On when to buy.

I have written many times before about questioning what you use, as a way of finding the best tools available to do what ever you are trying to do. But I have left one very important slot open, and that is when to do it.

It is very easy to buy every single new and shiny thing out there, just because they are new and shiny. But that is just a very simple way to spend a lot of money, and fill your house with a lot of crap you'll never use. The alternate approach is to let the need come before, you buy it; instead of trying to find a use for something after you buy it.

For me, everything stationary I order are in one of two categories: new stuff and more of what I already use. What I mean by more of what I already use is things that I need more of(inks, refills, notebooks etc) and things I need to replace, like pens. While new stuff are new pens and other items that I buy to solve a specific problem.

Let me begin with new stuff. I don’t order anything the first time I see them because I know that it is a fairly big chance I won’t use it much unless I have a plan for what it is going to solve for me. But I add everything interesting I see to a list, so that I have a good place to start when I need something to solve a specific problem. And when I decide to buy it, wait a few weeks to see if I really need to pull the trigger. Some problems aren’t big enough to actually justify it, while others are.

The tricky part is when you want more of something you already own and use. For example inks or notebooks. It’s okay to have a few bottles of ink or a nice pile of Field Notes. But you should in general avoid ordering at a higher pace than you are using. My strategy have always been to order a pile of refills for my Travellers Notebook or a pile of Field Notes and then wait until my stock is almost out before I order more. And seriously: how many bottles of ink do you need? When you are getting close to owning more ink that you can use for the rest of your life, is the moment where you should stop buying; and maybe selling a few bottles before you order more?

Everything matters.

I think I first learned about this concept when I started playing guitar, everything has an impact on the sound. From the strings you use, to the picks and everything about how the guitar is made. The same goes for your pens and notebooks.

When you are trying to achieve something, everything that is a part of that something will have an impact. I always find it useful to write down a few sentences about what my goal is.

The most important thing for me is always short enough dry time without any bleed through, while others might think that no feathering is more important than the dry time. My perfect setup would be instant dry time, no bleed through and no feathering. But that is impossible. You could probably get it with a very thin nib, but I’m not a fan of nibs like that because they are way too scratchy for my taste; and I have thing for a thick line.

You need to start with your goal. Before you figure out what the options for getting there are. But you also need to look at where you are willing to compromise.

My personal experience is that you do get something from picking an ink with short dry time combined paper that are known for shorter dry time. But the key factor is the the pen. How broad and wet the nib is the most important factor.

Using a journal to keep track of habit forming.

I’m more interested in habits and how to get yourself to do what you want than the average human.

Let’s say you want to do something, for example read more books, buy more pens or go more to the gym. A typical solution to this a resolution; they usually come in the form of “Work out twice a week”. There are a number of problems with it though.

The problem with it is that you will fail many times, and the typical resolution don’t take this into consideration. A good goal should be achievable, not too hard, while at the same time pushing yourself. It should be hard to fail.

I have taken a different approach to it the last few years. I set a number. For example “I want to go to the gym 100 times this year”. The total number of times you go to the gym is more or less the same, but it takes into consideration that you will skip a week here and there, without breaking it. If you skip a week while on vacation or sick – then you’ll have to make it up by the end of the year.

This is a fantastic way to use that pile of Field Notes you haven’t started using yet. The way I do it is that I write what the goal is on the first page, the next two pages I use to keep track of how many times I have done it. Then I start writing dates; all the days I went to the gym. You can also write some notes about each entry if needed; this is what I do to keep track of all the books I read during a calendar year. I write the date I completed it followed by Author and Title.

My New Work Notebook.

I have spent a lot of time looking for a good notebook to use at work. My previous work place(I work as a Software Developer Consultant, so I work for as long as they need me, before I move over to the next gig) had a supply cabinet with not great but good enough notebooks, so I used them.

I have been using MYN refills since I started at my current gig, but I don’t think they are the right thing to use at work.

What Do I need?

  • Short dry time
  • Be able to rip out pages
  • A notebook that stays flat, so I can read pages and take notes without having to fiddle with the notebooks.

I considered everything from the Baron Fig stuff to LT1917, Rhodia and so on.

I landed on a notebook that I have been curious about for a very long time: The Field Notes Steno Pad. The paper isn’t the best, but I know it after filling over 50 of the pocket sized Field Notes; they are not the best for fountain pens but work pretty well, everything considered. The dry time is short. It is more or less the perfect notebook for me to use at work.

The format is superior to the “book” format in this context, but I prefer a more book like format if it is a notebook I have to carry in my bag all the time, because they are more durable. But it is perfect for something that just lays around on a desk.

I also think the steno page layout is great for task management; you can use the full width, when needed; but the half width is surprisingly useful while dealing with projects with a lot of simple tasks.

Review Field Notes Wooden Archival Box

I ordered the archival box a while back. This is one of the products I have considered so many times that I don’t know how many times I have almost pulled the trigger. And it have been on my wish list for about two years, probably closer to two and half.

The funny thing is that I have almost filled it up with used notebooks within minutes of getting it.

You get a simple, well designed, but not fancy wooden box. They included some dividers, but I don’t use them. It is a very good solution, if you are looking for a practical way to store your Field Notes, without wasting a lot of space, while still having easy access to the notebooks.

All my previous attempts have been far from effective and straight out annoying and a pain in the ass. They either require ridiculous amounts of space, or makes it very hard to get access to the notebooks.

It is a little bit expensive, but the fact that it works so much better than the other options makes up for it. You have just enough space for the height of the Field Notes, and it it just tall enough for the dividers to fit. The fact that it doesn’t waste any space at all is the thing I appreciate the most about it.

Is it worth the money? Yes!

I’ll probably order another one in a while; but that one will hopefully last me at least two years.

Where to spend your money.

One of the ever lasting, and truly frustrating things about fountain pens is to figure out where to spend your money. It is very tempting to buy something new every single time you have enough in your budget.

I don’t think it is the smartest thing to do so.

The interesting thing about fountain pens is that the value you get isn’t promotional to the price. There are some pens where you get a lot of value for your buck. For example: Pilot Metropolitan, Lamy Safari and TWSBI Eco are pens where you get a ridiculous amount of value for your money.

The TWSBI 580AL is a “better” pen compared to the Eco; at least in some aspects, but not all. While the Lamy Al Star isn’t even a better version of the Lamy Safari, it’s just a heavier version, that in my opinion is less durable, and is more expensive.

It is very easy to spend enough money in cheap fountain pens, where the total amount adds up to what you could have paid for a Lamy 2000.

Where to spend your money? Spend some money, get a few nice pens in the $15 - $30 range. You get a lot of pen for your money, especially if you go for one of the pens I mention above. It is hard to find anything that beats the TWSBI Eco or the Pilot Metropolitan when it comes to what you get for your money.

There are a lot of good pens between $30 and $150, but I would not spend much if any money there if I were you. Save a little bit longer and go for a Lamy 2000 (it’s around $150). And I have heard a lot of fantastic things about the Pilot Custom Heritage 92 (between $130 and $225; I don’t get why the prices are so different at Goulet and JetPens on this particular pen).

When you go beyond the $250 mark, that is the moment where you shop after different criteria than value. There are many very cool pens that cost a lot more than $250, but it is more about getting something very cool, instead of how much you get for your money. Are they better than a $150 Lamy 2000? Probably. That much better? I doubt it.

There are some exception to what I am talking about here, and that is custom or special nibs. For example pens with flex nibs can be very expensive. But for most pens above $250, is about a very unique design, high quality products without that much focus on what you get for your money.

I Missed a couple of posts.

I try to keep a reliable schedule here at The Ink Smudge. My goal is to always have a post out every Monday and Wednesday. I tried to do three posts a week for a while, but that became too much, and the result was a short break.

Well, I missed two posts in a row, because I wasn’t feeling that well last week. I’m all better now, but I didn’t get the time to get everything ready for this afternoon. But I’m going to publish the post I planned on posting last Wednesday, and today plus the regular Wednesday post this week.

They are more or less ready to go, and will appear tomorrow, Wednesday and Thursday.

Enjoy!

The difference between bad and different.

Let’s take a look at a random ink.

Why are people buying it? I’m not that “artistic”, and I don’t own any crazy flex nib pens or anything like that, so I often just look until I find a ink that has a colour I like combined with ink properties I think is important.

It all comes down to the most important thing: what is the most important? For me it is a balance between great colour and short dry time. While others might not care at all about dry time, they just want a ink with all kinds of crazy colour shading voodoo going on when they use a flex nib or even a paint brush. And some care more than anything else about the ink being permanent.

I have some very strong opinions about what makes a good ink, but they are limited to how I use pens and ink and the properties I think is important.

This doesn’t mean that inks that don’t match up with mine or your use cases and priorities are bad, it just means that they aren’t for you.

Does this mean that there are no bad inks? No, of course. not. When you use something, and don’t like it, you either think it is just bad, or you conclude that it isn’t for you. For example Rhodia products and the Lamy Safari. I think both of them are excellent products, while I at the same time know that they aren’t for me. The same goes for the Moleskine.

The difference comes down to when you see the reason for what you don’t like. For example, the reason I don’t like Rhodia is that the ink takes forever to dry, but I understand why it is like that. I call something bad when I don’t see a positive gain from something I don’t like. For example the Lamy black ink, the colour isn’t great, and the dry time is just as bad. That is just bad.

Packaging.

I spent some time this weekend going through my desk, and getting rid of some stuff. Most of it was some kind of packaging for stuff I have bought during the last twelve months. Most of it was from stationary products, but not everything.

This isn’t about the environment, even though it can be a nice bonus.

My typical flow when it comes to product packaging if it is small enough is to unpack it, stuff the box away and then at some later point just throw it away. My two favourites at the moment are Apple’s iPhone packaging and the box my Travelers Notebook came in. Both of them are nice, but the iPhone is the nicest from a pure design perspective. It is a nice card board box, while the Travelers Notebook just came in a folded piece of cardboard.

The thing I don’t like is the obsessive need for sending everything in a “nice” plastic box, that you will look at once, start using it and then ignore until you have to get rid of it.

Both have the same end goal, keep what you bought save until you get it. You make it easy to throw out when something is made out of cardboard. It isn’t a practical thing, it’s just a mental thing: this is cardboard, let’s just throw it out with the rest. While I always for some strange reason keep the damn thing if it is made out of plastic. I’m not sure why, but I expect it is something going on in the back of my mind, like “this is nice, maybe I need it for something some day”.

It would have been really nice if everyone got their act together and stopped kidding themselves and us: make the damn thing out of cardboard, we are going to get rid of it anyways.

This doesn’t mean you have to use something ugly. Apple are really good at it. Making boxes that you can just throw out and recycle without giving us the guilt with a fancy piece of plastic that no single person will use for anything but taking up space.

Ink hoarding.

It is very easy to end up in a situation with bottled fountain pen ink where you own enough ink to supply a school for a generation. I’m lucky enough to not be in that situation.

Here is the thing: you don’t need to buy every single cool ink that shows up in your radar at once.

Like most of you that have been reading this site for a while: I like systems. I think it is partly connected to my personality and partly connected to my job as a Web Developer. I’ve had a mental system for managing how much ink I own at any given moment.

The system:

  • A hard limit of 5 bottles
  • Only once of each colour, unless I’m about to run out of it.
  • Only buy ink that I think is something I could use as my “main” ink for longer periods.
  • Give it away or sell it, if it is something you don’t use.

There are some inks you use more than others, and the only way to learn it, is by trying different things out. And stop buying stuff you don’t enjoy. For example: I don’t like Lamy inks. I don’t like the colours, I don’t like how they behave, so I don’t buy them. I don’t even consider them.

It is fine to have a lot of different inks if that is your thing, but you should try to do something about it, if you feel bad about it.

This is the question I always ask myself before ordering a new bottle of ink: can I use this to write with at work and at home in my main pen, all day, every day, for a couple of months?

The Circle.

I constantly re-evaluate everything I use, everything problem notebooks & pens to apps and electronics. It is the only way to figure out what you need, what isn’t working, and what do I need to change to end up at something better.

It have been over six months since I stopped using Field Notes or any kind of “pocket notebooks”. I might get back into them soon. Not because the change I did in November was wrong per say, but that I think they might still be useful in some aspects. The reason I stopped using them back then was that they wasn’t the ideal fit for a majority of what I was using them for. But I realise now in retrospect that they still are useful for a tiny portion.

I don’t think Field Notes or any kind of notebooks of the same size are the best for managing your paper based getting things done system or journaling. But I think there is a place for them to keep small to-do lists that you need on the go, like grocery lists or to capture things when you are on the go.

The great thing about the format is that you can have a couple of them in your back pocket at all time, something that isn’t as easy with a Travelers Notebook; even though I almost always have a bag. It isn’t just about the size, it is also about how much easier it is to take out a small notebook from your pack pocket and a pen from your front pocket.

I’m a strong believer in leaving stuff behind in order to figure out where their place actually are. This means that you need to try something different and stop using what you were using, to see where the old thing was better, and where the new thing is better.

Curiosity and expansion

Hate it, or love it. But you are probably on the way to becoming a stationary geek by buying a fancy notebook or pen. Being on the way doesn’t mean you’ll end up there.

The same thing happens more or less every time something new shows up in your horizon. Something new as a new sub group, within the larger group; this was how I got into fountain pens.

My first reaction is almost always: I don’t need that.

Then I slowly get curious as I am exposed to podcasts and blogs about it.

A lot of stuff never go beyond the curiosity stage, but some of it is something i decide to dip into, and try out. Some of it stick, and others not. But it is more complicated than that.

There are things that you figure out isn’t your thing, and you have the stuff you like, but you don’t go into the “geek” phase. And then you have the stuff you love so much that you go as deep as you need.

It is all about using that curiosity and expanding to figure out what is and isn’t your thing.

The Ideal number of refills in the MTN.

I have used the MTN for over six months now, and I have tried countless numbers of different configurations of refills in it. I currently have two refills in it. One for journaling, and one for tasks. But, I also have two refills bundled together with one of the MTN rubber bands for my “work” notebooks; one lined for tasks, and one blank for everything else.

Yes, I’m going to buy another one, or find a better solution.

The number of refills comes down to a number of different factors. But one above everything else is the writing comfort. The most practical from a writing standpoint is to use it with two refills, while the most practical from a “have as much options as possible” is to fill it up with six refills.

From a day to day usage stand point, I think two refills is the ideal, even though three is workable, if you need to. The problem with too many refills is that everything moves around every time you are trying to do something, and it is hard to fill the pages.

I wish the MTN worked better with a lot of refills, but it doesn’t. I still think it is a fantastic system, but you need to pick your poison, many refills and many MTN covers, or fewer refills.

The Retro 51 “refill”.

My journey into buying stationary online, started with the Retro 51. What makes it an amazing pen is trifold: quality, variety and the refill.

It is one of the most amazing things I have seen in terms of build quality. It feels good to hold it, and you just want to sit there and twist it back and forth. And you can find a Retro 51 model to match almost any style or design you are looking for.

But the thing that takes the Retro 51 from impressive to amazing is the schmith refill. It is the perfect for everything that want something good, but don’t care about the details. It is also everything I want from a pen, a thick black line without a lot of pressure or hassle.

It is still my goto pen when I want something I can write with for very long periods. Because I don’t have to put any pressure on the page; the weight of the pen is sufficient.

The refill isn’t for everyone. Either because you want different ink, or a thinner line. But there are plenty of compatible refills.

What I think proves my point about it being one of the best “general” refills available is that almost all rollerball pens use it. Everything from the Lamy 2000 Rollerball to the new Baron Fig pen. When I see a new rollerball pen, I see the refill more often than not.

The thing I love about is that, if you like a pen that uses it but hates the refill, or if you hate the pen but love the refill, you have plenty of options in either direction to find your perfect fit.

Digital or analogue?

One of the questions I ask myself the most often is: digital or analogue?

I tend to favour analogue, unless the digital option have some significant advantages.

For example, my current favourite app: Duolingo. It makes learning a language fun and approachable; something I have never seen in a text book. That is a significant advantage compared to the analogue.

Or my digital cameras have an advantage over it’s analogue parents, by letting me take a lot of pictures without going broke by developing or buying film.

E-books isn’t for me. I only buy them when a paper books isn’t available. My main problem with e-books as they are in most cases at the moment is that they don’t provide anything that a paper book doesn’t have. The only advantages I can see as a general rule is: lower delivery time and doesn’t require as much space. My problem with e-books is that everything disappears in the list. Either unread books or books that you enjoyed any would have read again if you saw it in the book shelf.

The thing about digital or anything that wants to replace what is needs to be better, and not just a little bit better, but a much better alternative to win.

Some people are 100% digital, while others are 100% analogue; but I expect most people to be somewhere in the middle.

I go for what works the best for me, and I need to question everything in order to find what works the best.

Good vs Good Enough

I’m writing this with my first fountain pen. My Pilot Metropolitan. A pen that I have used and abused for over three years. And it have been on the short list of being replaced for a while(Just waiting for Gulet to get the colour I want back in stock).

My only real complaint about it is the lack of nib options.

This is not the kind of pen I expect to last forever, like a Lamy 2000 or a Pilot Vanishing Point. But it is still one of the ones I enjoy the most. And lasting forever isn’t really the point.

There is something to buying a good pen that lasts for the rest of your life. Btu there is also something to going for that cheaper option that is good enough. Just get a few of them, and replace them as they wear down.

A Lamy 2000 is a good if not excellent pen, while a Pilot Metropolitan is good enough.

Neither is right or wrong. It just comes down the personal preference, and budget.

The Journaling Habit.

One of the things I find very fascinating about journaling is the struggle.

My first attempts at journaling daily started five years ago. I have to a large extent journaled daily since then. What I mean by that is that I have done it more days than I have not.

Journaling and going to the gym is more or less the same struggle for me. I can do it day in and day out for very long periods, and I have no problem with it as long as I pick a interval and a time to do it.

But it becomes hard to start again once I take a short break.

There is no easy way to fix it. You just need to force yourself back in. And set a barrier as low as possible to then start building it up again.

The easiest way to avoid it in the first place is to do everything you can to not stop.