Moving my journal to (mostly) digital

For years, I’ve kept a paper notebook at hand. I always have a Moleskine-style bullet journal or a Field Notes pocket notebook or a Hobonichi Techo nearby. Sometimes all three.

Lately, I’ve been feeling hampered by keeping my journal on paper. My handwriting is terrible unless I write very slowly and deliberately. I worry that personal journaling suffers from too-slow, overly-deliberate writing. I spend too much time deciding between and playing with various writing instruments. I love my fountain pens, but I’m left-handed, and fountain pens are not ideal. The ink and paper must be just right, and that’s hard to arrange.

Eleven years ago I started using Day One, a journaling app for macOS and iOS. Day One is a fantastic app, dedicated to journaling. I’ve used it intermittently ever since. I’m now using it all the time.

What this has meant is that I’ve been keeping a journal in both paper and digital formats. This doesn’t make sense.

I love (I mean, love) having the artifact of a paper journal. Just seeing all those filled notebooks lining my shelves is comforting. It may be comforting, but it’s not useful. I’m starting to feel like I need more usefulness in my tools.

Journaling offers different benefits to different people. For some, the simple act of writing down one’s thoughts is enough. I love that part of it. However, I also love searching for things my past self has written. Not browsing, searching. They’re different. Browsing old paper journals is a favorite pastime of mine, but more often it would be handy to be able to look for specific things I’d written. I could keep a detailed paper index, but I’m not even close to disciplined enough to maintain that. I’ve tried. It’s awful.

Being able to paste in texts or emails from family and friends is another bonus with digital journaling. Or quotes, or tweets. Sure, there’s a certain romance to transcribing quotes by hand, but in reality, I rarely do it.

And then there are images. I have a big Moleskine notebook that serves as both a journal and a photo album/scrapbook. It’s beautiful and, again, a wonderful physical artifact. But, I need to be in the right mood or it doesn’t get updated. Day One pulls photos in from my photo library and fits them nicely into the day’s entry. Hard to beat that kind of convenience.

As for artifacts, I print my digital Day One journal every month and put the pages into a binder. It’s not quite as lovely an artifact as a hand-written paper notebook, but it’s pretty good. And Day One lets me print a real book from entries, which I’ve started doing annually. The books might be even nicer than paper notebooks.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop writing in paper notebooks completely, but for the moment, most of my writing will be digital. I’ll pick up the notebook now and then and write a little. One thing I’ve learned is that no matter how infrequent the entries, the result is still valuable. This way, I’ll have most of my writing in a convenient digital format, backed up on paper. I’ll also have beautiful, timeless paper notebooks so that future generations can throw them away, unread.

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