20 Facts That Will Make You Believe in the Potential of Notebooks

20 Facts That Will Make You Believe in the Potential of Notebooks

1. Even geniuses take time to work it out

If you think you never sound as clever as your heroes, take a look in their notebooks and you’ll find out that witty sayings are often not as spontaneous as you might have thought. Mark Twain, who is well known for his snappy statements, used to draft and re-draft them many times in his notebooks to get the phrasing just right.

2. Many famous writers prefer pen and paper

Top writers such as Quentin Tarantino, Neil Gaiman and Stephen King favour pen and paper over writing on a computer. Tarantino says: “It’s a ceremony. I go to a stationery store and buy a notebook – and I don’t buy like ten. I just buy one and then fill it up.” If it’s good enough for the creator of Reservoir Dogs, it’s good enough for us.

3. JK Rowling planned all of Harry Potter in a notebook

It’s pretty well-known that the first parts of Harry Potter were written in cafés while JK Rowling was a struggling single mother. What may be less well-known is that the author plans novels using a simple pen and paper, plotting out key events in each chapter and the development of important themes.

4. Notebooks can help you survive parenthood

There have been special books for recording your baby’s first words, steps and other achievements for some time, but journals for parents to record a more warts-and-all experience are becoming increasingly popular, alongside the growth in blogs charting the trials of caring for kids. Parenting journals provide a place for mums and dads to record the beautiful moments, challenges and occasional disasters of helping young ones grow up. They are a precious record of years which fly by all too quickly.

5. ‘Morning Pages’ are a great way to start the day

Julia Cameron’s cult classic The Artist’s Way has a sworn way to make your day better, whatever you do for a living: fill at least three pages of a notebook with writing as soon as you wake up. You write whatever comes into your head without stopping, however boring or silly it seems. People often find by the third page they have realised something valuable to help solve a problem or see it in a different way.

6. Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook was centuries ahead of its time

Parachutes, machine guns, tanks, helicopters and robots – if you think these things belong to the twentieth century, think again. Leonardo da Vinci’s amazing notebooks show he had ideas about how to build these things way back in the 1500s. Many of his thoughts were prompted by sketches and notes about nature, such as bird flight – also jotted down in notebooks.

7. Even address books can be fascinating

Old address books like those of actress Katharine Hepburn can be fascinating historical documents. Hepburn’s Panama brand books, customised with her initials in gold lettering, are snapshots of old-time Hollywood: details for Tony Curtis, Frank Sinatra and Spencer Tracy sit alongside the phone numbers of less exciting contacts, such as the company which provided Hepburn with chickens.

8. George Lucas’ notebook habit gave us Star Wars’ R2D2

Star Wars creator George Lucas always carried a pocket notebook with him when he was drafting the screenplay so he could record ideas for dialogue and plot angles at any time. While mixing the sound of another film, Lucas was asked for R2 D2, meaning Reel 2, Dialogue 2. Lucas liked the sound of the words so much, he used it to name his humanoid robot character.

9. Beatrix Potter’s characters started in schoolbooks

Beloved children’s author Beatrix Potter usually did a quick pencil sketch or watercolour painting in a notebook to create her famous characters such as Mrs Tiggy-Winkle and Peter Rabbit. Potter sometimes used old school exercise books, writing stories and sticking in pictures she liked. Much of her writing in the notebooks was in code, to stop her snooping mother from reading it!

10. Notebooks can make you immortal

When Anne Frank began writing a diary in a notebook in 1942, her initial entries were about childish things: friends at school, going to parties and being a chatterbox. A few months later her family went into hiding in an attempt to escape Nazi persecution, and her journal became a timeless record of a young girl trying to maintain a positive spirit in the face of adversity.

11. Darwin’s theory of evolution was mixed in with shopping lists

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution revealed the origins of life on Earth. The theory was drawn from observations made in notebooks kept by Darwin during sea voyages and expeditions, but they are not purely scientific. Mixed in with diagrams and measurements are shopping lists, snippets of conversation, personal reflections and even financial information.

12. Writing in space is a challenge

If you were going in a space ship, it’s pretty likely you’d want to be able to jot down notes. From personal reflections on your journey or scientific notes on charts, being able to write is important to many of us – including astronauts. Back in the 1960s, finding a pen or pencil that would work in zero gravity without bursting into flames or sending bits of pencil lead into the air was a challenge. The highly specialised Fisher Space Pen was developed to address the issue.

13. We know about Captain Scott of the Antarctic through his notebooks

Facing terrible weather, illness and with dwindling food and fuel supplies, Captain Robert Scott knew he may never return from the 1912 South Pole expedition. His handwritten journal is a moving window into the journey and the tragic series of setbacks experienced by the explorers. Scott wrote in his notebook: “these rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale.”

14. Notebooks helped build the legend of Marilyn Monroe

The tragic, enigmatic Marilyn Monroe was also an intelligent woman struggling to be recognised as more than just a beautiful starlet. Her notebooks have helped complete our picture of this complex and interesting historical figure; they are packed with poems, notes, reading lists and reflections. For example, aged 29 in 1955 she noted a New Year’s resolution: “Try to enjoy myself when I can – I’ll be miserable enough as it is.”

15. Pablo Picasso’s notebooks are just as inspiring as his paintings

Have you ever looked at a wonderful painting and been in awe of how the artist came to create it? Notebooks such as those of Pablo Picasso provide a behind-the-scenes view of what an artist was influenced by and how his or her ideas developed. Drawings and pen sketches sit alongside diary entries and reflections, giving an insight into the thoughts and feelings of the artist.

16. William Blake’s notebooks show the lifespan of an artist

The great artist and poet William Blake was not much recognised during his lifetime, often struggling to earn a living. Some of his most famous works including ‘The Tyger’ were drafted in a notebook which had belonged to his dead brother. After writing in it throughout his life, the book was given to the artist Samuel Palmer by Blake’s widow in 1827, then sold to the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1847 for the princely sum of ten shillings.

17. Kurt Cobain’s journals reveal his tormented mind

When he took his own life aged 27 in 1994, Kurt Cobain was the leading light of the grunge generation. The music made by his band Nirvana remains popular today. Cobain kept many notebooks filled with drawings, self-recriminations and ideas about everything from culture and sexuality to music and feminism.

18. Queen Victoria was a lover of notebooks

No scrappy foolscap for Queen Victoria – the long-reigning monarch enjoyed using a diamond-studded Faberge notebook presented to her by Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra as a Christmas gift. The gem-encrusted book is inscribed: “For dearest Grandmama from Nicky and Alix, Xmas 1896.” Queen Victoria’s diaries detailing her life in Scotland with beloved manservant John Brown were a best seller when published in 1868.

19. Freddie Mercury wrote his best-known lyrics in a simple book

The chaotic lifestyle of a rock musician means lyrics are often scribbled on odd pieces of paper and lost. In contrast, Freddie Mercury kept a spiral-bound notebook between 1988 and 1990 – a period in which he was secretly fighting HIV. The notebook is packed with 19 lyrics including anthems like ‘Too Much Love Will Kill You’ scrawled in scruffy handwriting and red coloured pencil. It’s a testament to a well-loved singer who worked for as long as he was able.

20. Newton’s ‘Waste Book’ paved the way for modern computing

In his rough notebook titled ‘Waste Book 1664: Mathematical Papers’, Newton developed the theory of calculus which he used to solve problems including planetary motion. The pages are full of scientific equations, diagrams and notes in beautiful 17th century handwriting. Calculus is still important today, underpinning modern computer science.

Why not follow in famous footsteps and browse our notebooks for the perfect one for you? You never know what you might create…