Columns > Published on July 31st, 2019

Building The Custom Notebook

When it comes to matters of personal taste, notebook preferences are more particular than preferences regarding pizza (NYC v. Chicago, Pineapple V. People Who Are Objectively Correct), masturbatory habits, and which Quiet Riot song is the baddest-ass.

I’ve experimented with a lot of notebooks. Moleskines, of course, which are pretty nice but come with their own problems (we’ll get into it). Five Stars, Composition Books. I’ve been gifted notebooks with paper made out of elephant shit. The paper isn’t great, but when you remember you’re writing on a heap of elephant turd, you have to give it some credit.

Nothing quite fits. Everything has its flaws. So I figured, fuck it, I’d just make my own damn notebook.

This sort of "I'll make my own X" declaration is responsible for our stupidest and best inventions. Someone was dissatisfied with the pencil, so they invented the pen (probably how it happened). That worked. Someone was unhappy with the Alex Murphy Robocop, so they invented a new Robocop in Robocop 2 (this went poorly, and a drug kingpin child with a machine gun paid the ultimate price, as is usually the case).

I’m hoping this works out somewhere between the greatness of the pen and the bitter defeat of a child's death.

The Issues

Notebooks all have their peccadilloes, but some cross over into dealbreakers. Let’s start with an approach that serves no one well in online dating profiles: listing flaws that you don’t want to deal with.

Won’t Lay Flat: Notebooks laying flat with almost zero pressure is a must. The notebook should almost open by itself, inviting use.

Paper Sucks: Crap paper is real. Look, maybe you’re one of the greats who doesn’t get sweaty, greasy hands for no reason when it’s not even hot outside. Good for you, your highness. A good paper has to accept ink readily, even if it’s a little greased up by my naturally-produced lubes, and the ink has to dry fast so it doesn’t smear.

Too Much: I’m of the opinion that most notebooks have too many pages. They should be slimmer. Plus, losing a notebook with hundreds of pages is a tragedy. A few dozen? No biggie.

Too Little: The standard Moleskine is a little small for me. One line fits like 5 words.

Too Looks-Based: My goal here is simple: I want something that no one will mistake for a wallet or phone case or something that’s worth taking from me. I want something I could leave sitting on a coffee shop table while I take a mondo duke, worry-free.

Too Flaccid: The cover has to have some firmness. Otherwise, you’re always looking for a writing surface.

The Creative Process

I started with size. Because that matters most. Penis joke.

After some careful analysis, I figured that I wanted something that was large, but that could still be crammed into a back pocket. It didn’t have to fit entirely, just barely in terms of width, and height-wise, sky's the limit.

I measured my back pocket and figured I had MAYBE an extra inch back there. BUT, I’m working hard on my squats, so some of that real estate would be filled with bodaciousness by the end of the year. If that happens, I won’t even need a notebook because, pfft, forget writing, I'll be butt famous. Butt famous is MUCH better than writer famous. My grandmother taught me that. 

Then I hit on a brainstorm. Which somebody else hit on decades ago.

Paperback novels were meant to be portable. To fit in a pocket, just barely. I measured it out, and a paperback novel, taller than a Moleskine, wider than Field Notes, was just about right.


“The art of bookbinding is dead,” you say? Well, sure. But so is the novel. So is the artist. Everything is dead. We’re walking through the mausoleum that is life. Don’t act like you’re original for seeing that.

Without getting into way too much description, a few things:

1. Here’s the book press/sewing device I made. It’s two slabs of oak, carriage bolts in four corners, and screws near the front for holding binding ribbon. This stuff is for true nerds, so if you have questions, ask in the comments below.

2. Here’s a resource I used for my first binding projects. Yes, my first project was binding comics. No, this did not cause potential sexual partners to throw themselves at me the way the aforementioned squats totally will. 

3. Here’s another resource. This person’s videos show everything step-by-step.

Seriously, if you have questions, ask me below. Otherwise, I’ll assume nobody really cares and everyone is just politely nodding at this point.

Finished Product

Of course, no project is really finished without the “Qualty Seal.”

Perfection? Well, no. I made it. So that seems like a pretty obvious “No” from the start. 

That said, it’s a project worth your time. You can craft the story, so why not craft the thing you write the story in? Why not make your own rules, make your own notebook, and write sentences that end in prepositions inside that notebook (like my previous sentence)?

Whatever your gripes about notebooks, exorcise them by making your own. If nothing else, you’ll gain new respect for the notebooks you don’t have to make yourself.

Granted, the time I spent making a notebook would have probably been better spent writing inside an inferior notebook. But one could say the same about the time you just spent reading this column. Let's both just walk away. 

About the author

Peter Derk lives, writes, and works in Colorado. Buy him a drink and he'll talk books all day.  Buy him two and he'll be happy to tell you about the horrors of being responsible for a public restroom.

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