360XQ Day 20: It starts with ink

Starting a new play is never exactly the same. Sometimes, for me, it starts with a brief image in my head, sparked by an overheard conversation on the train. Other times, a vivid dream stays with me, and that becomes a poem. And that becomes a song. And that leads to a monologue. And the person speaking those words turns out to be my protagonist.

No matter where the idea comes from, or how long it haunts me, there is always that first moment when the idea has to get out of my head and onto a page.

The first strokes

Way back, before I ever even owned a laptop, I would carry around spiral-bound notebooks. Just your standard, college-ruled, cheap paper notebooks. I had stacks of them. I’d write loose ideas and images, some of which I’d type up, some of which was just there to get me started.

Eventually, as laptops became standard in my life, and as they became smaller and lighter, I ditched the paper. I’d often go straight to typing. This was faster, and it kept more of my work at my fingertips, archived and searchable.


When I finally got an iPad mini, that became my primary tool. I could type things out or mimic handwriting (through GoodNotes or Notability), and everything would sync to the cloud. With 10 hours of battery life in this tiny tablet, I could do a lot.

I’m right back to writing my first super-rough drafts with a pen and paper.

I do still recommend GoodNotes for reading and annotating your drafts. You can import a PDF, then highlight and write on it as you would with a printout. And you can do this as often as you like, without printing reams and reams of paper. 

Recently, I’ve gone full circle when it comes to first strokes. No computer. No tablet. I’m right back to writing my first super-rough drafts with a pen and paper.

My notebook

I’ve tried a few different notebooks. I used the smaller versions of the Moleskine, then switched over to Scout Books. I liked having something so tiny that I could carry it in a coat pocket. Something I could pull out on the El train during commutes through Chicago.

Eventually, I started to feel a bit fenced-in by the smaller size. It put me in the mindset of note-taking, as opposed to drafting a play. They filled up quickly. I was cramped.

There is always that first moment when the idea has to get out of my head and onto a page.

Since then, I’ve discovered the Confidant notebook from Baron Fig. I am a big, big fan. It’s large enough that I can get some serious work done. It’s compact enough to take anywhere. The pages are a great midway size between pocket and letter.

Here it is with my MacBook.


It lays open very nicely—no fussy spiral binding, but also no cheap adhesive binding that eventually falls apart. This thing is sturdy.

The paper is of high quality. Just thick enough that both sides are very usable, and it’ll hold up for a long time.

Right now I’m writing with a package of inexpensive uni-ball roller eco pens, which apparently aren’t being made any more.


I liked that they were made from recycled plastic. Also, I tend to lose pens, so it puts me at ease knowing I can give one away.

That said, I am excited to try Baron Fig’s forthcoming Squire.

Ink to pixels

Even if I were to go back to the cheap, flimsy notebooks I used in the past, I’d stick with writing my first drafts by hand. There’s several benefits, in my opinion.

I’m free to jump around the page, cross things out, scribble in margins, and pay no attention to formatting.

I can write absolutely everywhere I go, without worrying about batteries or wifi or airplane regulations.

When I do finally type up what I’ve written, I find that I do some solid editing and revising as I go. By the time I have everything typed, I’ve already started to shed the skin of the “shitty first draft” (a concept I have embraced, thanks to the incredible Rebecca Gilman, and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird).

Oh, and bringing a laptop to a pub still feels weird. But a notebook and pen at the pub? It feels fantastic.

Next up

When I do move from pen to keyboard, I don’t use Final Draft. Or Word. Or any type of word processor. I’ll tell you why.

UncategorizedChad Eschman