The only essential writing tools I always have with me

essential writing tools: a notepad, a pen and coffee

I can happily procrastinate with stationery for weeks. I’ll pin heaps of cute bullet journal layouts, and feel obligated to check the sale rack in the local supermarket. I’ve a drawer of notebooks, and still buy more. If you’re thinking of freelance life, the stationery seems important.

It isn’t.

At the most basic, you need some paper and some pens. I’m tempted to add a smartphone as I live on mine, but I’m lying if I call it an essential writing tool. I know we’re mostly digital now, but I’ve yet to see a genuinely paperless office.

I reverted to writing things longhand with my second novel as I needed two distinct voices. Having written the first third, with the point of view of a time-travelling steampunk magician, on a PC I was worried the second third was too similar. I switched to pen and paper for the point of view of a rebellious wuxia fighter.

I’ve stayed with paper as I noticed that I can capture thoughts more quickly, then edit them as I type up. If I think something is wrong on paper, I can cross it through quickly yet still see what I’ve dismissed. I can also doodle, sketch and draw diagrams. I like mind-maps and I’ve yet to find a software version that keeps the flow of thoughts moving quickly in the way a pen on paper can.

So, here’s what decades of dawdling in the stationery aisles research has found works for me. None of these are sponsored links: I buy this stuff because I find them essential writing tools.


I’ve tried lots. Here’s my top three.

Typo A5 notebooks

I’m using A5 typo notebooks for my everyday book at the moment as I wanted something with most of the benefits of a project book but slimmer. Typo do pads with pockets at the front (good for keeping receipts safe) and a band to keep them closed. I’m using a fancy paperclip as a placemarker.

Pukka project books

These A5 Pukka project books were my go-to whilst working in government. They have moveable plastic pockets that also work as placemarkers. I’d use one to mark the start of the week and another to mark the day. I used lots of tricks from bullet journals to manage those books. I’m only not using one now because I realised I needed to disrupt my habits as part of changing how I work.

A3 sketch books

These are the business for mind-mapping. I’ve no special brand I go to but thinner paper can be more useful than the good quality ones so I tend to get them in Wilko or the Range. The heavier weight paper makes it feel like the thoughts should be weighty too and can get in the way of getting ideas down quickly and roughly.

Bonus item: planner

Just outside the top three as it’s technically not a notepad, is the Moleskine 12 month weekly notebook planner which combines a diary with a facing page for notes. I used an A6 one this year and am planning to get an A5 one for 2020 as I need the bigger page.


I use inkgels. Having grown up with fountain pens (messy) and biros (not flowing enough) the arrival of inkgel pens made me very happy. I should probably look into more sustainable ones, but for now these are my top three.


I love these Muji black 0.5 inkgels so much. I’ve been at meetings where I’ve bonded with other attendees about how good these inkgels are. It’s like a freemason’s handshake of stationery. The 0.5 are good (0.38 is a bit too fine). I also have them in green, orange and red for making notes on top of notes.

Pilot G-1

The Pilot G-1 0.7 rollerball inkgel is my back up. I’m using one this week. They flow well, and the 0.7 is not too heavy so you don’t end up trailing black smudges across the page.


I’ve some cheap pastel highlighters from poundland at the moment, which I love for colour-coding my notebook, to-do lists and diary. Pastel highlighters are less glaring, so it feels less aggressive. Plus, there’s a lilac. Who doesn’t want a lilac highlighter? When I need new ones, I’ll probably get the Stabilo 7 pen set.

Bonus item: something to carry them in

Oh, yes, get a pencil case. Get two. I use one for pens and the other for my cables so they don’t get tangled up in my bag.

See, paper and pens are a great procrastination essential writing tools…


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