a gel pen, or a pencil. I’m not a very good typist. Besides, I enjoy writing things by hand since I think it helps my thought process.

But what happens to the paper after I write something? Answering that question is what this blog post is about.


Figure 1 starts with the writing. I cycle through a variety of writing instruments during the day. I have six fountain pens I rotate through or I use a Uniball Signo pen or a  Kuru Toga mechanical pencil. I like the variety and seeing the words flow across the paper.

Figure 1. My Notebook Based Workflow

I have for now settled on the Miquelrius A5 spiral bound notebook as my writing paper of choice. The paper is smooth, the pages detach cleanly via the perforations, and with most pens there’s minimal show through. I use these notebooks, available from Target or Amazon, for most of my writing which I’ve classified in Figure 1 as (a) letters to be mailed, (b) notes to be saved, or (c) text intended for publishing on one of my websites.

a. Letters

I write and mail a couple of letters a week to friends and family members. I picked up the letter writing habit when my daughter was in the Peace Corps and didn’t have regular access to phone or email service. I’ve kept it up and find I enjoy letter writing as an opportunity to communicate and to document what is going on with me and the family. After I write a letter but before I mail it I scan it and save it in a folder on my computer’s external hard drive. That way I have a record of what I’ve written.

b. Notes

I take copious notes by hand when I’m on the phone or in meetings. I label the note with the topic and  date at the top of the page in a narrow rectangle printed at the top of each Miquelrius notebook page. Usually I then save the page in one of four notebooks organized by topic and date:

  1. ORGANIZATIONS 1 is for organizations I regularly consult or work with.
  2. ORGANIZATIONS 2 is for people and organizations that are business related but not yet “regulars” but may eventually be candidates for inclusion in the Organizations 1 notebook.
  3. BUSINESS is for more general topics or ideas or even random thoughts that I may want to return to you later, perhaps as the basis for something business- or tech-related on one of my websites.
  4. PERSONAL is for family affairs, financial, finances and insurance and the occasional tussle with Comcast.

One minor “fly in the ointment” is that the Miquelrius notebooks — the company is based in Barcelona — comes with two holes prepunched, not three. The only A5 sized binders I’ve been able to find here in the U.S. are three-rings. That means I have to punch three holes before saving the pages in one of the binders. That’s not an issue when I’m working in my office but on long business trips with a lot of notetaking carrying around an A5 three hole punch is not something I want to do as I like to travel light.

c. Blog posts

After years of blogging I realized I think best when writing pen on paper so I developed a routine where I first draft a blog post in the notebook by hand, then I use the Dragon Software app on my iPhone to convert the text by reading aloud, then I email the captured text to myself so that I can edit using either Microsoft Word or Google Docs. From there I post the text to my blog or another of my websites and discard the original paper.

I tried different types of notebooks and I keep coming back to the Miquelrius brand as the most cost-effective and reliable. They’re not perfect as seen from the two hole versus three whole issue, plus lately I have noticed some variability in the paper quality that allows for some show through with some of my fountain pens and inks.

Other notebooks

Overall the system works well as a very portable manual supplement to my constant online work. In addition to the notebook usage described above I keep two other notebooks going as well. One is a small Rhodia brand 7.5 cm x 12 cm notebook I always keep in my shirt pocket. I’ve experimented with Field Notes but prefer the smaller size of the Rhodia for random notes, shopping lists, reminders, etc.

I also keep another small spiral bound notebook I purchased at the World Bank book shop going as a bullet point diary where I note a couple of events on a daily basis just to help my memory along when writing letters.

Next Steps

Since writing the above I discovered the Muji Online shop and have ordered some supplies there since they do offer two-ring A5 sized binders along with writing paper and envelopes. We’ll see how those items perform in a future post.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Dennis D. McDonald. To find more reviews like this scroll down. To find out more about my consulting services go here.

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