The Organized Writer: Paper Planners

by Jeff Abbott on January 28, 2009

I have heard you. You want more Organized Writer. I blush. So I will continue to write these, not necessarily waiting for the main Friday blog entry if I have something substantive to say that will crack the whips of organization over your procrastinating little heads. Thanks for the organizational love.

The end of January is when resolutions start to fade; and it’s also when people sometimes decide they don’t like the planning system they’ve put in place. They’ve tried it for a few weeks and see that it’s somehow not meeting their goals, or is too complicated, or too simple.

I’ve mentioned before I use a paper planner, and this seems like a good time to discuss the three brands of planner I think are reasonable choices for authors; just in case you haven’t snagged one yet for 2009, or you got one and you don’t like it.
Filofax: i’ve been using an A5 Filofax for two years now. I like it, and use the one-week on two pages calendar view (after using the page-a-day last year, which didn’t give me enough of an overview of larger blocks of time). I keep an extra page close by to list all the areas I need to focus on that week (these can be specific to dos). I can map out blocks of time on each day and see the “shape” of my week. I can also, under tabs, store project notes, random ideas, thoughts for future work, and so on.
What I don’t like about Filofax is they have virtually no project planning sheets to help you out with long term planning. Zilch. They make these sorts of sheets in Britain, but when I contacted Filofax UK about whether they could ship some to me I never got a response. I’ve emailed Filofax US that they should offer these as well; never got a response. Frankly, I don’t think any company can take their customers so much for granted that they don’t at least acknowledge an email. I’m sticking with Filofax for now, but with definite annoyance. Filofax is a good choice if you have a lot of data you want to keep and access in your planner, or if you absolutely must be able to add and remove pages from your planner (most of the other choices here are bound planners). That flexibility, though, can mean it’s a pain to archive your loose pages once you’re done, if you need to keep them for reference on what you did when.
The main Filofax site
Philofaxy, a useful blog where users share ideas
Moleskine: Moleskine makes a number of very nice, simply laid out planners, in different sizes and formats. I’ve heard from a few writers that they’re using these planners for the new year. I used a Moleskine soft cover week at a view planner for several months before switching to Filofax. I liked the planner, it was terrific; the only problem with it was I ran out of room on the notes page. Not every week, but often. That was not a deal breaker, and I would have no hesitation to go back to a Moleskine planner. I love their notebooks, trendy as they may be (although in my defense I think I liked them before they were trendy). If you need a simpler planner (especially one that can fit in your pocket), Moleskine is very hard to beat. 
Moleskinerie, a very popular fan site for notebook users. There is often cool art created in Moleskines posted to the site.
Quo Vadis: I have a secret crush on Quo Vadis planners. They use the same paper and are made by the same parent company in my necessary-as-air Clairefontaine notebooks. But i’ve never used a Quo Vadis. They come in a wide variety of sizes and formats (and I never have figured out which one would be right for me). The company runs an excellent blog  (where they also talk about writing, time management, and such) and best of all they listen to their customers. Changes are made in the products based on sustained feedback. There is a real sense of customer engagement with this company that I regrettably don’t get from Filofax–amazingly, they post reviews from bloggers on what they like and don’t like about the planners. They are bound planners, many of them inserts so you can use a nice leather-style cover and then shelf the completed planner when you’re done for the year. If I decided to ditch my Filofax, I’d go for a Quo Vadis in a heartbeat.
The very good Quo Vadis blog
Those are my recommendations. I once got to see a private exhibit of writers’ notebooks and planners at the Harry Ransom Center at UT, and it was fun to see the scribblings and notes on authors’ calendar pages (including Norman Mailer’s). Most of those calendars were bound, like the Quo Vadis style are, and so easy to archive.
The good thing about changing paper planners is that while not necessarily cheap, it’s not nearly as expensive as changing a PDA or smartphone. So if you don’t like what you’re using, one of the above options may work for you.

    { 7 comments… read them below or add one }

    Ann Victor January 28, 2009 at 10:45 am

    Ha ha. My procrastinating little head is hanging in shame…
    My vote is Moleskin. Got my first one for Xams and love it. Everytime I think of Hemingway scracthing away in his I feel all writerly.

    Kristan January 28, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    I use a $3 weekly planner (like yours, one week across two pages) from Walmart. But it’s not so much for writing as just keeping track of my life… I’ve always gone for the smaller sizes so I can put them in my purse. What do guys do if they need to carry planners or journals??

    Stephanie January 29, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    I’ve actually dedicated my blog to finding the ultimate journal to enhance the writing experience. Nice to see that you use Clairefontaine – great stuff. I use a tiny Exaplan from Quo Vadis. Just enough space to jot a small note on a particular day.

    Jeff Abbott January 29, 2009 at 10:47 pm

    Kristan: I don’t normally need to carry the Filofax, but if I do, it’s not so bad (I sometimes carry only the sheets I need, for instance, a list of errands to run or books that I want to buy at the store, etc.). I can fit a Moleskine pocket notebook in my pocket, no problem. I almost always have a notebook with me.

    Jeff Abbott January 30, 2009 at 11:43 am

    I just heard on the Philofaxy blog that Filofax is raising their prices on their planners. Hmmm. This was according to someone who’s on their email list.
    Seems an odd decision, if true, given the economy. We’ll see if that bears out.

    Laurie February 5, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    I’m always jumping around between planner formats. I rarely use one single planner system for an entire year. I used a personal size Filofax for many years, then in 2005 it got out of control with how thick and bulky it was with all the papers I had put in it. So that year I used it only for addresses/ reference and got a small page per day book to use as my calendar. Now for the past several months I have been using an A5 Filofax, and history is repeating itself. It has gotten so bulky and heavy with all the stuff I’ve put into it that now I’m leaving it at home as a reference only and using a small Exacompta day per page book as my calendar. I’m constantly torn between having all of my information in one book, vs. portability. Inevitably my Filofax reaches a critical mass and I scale way back to the simplest thing possible!

    Jeff Abbott February 7, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    Laurie: The big appeal of Filofax is that you *can* load it up with so much stuff. That is also its peril. When I got my A5 Classic a couple of years ago I did load it up quite a bunch with project notes, lists, etc. I have slimmed it down because I figured out project notes did better in their own main notebook once they were an official project. I’ve had stuff get lost in there, so now I am fairly ruthless about keeping the planner trimmed down. I still do keep an Ideas section in the planner, and I jot ideas in there if it’s the closest place to record a thought when I need to capture it, or if it’s an entirely different idea that is not related to any current project. That’s sort of my hold-all for stray ideas that I may not be ready to work on yet, or don’t quite want to give up on yet, or don’t know what to do with yet. I’ve picked on Filofax a bit lately, but being able to keep, remove, and add pages to a section like that in a planner is a Good Thing, to me, and one of Filofax’s strengths for a creative person’s planner.

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