Modern Stationer is Now Lane Changes

Photo by Clay Banks

Photo by Clay Banks

It's time to try something different. I love pens and paper as much as ever, but my drive to test and write about new stationery products has waned (in case you hadn't noticed). I still try new pens and notebooks occasionally, but it's not for the sake of curiosity and experimentation like it once was.

Focus is good when you're writing online. I don't think I would have gained momentum with the site if I hadn't focused it so narrowly on pens and paper. It prevented my attention from scattering too much, and it made it easier for kindred spirits in the pen community to find me.

But over time, I lost momentum. I tried to regain it a couple of times, but I was unsuccessful. It's not because I've run out of things to say about pens and paper. I have several partially written drafts that will likely turn into decent posts someday. I just find other interests pulling me in whenever I can steal some free time.

Rather than continuing to feel bad about that, I've decided to broaden the scope of my personal writing. As a step in this direction, I changed the name of Modern Stationer to Lane Changes. No, I'm not pivoting to become an autonomous vehicle blog. The new name is a play on my surname and the fact my posts will be moving across a more diverse set of interests.

I considered keeping Modern Stationer separate and intact for occasional stationery posts and starting a new blog for unrelated topics. But I ultimately decided that having one primary place for everything would keep things simpler and maximize my chances of success.

The site is configured to continue resolving modernstationer.com URLs. So, if you happen to have linked to me in the past, those links should remain functional.

I hope the change isn’t too jarring to people who showed up here expecting a focused stationery blog. I also hope you’ll stick around for a bit to see where I take this.

Embracing Simplicity and Familiarity

Despite my many months of neglecting this site, people still show up every day. And sometimes they even ask questions. The most frequent question is whether I’ve made any changes to the adapted Bullet Journal approach that I described in posts like Making Bullet Journal My Own and My Search for a Two-Book Bullet Journal Setup.

I’m always doing a little bit of tinkering with my daily journaling approach, but these days I’m more focused on simplification than on finding the perfect journaling workflow. I have a tendency of overthink things, and the search for the perfect paper-based system led me to a place where I was thinking more about the system, pen, and paper than about what I was actually trying to accomplish each week.

My first simplification was to stop looking for the perfect notebook. It turns out that the perfect notebook was sitting in front of me all along. It’s called Field Notes. While there is something to be said for the superior paper options and on-page real estate that larger notebooks bring, Field Notes books offer two big advantages. First, they are easy to carry with me at all times. And second, if I use them daily, they fill up quickly. Filling up notebooks feels very satisfying. Now, I get to feel that satisfaction every week versus once a month with an A5 notebook.

While I’m a longtime Field Notes fan, my descent into fountain pen madness significantly curtailed my Field Notes use. I know that plenty of people make fountain pens and Field Notes work by either not sweating the feathering and bleeding or by carefully selecting their inks and nibs. But even as I found some serviceable combinations of my own, I was never quite happy. Eventually, I came to a realization: as much as I like fountain pens, I like Field Notes more.

I love the tactile quality of fountain pens. They feel great to use. But Field Notes notebooks have both tactile and emotional appeal for me. It’s not just that Field Notes are a throwback product. Field Notes themselves now hold nostalgia for me. They’ve been around for nearly a decade in their own right, and my life is in a much different place now than it was when I first began using Field Notes. It’s better in most ways. But as I get older, it’s easier and easier for the practical demands of family life and my career to tamp down the “anything is possible” spirit I had a decade ago. As silly it seems, looking down at a familiar kraft Field Notes book brings that feeling back in a small way.

I began my move back to Field Notes by adapting my two-book setup: one for lists/collections and one for day-to-day stuff. Eventually, I simplified further and went down to one book at a time. I’ve become a bit more pragmatic about augmenting my notebook use with electronic systems when it makes sense. For example, collecting books to read on an Amazon wish list is much more efficient than maintaining a written list in a notebook when you're not looking for an excuse to play with your fountain pen.

Pen and paper still can’t be beat for thinking, planning, and holding myself accountable for producing, though. The simple system I use now includes the following components:

  • Backlog: I set up the first two-page spread of every new Field Notes as a master list of things I need to get done. It’s not a list of life goals. It’s a mix of items – some very important and some very trivial – that I want to try to complete within the next one-to-two weeks.
  • Waiting: The second two-page spread is where I log things that other people commit to do for me. I just kind of eyeball it periodically to make sure that the right follow-through happens.

The subsequent pages in each Field Notes book are a mix of daily journal pages and notes. My journal pages start off as to do lists, drawing from the backlog and other ad hoc things that come up. At the end of the day, I often append a more traditional journal entry to get my thoughts out on paper. It’s not the perfect catch-all system, but it generally keeps me sane and on-track.

Embracing simplicity in my system and the joyful familiarity of Field Notes kind of flies in the face of good pen blogging. At the same time, I’ve never felt more content with my approach. I definitely miss using my fountain pens daily and trying new notebooks, but I also value the comfort and familiarity that comes with using the same setup every day.

The Path Forward

I started this blog as an escape. I had a job that I liked but didn’t love. But there were a lot of reasons to stay. The pay was pretty good. My team was amazing to work with. While there were travel demands, I was able to work remotely most of the time. The problem was that I was feeling bored and creatively constrained. I had the freedom to serve up creative ideas and work on interesting projects, but I often felt like the corporate machinery would take so many bites out of them along the way that they either died or no longer resembled what I had originally envisioned.

So Modern Stationer was born as a small place where I could always do things my way. For a while, it really helped. Then, it started to hurt a little. Once I got a taste of doing things my way – and of the joys of engaging with the amazing pen and paper community – I was hooked. I wanted to do it all the time. I daydreamed about making it more than a hobby.

There are many talented and driven people out there who have made similar daydreams reality. It's a difficult, multi-year process, but there is clearly a renaissance happening with analog writing tools that is creating opportunities for people with creative ideas and a willingness to work hard.

Putting aside the question of whether I actually have what it takes to pull something like that off, the big question for me was whether "living the daydream" would truly bring me happiness. I wasn't sure that it would. While I've fallen hard for analog writing, I still really love technology. I've been doing it for 20 years, and I would miss being a part of whatever is next. And just as I came to the realization that it was my job – not technology as a whole – that I needed to walk away from, the ongoing chase for the next pen, ink, or paper to play with and review on the blog began to wear on me.

I still loved using pens and paper as much as ever, but the constant shuffling around of tools and workflows was stressing me out rather than bringing me enjoyment. It was undermining the calm and clarity of thinking that brought me back to pens and paper in the first place.

So, back in May, I shifted gears. I picked one pen and one type of notebook and set out to find a new job at a smaller technology company where I would have more freedom to do things my way. I continued to tweak my task management, notetaking, and journaling workflows along the way. This was a pretty terrible idea during an insanely busy period of keeping my existing job afloat, juggling a job search, and being present for my family. But I felt like my system buckled under the increased demands, and I was thrashing around to get things back on track.

It also made writing here hard. I wasn't trying new pens, inks, and paper, and I felt like I had exactly zero good insights to share about paper-based workflows.

I'm coming out the other side now. I start my new job on Monday. Only time will tell if it was the right move, but I'm really excited and optimistic. I also feel like I am about 80 percent of the way to a functioning workflow system.

So what does all of this mean for this blog? I'm not really sure. Kicking ass at my new job is really important to me right now, but I've missed writing here too. I'm going to start showing up again, but I'm not going to put pressure on myself to achieve a specific post frequency or schedule. I'm not going to chase new products to review (yet). I'm not going to worry about building an audience or brand. I'm not going to check traffic stats. I'm going to write when I have something say and take pictures when I see something fun or interesting. That's the simple plan for now.

It's nice to be back.