journals and notebooks

All the Best Notebooks We’ve Ever Written About

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers

A good notebook is a daily necessity, and there’s nothing like putting pen to paper to cut out distractions and take time with your thoughts. But with so many options out there — from hard and soft covers to spiral-bound and sewn — it can be tough to pick the right one. At the Strategist, we’re writing around the clock, and many of us have journals we swear by for note-taking, list-making, and jotting down ideas. So, we’ve gone through the archives to find the best ones recommended by our staffers but also by authors and avid journalers. Our roundup includes Neil Gaiman’s favorite journal; notepads you can use in the shower; and books you can completely customize for endless musing, doodling, and organizing.

Best hardcover notebooks

Moleskine is a popular choice, but author Neil Gaiman says he made the switch to Leuchtturm after Moleskine’s paper got thinner. “It’s just a better notebook,” he says. The smooth, leatherlike, water-resistant cover is made from recycled materials, and the journal comes with stick-on tabs so you can label each book with what’s inside. Gaiman says he appreciates that the pages are numbered and there’s a space at the top for a date. “It feels really well designed.”

Tayari Jones, the author of An American Marriage, recommends this Confidant notebook from Baron Fig for its construction and dot-grid layout. The journal is clothbound and hardcover, and Jones likes that it’s hand-sewn, which she says makes it feel artisanal despite being inexpensive. As for the paper, Jones says, “I feel like lines are too controlling and the blank page doesn’t give me enough structure, so a dot grid feels like that nice in-between space.” It comes in seven pastel colors and three sizes. There’s also ruled and blank-page options.

Best softcover notebooks

Unlike hardcover notebooks, softcovers can be bent back and around without truly damaging the journal’s construction. This Muji Paper Bind has a slim and flexible design with smooth pages, and at $12 for a pack of five, Strategist senior writer Liza Corsillo says she’s a devoted user. The card-stock-paper cover means she can draw on it or label it easily, unlike cloth or leather-bound notebooks. She says she uses it on a regular basis for writing to-do lists, drawing on the subway, recording her feelings, and jotting down ideas. There are two drawbacks: One, the pages are slightly transparent when you use inkier pens, and two, the book doesn’t lie open on its own. “But with a little encouragement,” she says, “I can bend one to my will so it’ll stay flat.”

Moleskine Ruled Volant Journal
$17 for 2
$17 for 2

If you like the quality of a leather-bound book but want the versatility of a softcover, New York features editor Katy Schneider says this Moleskine Volant is “like the Frances McDormand of notebooks: handsome, no-nonsense, and timeless.” It’s an efficient, unadorned journal — the pages are detachable, the lines are subtle but not too subtle, and the ivory paper is smooth. The front and back covers are somewhat plasticky, and Schneider sees that as a win: “You get the sense that if you had this in your bag and, say, a water bottle spilled, it would make it out mostly unscathed.”

Best spiral-bound notebooks


While the notebooks listed above are sewn, this Rollbahn pocket memo is spiral-bound, meaning it will lie completely flat. A few years ago, Strategist contributor Hannah Morril wrote an ode to the journal, saying it’s the best-designed notebook she’s ever used. She says the binding coil is large enough to hold thick pens, while the coated-cardboard front means the cover won’t crinkle or crease and can be cleaned easily. Writer Hunter Harris (a former New York colleague) also swears by this Rollbahn and says she carries one every single day and has “approximately two dozen tucked away on shelves and in drawers between my home and my desk.”

Former Strategist writer Hilary Reid says she typically uses blank or lined notebooks with stitched bindings, but this dot-grid journal from Appointed made her “reconsider everything I ever thought I wanted in a notebook,” she says. Reid says she likes the way the cover flips back over the brass-colored spiral, and she notes the pages are just the right amount of smooth, thick, and bleed-resistant. “It’s simultaneously stately and accessible, and using it makes me feel productive.” Reid says the faint dotted rows are enjoyable to write on, although they’re a tiny bit too close together for her use. However, she says they’re faint enough that you can write outside them without it looking sloppy.

Best notebooks for bullet journaling

We couldn’t help but recommend this dotted version of Leuchtturm1917, which is beloved by both bullet journalers and regular note takers alike, Strategist writer Dominique Pariso says. The dots are small and light gray, so they serve as visual guides for writing and list-making, but Pariso says they’re not so pronounced as to interfere with drawing. “The level of quality is high without feeling too precious,” she notes. “And, oh, the dotted grid! I absolutely adore it. I’ll pretty much scribble in anything, but that page design is my ideal: It gives just the right amount of constraint and freedom.”

For notebook connoisseurs, a simple dotted journal might not cut it. This cherry-red, clothbound hardcover from Princeton Architectural Press goes the extra step, with 144 pages printed with different grid designs, including gray lines, blue boxes, tessellated triangles, and evenly spaced dots. Strategist contributor Molly Young says the patterns are simultaneously a constraint (because of the grid) but also a mild creative prompt, since each page has a new design. “The grids are all bold enough to provide structure but faint enough to foreground your writing,” Young says. “We all deserve organizational ecstasy.”

Best waterproof notebooks

If you’re frequently facing the elements, senior editor Simone Kitchens says this notebook is impressively weatherproof. “After I scribbled a page with a Sharpie, dribbled water on it, and when I wiped it with my hand, the ink didn’t smear or bleed through,” she says. “And, when dried, the paper returned to its original texture without telltale waterlogged waviness.” The journal’s small size might not be ideal for everyday carry, but Kitchens says it could be stuffed in a back pocket and would work for grocery lists, daily tasks, or highly abbreviated notes. “Ideal for intrepid reporters on drizzly days,” she says.

Strategist contributor Karin Slaughter also wanted a waterproof notepad for jotting down ideas when they came to her (often in the shower). However, she wasn’t keen on the previous journal’s metal spiral binding, so she ordered an AquaNotes pad. Each pad has two big suction cups on the back to attach it to a wall and contains 40 perforated sheets. Slaughter says pencil works on the paper, and she uses the pad to jot down plot points or dialogue. Plus, she points out that they make great gifts. “No one realizes how much they need them until they have them,” she says.

Best small notebooks

This four-by-six-inch notebook by Emilio Braga is Strategist writer Erin Schwartz’s favorite for jotting down to-do lists, reminders, sketches, notes, and doodles. It’s “special enough for journaling and compact enough to write a grocery list and throw it into a tote bag,” they say. The little book has dense, cream-colored pages, a marbled cover, and sponge-painted edges, which Schwartz says makes them look really nice on a shelf or in a stack. They also like that the notebook comes in a wide range of colors, from bright canary yellow to chocolate brown.

Strategist writer Lauren Ro’s ideal journal is one that allows her to keep separate notebooks but packaged together between the same covers. She found this customizable one from the Traveler’s Company, which lets you create a single book with different inserts. Each insert comes with 64 pages of dotted, lined, blank, or gridded paper in your paper of choice (lightweight, sketch, watercolor), and there are also inserts for using the notebook as a planner (daily, weekly, and monthly inserts). Ro says it’s on the narrow side, and while it’s not an ideal everyday carry due to its size, she could see those who never go without a small journal in their pocket really digging it.

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All the Best Notebooks We’ve Ever Written About