Crafting the Book of Shadows: Organizing the Paper

In the last post, I mentioned some of the writings I keep in hardcopy–preferably handwritten hardcopy.  Clearly, as we saw, that list can get a little long.  Bits and pieces get added on here and there as the wheel turns and I learn more and do more.  If I kept everything in a chronological bound book, I’d eventually never be able to find anything without a massive index.  So how do I keep everything organized?

Well, the trick for me is to avoid permanently bound systems and to work with something like binders so that I can keep all my Beltane rituals together, swap out moon charts with each new year, and things like that.

The thing, though, is that I really dislike binders.  They’re not very attractive, their triangle shape makes them sit awkwardly on a shelf, pages are always getting caught in the binder’s teeth and ripped, and the weight of the paper–since it can’t be supported on its edge since the binder’s opening tabs need space–eventually pulls too much on the upper ring punch and either rips the paper or breaks the punch.  (Trust me, I’ve gone through a million binders in my many, many years as a student.)  These annoyances are not acceptable.

Thankfully, I’ve found an alternative to annoying binders.  In my first year of college, I got turned on to the idea of disc-bound notebooks, and I’ve never really looked back.

A detail of a disc-bound spine. Each page edge is punched so that a little “mushroom” looking punch comes out of the edge Each page then sort of “self snaps” onto the individual disks. The more pages that get snapped onto the rings, the sturdier the notebook becomes.

The basic idea of disc-bound notebooks isn’t exactly a new one.  They’ve been around since WWII at least: the first patents for them were issued in Belgium sometime in the late 1940s.  Since then, these books have been found almost all over the globe.

They work on a very simple concept:  you punch little T-shaped or mushroom-shaped punches along one side of a page along regular intervals.  These let the pages “snap on” to a series of independent discs which have a thicker rim.  The pages themselves are what keep the rings in place, and the more pages you add to a notebook, the sturdier it becomes.  You also have the freedom to move individual pages wherever you want them at any time and–this is the really cool part–you’re not beholden to use paper of any one size or stock.  You can punch and bind items torn from newspapers or magazines and put them right next to a letter-sized piece of linen stock.  All you need are the punches and the disks.

In case you’ve not gotten the idea yet, this system is highly customizable.  For example, I can make my own covers and fill the notebooks with any type of paper I want–even paper I make myself.  If  I outgrow the capacity of the rings, I can switch in larger ones–which would let me keep my same covers–or break the notebook into smaller ones dedicated to different sections (a book of rituals and a book of correspondences, for example).  I can orient my notebook so that the binding is on the long edge, the short edge (steno pad style) or BOTH.  I could use any type of paper–parchment, printer, handmade, whatever!  I can buy or make accessories, too, like divider tabs or pocket folders.  Heck, I can even do things like print out a bunch of “spell forms” and hand-write in the various details later if I wanted, or design illuminated borders for pages, print those, and handwrite the content.  I can make these things into whatever I want, really.  And I love that.

I also love the fact that I don’t have to have a book with a hundred blank pages lying about:  with this system, I need only add ‘completed’ or ‘in-draft’ material.  In fact, I can have a whole separate book for ritual drafting…and I do, since I’m prone to scribbling ideas on all sorts of mismatched pieces of paper.  (I’m a 3×5 notecard queen.)

Confused about how these notebooks work?  Go check out YouTube.  You’ll find all sorts of videos from different people explaining how they “hacked” their notebooks in addition to professional videos from Levenger and Staples.

In the United States, there are currently three major disc-binding companies or carriers, and all their products are interchangeable as far as the discs, punches, and most accessories like dividers and pockets go. You have the Levenger Circa system, the M by Staples Arc system, and Rollabind.  Between the three, you’ve basically got an endless permutation supply.  You can get hot pink rings from Rollabind and add them to a pretty graphic poly cover from Staples really easily, for example.  Basically, the difference between the companies shakes down thusly:  Levenger carries ‘classier’ colors, rings, and products, and has a large number of specialized accessories geared to improve productivity; Staples carries the most popular sizes and colors only and is geared to more pop-culture appeal; Rollabind has the largest selection, period, but it’s not always the prettiest or most elegant.

The prices are generally pretty good, too.  The rings are pretty cheap no matter where you get them, though Rollabind offers the best dollar to ring ratio, and the punches vary a bit.  Levenger has one that punches 15 sheets at a time for $139, one that punches 6 for $69, and one that punches one or two for $24.  Staples offers one punch that does 8 sheets for $40.  Rollabind offers punches very similar to Levenger’s for almost identical prices (give or take $10, depending on whether or not Levenger is having a sale), but they also offer an industrial puncher that does whole books at a time for $850 as well as one that goes into a notebook itself for $12.95.  The only one I’ve had the chance to try is Levenger’s desk punch.  I bought mine in 2001, use it all the time, and it’s still going strong.  It’s probably saved me a couple hundred dollars in notebooks and folders over the years, and it looks kind of nice, too.  Much more elegant than the Staples monstrosity, that’s for sure.

Of course, these three companies aren’t the only purveyors of disc-bound notebooks.  One such company is Atoma, with its US licensee being Myndology.  These companies do not have as wide of a presence, however, especially in the United States, and their discs and punches are not compatible with the Circa/Arc/Rollabind systems.


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