Warning: This Post is a Rant.

On Tuesday I almost wrote this blog, but I thought twice. I don’t like to rant on my blog. I don’t like reading rants, and I don’t like writing them. Especially not when I have a 70,000-plus-word manuscript sitting on my dining room table, mid-edit.
But some rants have to be written. They beg to be written. Something is so annoying or frustrating to a writer’s brain that there’s no stopping them. Especially when there’s a 70,000-plus-word manuscript sitting on my dining room table, mid-edit, using an approach suggested by Laura Harrington on Women’s Fiction Writers called Rewriting Part 1: Dealing with Plot (Or Why Love 3×5 Cards).

Because, I—like Laura—love index cards. I use them a lot for everything. In fact, in this house we go through a lot of index cards—in addition to my use, my kids use them for flashcards, and MEH (My Engineer Husband) uses them for…everything.

But it’s not just us. Because two days ago Julie Musil wrote a post: A Love Affair…With Index Cards. I commented to her that I almost wrote about index cards that same day…but not about how much I loved them….

No. Because index cards have let me down lately. They’ve changed. Index cards used to be silky smooth to my touch, heavy in my hands. Any ink I used, even from a fountain pen, easily caressed their surface without smudging or running.

At first I thought it was me. Maybe I’m too demanding? Maybe I’m so used to high-tech printer papers and touch-screen everythings that I was becoming too good for the lowly only-to-be-handwritten index card. So I did what any disappointed lover writer would do. I turned to a trusted friend.

“Is it just me or have you noticed, too, that index cards are so flimsy these days?” I wrote in an email to writer friend Melissa Crytzer Fry.

“Sorry about your flimsy index cards.” Melissa answered. “I just opened mine and I can’t believe how paper-thin they are either. OH MY. I had no idea how cheap they are now.” 

Yes. Cheap. Further saddened, I wondered. Maybe there was another better brand, a deluxe index card, if you will. I went to Staples. No luck. Walmart. Still nothing better. RiteAid. Nope. I know what you’re thinking: that’s one dedicated writer! (Ok, I know what you’re REALLY thinking: she’s nutso!)

My final stop in my quest for the answer to the case of the flimsy index card was my local print shop. In our small town, we only have one small print shop/place to make copies. Literally 2 minutes from my house, I drove there immediately. I knew Dennis—a specialist: a graphic artist and owner of the print shop —would help me in my quest.
I waited patiently while Dennis helped the guy in front of me—someone who was talking about something much less important than my index cards: his 10,000 copy job of multi-colored ink, tri-folded, double-side printed, high-gloss paper brochure that would make him a bazillion dollars in sales.

When it was my turn, I cut straight to the chase. I handed Dennis the small heap of index cards I’d brought with me, a sampling of the many packages I’d purchased. Dennis may be one of the nicest guys I know. He actually took the time to look at the cards.

“Yes, they’re definitely thinner, and the surface isn’t as smooth.” He sighed. (He really did sigh.) “Cost cutting. Cheaper paper, more profit.”

“So it’s not my imagination?”

“Oh no,” Dennis said, shaking his head. “These cards are about 67# weight, lower-quality paper. Probably used to be 80#.” Dennis took me to the shelves-and-shelves of paper. He opened a package and handed me a sheet of smooth 80# cardstock. “That’s what they used to be.”

I almost cried. It was my index card of yesterday, in my hands, a full sheet.

Dennis opened another box on the lowest shelf, in the corner, by the floor. “That’s what you’ve got now. Cheaper made, 67#.” He handed me a sheet. Yes, exactly the lowly paper I’d been frustrated with for days. Flimsy, rough, paper-thin.

We stood there for a minute or two, Dennis and I, our heads bowed.

Finally it was Dennis who broke the silence: “I could print and cut some custom index cards for you. 10 cents a copy. Five cards per sheet. $15 a cut. I’ll send you a quote.”

Stop the presses. No way am I using a ballpoint pen on custom index cards. And since I’ve still got that 70,000-word-plus manuscript sitting on my dining room table, the search for the perfect fountain pen will have to wait for another day…

Have you had a disappointing experience with a paper product lately? Or a writer tool you used to depend on? Lastly, want to order some custom-made index cards? I know a guy.

Cheers,
Julia

Comments

  1. country wife says:

    This rant made me laugh. I wonder if the paper company didn’t think people would notice the changes? I’ve noticed other various paper products that have been cheapened as well, mostly in the toiletry aisle.

  2. Jan says:

    Hi Julia,

    Okay, this was really funny yet so true! I may be showing my age but so many products are thinner, flimsier!

    What is this world coming to? 🙂

    Thank you and I will think of you the next time I look at index cards…which can come in pretty colors…Hmmmm?

  3. Julia, I think this rant needed to happen. And it’s a good rant. And why shouldn’t you? And over the pond it’s the same – flimsy! I still like them because they serve a purpose and I’ve only started using them recently so I guess I have nothing to compare them to. But they are nowhere near as substantial as the ones we used when I worked in admin years ago. As for my stationery gripes: pens! Keep buying them and they’re scratchy or blobby. When I find a good one it lasts about 2 weeks before running out… GRRRRR!

  4. Brenda says:

    I was just thinking I might buy some index cards to help the boy learn his times tables for school, but it sounds like I’m better off just cutting them out of plain printer paper instead. I agree with you, though. I really relied on index cards once upon a time b/c they were great for note taking and could really take a beating. I have terrible handwriting, so was happy to move away from them when offered the opportunity to type, but it’s disappointing that they’re not the staple they used to be.

  5. Loved the humorous tragique in this post, especially the part where you and Dennis stood there with your heads bowed, mourning the demise of good quality index cards. Great writing!

    I’m fussy about the width of lines in the notebooks I buy (they have to be WIDE so I can write big – I hate being cramped in between narrow lines) and I usually rue the purchase of ball-point pens, no matter how hard I try to find some I like. (They’re all so blobby these days – even the ones that say on the packet that they won’t leave blob-marks on your page. Bah.) But I don’t think I have any pet peeves that would make an elegant rant such as this one. You’re definitely a classic kinda writer, with classic tastes. My rants to MEH-B are mostly about technology . . . how Google is too simplistic, how Dragon interprets my dictation with a Freudian twist, how Word and WordPress are so incompatible. :~(

    Ah, well. I’ll just keep living vicariously through you by reading wordsxo.

  6. Country Wife, Glad to provide a laugh 🙂 It is puzzling to wonder about the paper companies, isn’t it? I mean we buy them explicity because they are CARDSTOCK… otherwise why not call them IndexPAPER??? Puzzling. Yes, I’ve noticed the same in toiletries, too. Annoying!

    Jan, Glad you enjoyed! It is true there are many many examples — not sure if it’s so gradual as to be explained by age (I’m sure I’m old enough to know…however) because even my kids have noticed the index cards! I agree, what’s this world coming to!? Glad you’ll think of me next time you look at index cards! The colors are incredible — so useful for re-writes. All those colored cards are things I need to ADD to my book :-0

    Abi, REALLY? Even over the pond? I must be biased, but I assume that other parts of the world (ok, your part of the world) still has standards… they are wonderful, aren’t they? And I so agree about pens. I wish I had one that still held a cartridge that I could refill AND didn’t cost an arm and a leg! GRRRR indeed! Well said!

    Brenda, I’ll tell you what you could do for times table cards! If you buy 80# cardstock you can use a paper cutter and cut cards to the size you want!! The problem I have with cutting plain printer paper is that it’s really flimsy and you can’t really write on both sides. Frustrating. And you got it exactly right: index cards used to be able to take a beating. I forgot about that. New ones could never take that!

  7. Milli, Ditto on pens, no kidding! So funny. I’m the exact opposite on notebooks. It’s got to be ONLY college-ruled! Funny, huh? I agree about the technology rants, too, but I’ll save that for my next once a year rant!! And Dennis? He’s awesome. He really did bow his head with me, but of course now I wonder: was he just wondering how to get rid of this nutso writer? 🙂

  8. I haven’t used index cards in a while. I do remember them being a good thickness though. I wonder why they’ve changed.

  9. Are you kidding? You and Dennis were made for one another when it comes to stationery. ;~D He was probably glad that finally there was a customer who could relate to *his* feelings!

  10. Julie Musil says:

    Oh my gosh, this cracked me up! Only writers would geek out and get so frustrated by something like this, but hey, these supplies matter to us!

    I’m virtually holding hands with you in solidarity 😀

  11. Kelly, Unfortunately, I think the lower cost paper means higher profits for the manufacturers… and lower quality for index cards fans like myself. If only I could give up on them completely…. *sigh*

    Milli, I can pretty much guarantee that Dennis (as much as he could relate) was chomping at the bit to get back to work… he runs a one man show, and I know index cards aren’t first on HIS list like they are mine 🙂

    Julie, So happy you enjoyed the post! was thinking about you this morning, happy to know there was at least one other index-card-fan who could relate to my plight. 🙂

  12. Ado says:

    Thank God we have a Dennis in this world.
    And oh – my – it was like you and Dennis had a little memorial service for the 80 card stock index cards.
    I’m so sorry.
    I love that you are a “real” writer who loves “real” paper.

  13. Business card stock is my rant. Dennis is right. Nearly everything is now cheaply made to increase profits.

  14. Ado, Yes, it was like a memorial service for the 80# cardstock index cards — I’m so sorry you didn’t get advance notice. Or I know you wouldn’t have wanted to miss it!

    Jean, I join you in your business card stock rant! It’s so sad that even if we want to we can’t have “the good stuff” except by making it ourselves! Absolutely everything is profit driven now. *sigh*

  15. Julia–I hear ya, and this is so not a rant! I get the same way over trying to find my favorite pens–it has to be a black retractable Tul pen from Office Max. There something about writing and having your favorite tools!

  16. Ann says:

    Oh, Julia! You are a HOOT! I read this post early this morning while I was waiting on something (on my phone) and almost texted you! I understand! I had some good card stock stationary made for me….because when I write something by hand – it’s a JOY for me.

    I tend to use my computer, phone, e-reader and other technology for everything, so when I DO use paper – I want it to be good quality!

    I also figure if I’m going to write a personal letter….I treated myself 20 years ago to a Mont Blanc and it’s my letter writing pen!

    I understand that companies need to stay in business and make a profit, but it’s too bad that the first thing they cut is quality…

  17. If it makes you feel any better, when I discovered my favourite pen, I bought up like 20 more packs, just in case they stopped selling them. I note, they haven’t, but I still have plenty in stock for when I need to write!

    The quality of the products you’re using absolutely makes a difference. We CAN make-do with lower quality, but to be using something every day, for hours at a time, you need to have the one that feels right to you. Good luck with the cards!

    ~Ashlee
    http://ashleesch.com
    http://theDragonsHoard.bigcartel.com

  18. Barb Riley says:

    This is the cutest post, and I say that with a heart full of affection for you and your researching ways. I’ll bet if Dennis is a writer, he went home and blogged about finding his kindred office supply spirit, too. 😉 I’m only a recent convert to the index card method, so I don’t have any recollection of how they used to be— back in the day. I *do* however have my own disappointment in paper products… POCKET FOLDERS! They’re all made out of recycled paper now, and oh my gosh, they last for, like, one week before they fall apart. My kids have come to expect a rant from me every time we go school supply shopping! There’s only one brand left (Mead, I think) that kept the heavy duty cardstock folders. Other than that, they’re all recycled or plastic—and those are horrible, too. Sorry green earth fans, but we’ve contributed MORE to landfills with hundreds of poor quality folders thrown away rather than one per subject per year.

  19. Reeling, THANK YOU! Glad you understand! 🙂

    Ann, Are you serious? I’ve ALWAYS wanted a Mont Blanc — and MEH wants one even more. I keep thinking it will be a splurge gift for him someday…. SSSHHHH don’t tell! Isn’t it so bizarre that cutting quality is equated with higher profits? You’d think it would be the opposite especially for paper products. I may well have the index cards made… thanks for the encouragement, friend!

    Ashlee, THANK YOU! I had one pen I loved so much and then I lost it and can’t remember exactly what it is. I’ve been in search ever since, so you made a wise decision! As for the cards? Still in search…

    Barb, Glad you enjoyed the post… 🙂 I am pretty sure Dennis is not a blogger, but I guess I could be wrong. He was very nice to indulge me….although he hasn’t sent me the quote yet, grrr… haha. I actually know exactly what you mean about pocket folders. I’ve thought the same thing. Also about binders. My daughter used to duct tape hers together. Too funny. She’s a saver that one 🙂 good luck with YOUR cards, Barb 😉

  20. Patrick Ross says:

    Good for you, Julia, demanding that the universe provide you with your creative needs and finding it (with help from MEH). I have made use of index cards over the years–for research, for organizing thoughts for a speech (much better than a script), etc. When I wrote fiction I used them to outline plots, but now I have a wall of whiteboard wallpaper that I use to outline more like an engineer would. It can look like those boards you see in the crime shows where they’re profiling a serial killer.

    Anyhow, kudos to your solution, and yes, I hadn’t noticed but the cards are thinner than they used to be.

  21. Patrick, Your whiteboard wallpaper sounds amazing, and certainly bypasses any problems with flimsy index cards! As for my solution, I’m still on the fence about whether or not I should order custom index cards — it seems hard to justify such a luxury on a pre-published budget! 🙂

  22. Julia, you have absolutely every right to rant about the index cards. In fact, some of my biggest rants come from things like this. For example, when my favorite pen is phased out or the tip or ink has changed. Or when the paper companies mess up the thickness and color of the lines on paper. It really irks me. Maybe because there is so much change in the world I depend on these things to stay the same. Anyway, rant all you want. I’m here for you!

  23. Leah, Thanks for understanding!! You’re so right — it’s nice to be able to depend on some tried and true favorites. It’s nice to know that even if index cards change, I can still depend on my friends! Thank you for letting me rant! :-0

  24. Oh no! I haven’t bought index cards in years because I only use them when I’m in crisis plotting mode–so I actually still have a huge stash from years ago (I stocked up!), that are pretty sturdy. But I would be completely let down to find these cheaper cards you speak of.

    For my newest WIP I’ve been using an unlined, hardcover notebook that I found in my closet. It’s a navy unlined, blank book (you know the big ones at Barnes & Noble?) and what I love most about it is its sturdiness. This is a no-messing-around notebook! I can’t believe I’d completely forgotten about it. The first entry reads Dec, 2002, and after that it’s blank. So I’ve been filling it up with notes and brainstorms from 2011!

  25. Natalia, First of all, how much can I pay you for your stash of index cards??? 🙂 Second, thank you for your sympathy! Third, your notebook system sounds great! I’m curious, what do you do when you have a sheet of paper or a photocopy? Is there a pocket in your notebook? Or do you also have a folder or something else? (p.s. I love it when I find things like that, that I’ve forgotten all about!!)

  26. Oh, Julia. I feel your pain. My day job involves producing books. We cut costs in every possible area. Novels that we once printed on 50# smooth sheets are now on 35# paper that turns yellow before you get the book home. Usually the bigwigs think that the consumers don’t notice these changes, but as you’ve proved, they definitely do.

    Part of the issue is that manufacturing costs keep rising and conglomerate owners insist on higher profits. So the only way to do that is to lower the quality. And most consumers don’t want to pay more for the same thing.
    I could go on, but that would be another rant. 🙂

  27. Unfortunately, I’m finding diminished quality in far too many items. As a card maker, I know that 80 lb. is the minimum weight for a quality paper product; and I understand your frustration in having to start from scratch to find a writing instrument to work on your presently-available note cards. Now you’ve vented, get back to that manuscript! 🙂

  28. Jackie, I miss those smooth sheets of paper SO MUCH!! It’s so interesting that the “bigwigs” don’t think that we’ll notice — maybe not all people. But I think writers in particular probably do! Especially when you have a penchant for nice paper and writing tools. Of course like everything, the manufacturing is cost driven these days — still I miss my index cards, haha. Ok, tantrum and rant over again! Thanks for your insight!

    Patti, So interesting to hear from a card maker’s point of view. 80# sounds like luxury compared to what I’ve been using 🙂 Still, THANK YOU for your nudge back to the manuscript — after all, that’s what it’s all about. And thank you for your visit to my blog!

  29. Lisa Ahn says:

    I just grabbed an index card and started rubbing it. You’re right.
    (and you’re funny — great story!)

  30. Lisa, Glad you enjoyed the story, but sorry that you too now know the flimsy and poor quality state of index cards. You might have lived in happy ignorance if not for me 😉

  31. Great rant, Julia! I enjoy reading rants when I can completely relate to them, and I certainly relate to this. I am particular about things in the same way, and get very disappointed when corners are cut for profit motives.

    I’m glad you found the 80# cardstock, and hope you find the perfect fountain pen, 🙂

  32. Mahesh, Glad you approve of the rant… it really is so disappointing when, in a situation like this, every single company follows suit and cuts corners. As for the 80# cardstock and fountain pen… unfortunately my own cutting corners may prevent me from those right now 🙂

  33. I was trying to comment on this post earlier but it wasn’t working and I was having a fit because I have much to say!

    First, this is you ranting? This is the politest ranting I’ve ever heard. Second, I agree. Paper products are going downhill. Even just PAPER seems like it’s going to disintegrate before it can get out of the printer. I think recently they took some of the “sticky” off post-it notes to save money. I leave sticky notes places for MONTHS and I don’t want them to move an inch!

    Also, I’m noticing this trend in clothing as well, specifically at Kohls. I don’t know if you have Kohls in Maine but it wouldn’t do you any good because the material keeps thinning! Those flimsy index cards would probably keep you warmer.

    What are the powers that be doing with all this extra sticky and clothing material?!? One more thing, I’ll tell you where that extra sticky is NOT…double stick tape!

    Alright I’ll stop. Good rant.

  34. Sara, BELIEVE me, I am only polite with my rants on my blog — I keep my serious IMPOLITE rants for in person 🙂 That said, I completely agree about post-its. I am especially offended that they now offer the “super sticky” post-its — which is what they all used to be — but you need to pay more for them. Ridiculous. We have Kohls in Maine, yes, but I’m not a big clothes shopper and LL Beans carries all the flannel I need — LOL that is really perpetuating the stereotype and not truly true, still it’s funny. But even LLBean’s quality has gone down so I know exactly what you mean. Very frustrating. At “Beans” you can return ANYTHING that you aren’t completely satisfied with, so that’s good! Unfortunately THEY do not sell index cards!

    Wish you lived nearer by so we could take a quality-check shopping trip, can you imagine? We’d be our own secret shopper unit dedicated to flimsiness and cutting corners. Then we could do a joint-blog about that! Hilarious comment rant! Love it! 🙂