Where to Find Free (or Very Cheap) Paper for Note-Taking and Rough Drafts

Updated on September 26, 2019
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

I teach creative writing to adults and love helping my students improve their writing skills.

When the internet is down, writers keep going using a notebook and pencil.
When the internet is down, writers keep going using a notebook and pencil. | Source

Writing Longhand Notes is Still Useful

Digital note-taking and rough drafts are a simple way of keeping tabs on the progress of your writing. But sometimes you may be unable to connect to a network, or you just want to be screen-free for a period. Pen and paper still have their uses.

Reading a rough draft from a physical piece of paper sometimes makes it easier to spot grammatical errors or misspellings. For everyday use I find the 12 pack of Mead Spiral Notebook hard to beat. The notebooks are small enough to fit in my purse, but large enough to contain several days’ worth of creative jottings. Buying a dozen at once makes them good value for money.

Did you know that if you want better grades in school, studies suggest it might be worth switching out your laptop for a trusty, old-fashioned notebook? Read on for hacks to find even cheaper rough paper for draft novels and college work.

Typing vs. Handwriting: Which Is Better for Your Memory?

Top Tips For Getting Free or Cheap Paper

1. Become a secret shopper
Need to like under-cover work.
2. Visit a realtor hack
Must love chatting about property.
3. Conference freebies
Lots of competition for give-aways.
4. Toilet paper (unused!)
Only the hard coarse kind will do.
5. Used gift wrap
Ask for un-birthday gifts. (You have 364 a year.)
6. Used envelopes
Less snail-mail sent these days.
7. Bulk paper buys
Look out for closing down sales.
Please add your suggestions on how to get free or cheap paper in the comments section at the end of this article.

1. Become a Secret Shopper

I used to do a lot of mystery shopper gigs. The pay was peanuts, but the perk was that in each store I visited I had to buy a (small) item to assess the customer service received. What Is Mystery Shopping? How To Find Secret Shopper Jobs.

I chose to do lots of secret shopper visits to stationery and paper goods stores, In each one I would buy a box of five reams of A4 paper. That’s a lot of paper: 5 x 500 = 2500 sheets to be exact. That was more than 10 years ago and I’m still working my way through that treasure haul.

2. Visit a Realtor Hack

When I was really short of cash and needed a supply of cheap paper, I would go to an estate agent or realtor’s office and collect lots of property details. They love to give these out as they want to sell real estate. Property details are usually printed on only one side of a sheet of paper and so the reverse side is perfect for rough drafts.

3. Free Post-it Notes From Conference Reps

This hack is to collect stationery give-aways from public conferences and information days. Sales representatives always have plenty of sticky pads, pens, and pencils printed with their company logo to give away. A few minutes chatting with them, maybe even having to fake an interest in their product, can pay dividends in the number of free items you're offered.

3M Post-it notes are one of the most popular freebies, so you need to get to the sales area quickly in your conference tea and lunch breaks. If you’re too slow off the mark, you’ll be left with only a free pencil sharpener or a logo-covered coffee mug. Nice, but not so useful as paper pads and notebooks for your draft writing projects.

Many of my creative thoughts start with a few jotted notes on rough paper or sticky pads when I’m out and about. When I get home, I save my work to a Microsoft Word file; name it, date it and save it. As I type the notes into Word I often think of more ideas around my original scribbles.

Post-it notes are great for memory joggers.
Post-it notes are great for memory joggers. | Source

First-time Novelist or Established Author: How Do You Take Notes?

Do you favor old-fashioned or modern technology?

See results

Hard Copies No Longer Requested by Publishers

Most publishers now do everything digitally. It’s cheaper, quicker and more convenient. But that doesn’t mean you can’t reuse any paper that comes your way for the draft stages of writing your magnum opus. I asked a few people for suggested sources of free or cheap paper and this is what they said.

“I used to steal rolls of (the old-fashioned kind of hard) toilet paper from my employer, till they padlocked the rolls to the dispenser.”

“Gifts are always welcome in my house. Not just for the present inside, but I use the non-shiny side of the wrapping to write on and make notes for my novel.”

"I keep blank envelopes from the post and use them for rough notes and shopping lists."

“I haven’t used paper for making rough drafts for many years. My hack is to bulk buy printer paper when it’s on offer at Office Depot, Staples or Costco.”

"Because so much printer paper is sold, it is pretty cheap. I buy the next-from-the-bottom grade, so that it's not likely to tear from pressure by pen or pencil."

"I look forward to Christmas and birthdays, and not just for the presents. They are a great source of gift wrap that I can re-purpose as paper for rough notes and draft writing."

Take a look at the video below for a comparison of the advantages and disadvantages of using paper for rough drafts over writing straight into a tablet computer.

iPad Pro vs. Paper Notebooks

Writing in the 21st Century

Most authors like the flexibility that writing on a computer or cellphone gives them. You can save your work every day to the internet cloud and access it wherever you have good connectivity.

However, writing on paper is still used as a complementary tool by many writers. I mainly use long-hand for short notes and use my laptop for longer writing sessions. The only time I print a rough draft of my work is when I feel I have reached the final draft. So I use lots of paper for this stage of the creative process.

I find that printing a paper copy makes it easier to proofread and edit my articles and stories. A hard copy reassures me that I can still access my work even if all digital back-ups fail and the cloud network is inaccessible.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Submit a Comment
  • Coffeequeeen profile image

    Louise Powles 

    6 weeks ago from Norfolk, England

    There's some good ideas here. I'm always after paper to take notes on. Thankyou.

  • Beth Eaglescliffe profile imageAUTHOR

    Beth Eaglescliffe 

    4 months ago from UK

    Thanks for your tip about using envelopes. I've added it to my article.

  • Eurofile profile image

    Liz Westwood 

    4 months ago from UK

    This is a very helpful article. I have picked up some great tips. I keep blank envelopes from the post and usd them for rough notes and shopping lists.


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