Breaking the Bronco Notebook

Just as cowboys become experts in breaking in wild horses, Moleskine users must eventually learn to master the art of roping and corralling their notebook, then breaking it in. Here are some techniques from veteran notebook cowhands.

Name and Address

As you come to rely on your notebook, you need to brand your wild Moleskine (or alternative brand) so it can be returned if lost or appropriated. Many users also add a reward poster (or a message) in the front cover for its return, posting a bounty of a free, blank Moleskine or a $5 or $10 gift card to Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts (just in case doing the right thing isn’t enough of a reward).

You might also include a name and number of an emergency contact inside the front in case you get thrown off your horse (or other medical emergency) while writing in your notebook.

Marking Covers

Many writers have mentioned using a silver-colored Sharpie® pen for marking the spines to identify your notebooks. A Wite-Out® or Liquid Paper® pen might also work. You can mark dates, volumes for archiving or use unique icons for artwork or travel notebooks.

If you use different types of notebooks with similar looking covers, you can draw an icon showing the type: lined, dotted, grid, storyboard, or blank. Stickers can work, too.

You can print out a photo on paper, cut it to size for your notebook, wrap it around your front or back cover, and use clear packing tape or other protecting material to personalize your notebook.

Breaking in the Horse

Breaking in the Beast

Every cowpoke is different, but here are some techniques:

Set up a page or two as an index, to fill out as you fill the notebook. It can be at the beginning or the end of the notebook.

Number the pages. Moleskines in the wild do not have page numbers. (A few competitor notebooks do.) You can save some time by just numbering the left hand pages and imagining an invisible grid on each pair of pages. Then you can refer to “page 6D” to locate the section you want:

The Four Quadrants

Alternatively, a few users (both lefties and righties) find it easier to write on either the left or right pages. If you prefer the right page, for example, you can go through your Moleskine just writing on the right pages and, when you get to the end, flip the book upside down so you have another set of right-hand pages. Number accordingly.


If you use a blank, dot or grid format (instead of lined pages), you can turn the book sideways and write or draw in landscape mode instead of portrait, which some find more comfortable. Some artists use the pages in whichever format is appropriate to the project, numbering accordingly (or not). I have one journaling friend who writes different thoughts in different directions, turning the page 45 degrees and starting in a corner. Sometimes she uses different colored inks. It’s your notebook, create your own style.

Jicarilla Indian Cowboy

Jicarilla Indian Cowboy

Create a weekly calendar.

If you don’t use a Moleskine or other appointments calendar, you can easily create weekly calendars in a Moleskine to organize your life, or just remind you of your appointments. You can create a full year’s notebook in a single Moleskine (but doing 52 pages might make the printed calendars released every January and September attractive), or just draw in a couple of months, depending on how quickly you work through a notebook.

Here are a few possible templates:

The Bronco

This format has the advantage of leaving maximum space for each day’s notes.

Ol’ Paint

This format allows for appointments in the top half of the pages and the Week’s goals, To Do lists, and Phone/Email reminders in the bottom half. Depending on the number of appointments or tasks, you can adjust the placement of the center line as needed.

Second calendar sample

The Mustang

If you don’t keep track of many appointments, but need a list of things to do and a record of when you did them, this format might be useful. All the days on the left hand page, other notes on the right.

Calendar No. 3

Another variation is…

The Quarter Horse

Calendar No. 4

You can put the calendar pages in the beginning or end of the book (or anywhere you please). Since I don’t know how long I’ll use a single book, I start at the back for the current month and then add months as needed until the book is full (when front meets back).

Experiment to find the format that works best for you. (These are all based loosely on actual calendar formats.) It’s a lot cheaper than buying a stack of calendars printed in different formats – and a lot less frustrating than using a format that doesn’t work for your needs.

The Rodeo Corral

Another, more visual method is to not use a box-like calendar at all, but create a mind map where you can list your tasks by project, by importance, or in a clock-wise fashion like a 24-hour clock. If you keep a diary or record of your day’s activities, you can enter a map for each day, chronologically. You could also have maps for the week, month or year, or have a mind-map for each project, instead. See here for an intro to mindmaps, here on how to make your first one, and here for a tip on using one for a daily calendar.

You may also want to get or create a small annual calendar (say, from the Pocketmod website, and paste it in the back of your book or wherever appropriate. The Pocketmod site also lets you print out miniature address books, To Do lists, tip charts, and more that easily fit into a pocket Moleskine. Also check the Incompetech website for monthly and yearly calendars.

Roundup of other articles of things Moleskine and Notebook related

Cowboy Petting his Horse - Lee

Art and Photo Credits

Black and white clip art is from The American West in the Nineteenth Century, compiled and written by John Grafton, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1992.

“Jicarilla [Indian] Cowboy” photo by Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952). Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photograph Division, Washington, DC.

“Cowboy Petting his Horse, Cattle Ranch near Spur, Texas,” Russell Lee (1903-1986) photographer. U. S. Farm Security Office of War Information. Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photograph Division, Washington, DC.

Notebook photography is by the author, Andrew Brandt.

Frugal Guidance 2 -