Starting a New Journal – Which Format Do you Use, Digital or Analog?

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It’s the beginning of a new year, which for a lot of people, means that it is time to start a new journal or diary. I’ve been wrestling with the decision of whether to stay traditional and keep my journal in a Moleskine, Rhodia or similar notebook, or go digital and use a diary app on my iPhone / iPad. Both formats have their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Is one way to better than the other? In this two part article, I’m going to try to answer that question for myself and maybe for you too. Part one covers traditional journals.

My journaling background

I’ve been an on again off again diary keeper since I was a kid. Back in the 70’s and 80’s when I was growing up, the only way to keep a record of your thoughts, memories and events was by writing them down on paper. I had several anything books as we used to call them… blank unlined hardback books meant to hold “anything”. I also had a couple classic lock and key type diaries that offered one page for each day of the year. I was even into 3×5 inch index cards way before they were cool. I used to keep a metal index card box labeled “Julie’s Secret Files”. Yep, I was a dork even back then… Nothing has changed folks 🙂

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Childhood diary entries

The sad thing is that I can currently only find one of my childhood journals. I know the others are around here somewhere (hopefully). I just don’t know where. I sat down with that one diary this past weekend and reading it from cover to cover gave me quite a few laughs. 90% of it was filled with entries talking about how big of a pain my younger sister was and all my attempts to find and read her diary. Come on, that was very important stuff to a 13yr old! But mixed in with that silly stuff were a few nuggets that triggered long lost memories. Reading it made me wish I would have continued to keep a journal all these years. I especially wish I would have kept a journal this past year to record my cancer adventure.

Sticking with it…

Why haven’t I been able to keep a journal over the years when I’ve tried countless times? Lots of lame reasons that tend to run in a continuous loop as an internal dialog in my head:

What I write is complete drivel, so why write it down?
My hand writing is messy and I make too mistakes.
I don’t have time to write today, I’ll do it tomorrow.
My doodles are crude and pointless.
I haven’t written in months, so why start again?

I now have answers and comments to those questions and statements that are helping me make journaling a habit that I will stick with.

Q: What I write is complete drivel, so why write it down?
A: Yes, it probably is, but who cares. It’s your drivel and mixed in with it, will be valuable memories that you’ll be able to enjoy later.

S: My hand writing is messy and I make too mistakes.
C: You’re not being graded on your penmanship, so who cares.

S: I don’t have time to write today, I’ll do it tomorrow.
C: That’s fine. You don’t have to write every day, or even every week or month. Write when you feel like it.

S: My doodles are crude and pointless.
C: You’re not being graded on your artistic abilities, so who cares.

Q: I haven’t written in months, so why start again?
A: Why not? Don’t feel like a failure when you don’t write for long periods. Think of it as a break so you can store up memories to write about later.

Once I flipped the switch in my brain that makes me want to write things down all the time, I encountered a new problem and the reason for this article… It’s my struggle to choose between keeping a traditional paper journal or keeping a journal on my iPad. Analog vs. digital? That’s the big question. Let’s consider the analog journal…

Going with paper and pen


Analog journals come in all manner of sizes, shapes and colors. I have to admit that I’m a sucker for Moleskine, Rhodia, and similar notebooks. There is something very romantic about writing your thoughts in a bound book. It’s as if those thoughts are more important just because they are inscribed in a physical book. As you can see from the image above, I have quite a collection of empty notebooks to choose from. The stack on the Left includes a Quo Vadis Habana journal, several blank and lined Moleskines, a San Francisco Moleskine travel journal and a Rhodia webbie. On the Right are a bunch of a Field Notes notebooks and Moleskine Cahiers and Volants. On the bottom of that stack is a Wreck This Journal book by Keri Smith. It’s a journal with all kinds of prompts that are designed to help you be more creative and not worry about screwing up your journal. I found it to be a cool concept, but it a little too juvenile for my taste.

My favorite notebook is currently the 3.5 x 5.5 inch unlined Rhodia Pocket webbie in Orange. I love the soft almost padded feel of the cover and that I can write and draw with markers without too much fear that they will bleed through the page. I do wish that the webbies had white instead of the cream color. I like Moleskine notebooks too and prefer the Sketchbook Pocket version for the thicker paper. Markers and some inks bleed through the regular Moleskine notebook paper too easily.


saddleback notebook cover 1

I am also more than a little obsessed with finding accessories for my notebooks. Notebook covers, pen holders, bookmarks, pens, pencils, you name it…

What do you write in your journal?

There are a million different types of journals. Art journals, gratitude journals, dream journals, trip journals, workout journals, food journals etc. I’m usually pretty traditional when it comes to what I write in mine. I don’t use it as an appointment or to-do book. It tends to be a dated entry with a synopsis of my day. I might include a drawing if the mood strikes and I sometimes tape or glue ticket stubs or other small paper items pertaining to the day’s events.

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I recently purchased a Polaroid Pogo Mobile Printer for the sole purpose of making 2 x 3 inch prints to add to my journal entries. Although the print quality isn’t spectacular, it’s good enough for this task. The printer itself is less than $40 and doesn’t require any ink cartridges. The only consumables are the special photo paper that is required for it. They also offer photo paper with a peel and stick backing, which makes adding pictures to your journal very easy. I have some on order 🙂

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The big downside for me is that this little Bluetooth printer isn’t compatible with the iPhone. Apparently you can get it to work if you’re willing to jailbreak your phone and load a special Bluetooth app. But, at the moment there isn’t a way to jailbreak an iPhone 4S. As soon as there is, I’ll be doing it just so I can use it to print pics to the Pogo. The Pogo does work just fine with my iMac and also worked great with a Samsung Galaxy Nexus Android 4.0 phone.

Finding inspiration

I love seeing pictures of other people’s journal entries and will sometimes go on Flickr and do a search on the word “journal”. It’s a cool way to find ideas for my own entries.

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For example, if you want to be inspired, go check out The Hike Guy’s journals of his 1700 mile trek along the Pacific Crest Trail. They are fantastic and make me want to get a backpack and set off for an adventure in the woods right now. Or maybe when it’s warmer… and I have an RV… with a satellite link. 😉

There are also many journal related sites that I love to visit. Here are a few:

Notebook Stories
Journaling Saves
Recording Thoughts


Keeping a journal on paper means that someone will probably find and read it long after you are gone, if not sooner. Some people might consider this a terrifying possibility. It’s something I really don’t worry about. If someone wants to read one of my journals, it’s probably going to bore them silly very quickly.

For those of you that do worry about the uninvited sneaking a peek at your innermost thoughts, does that make digital journals more attractive since it is easier to secure / hide them?

Some advantages of keeping a paper journal:

  • Electricity or a connection to the internet is not required to write an entry
  • Dropping a journal on the floor will not break it or cause it to lose entries
  • A Moleskine will never crash or need a firmware upgrade
  • Paper journals allow much more freedom and customization than their digital equivalent
  • They cost much less than a smartphone, tablet or computer

What are some other advantages that you find with paper journals vs. digital journals?

If we’re going to talk about advantages, we have to talk about the disadvantages too.

Some disadvantages of keeping an analog journal:

  • It’s easier for someone to find and read your journal when it’s a physical object like a book
  • There’s no spellcheck for a Moleskine
  • If you write an entry with sloppy penmanship, you’ll have to live with it
  • It’s difficult to find a specific entry in a journal
  • You can’t easily backup an analog journal like you can a digital journal

I actually have one way to take care of the last two disadvantages on that list.

Using Evernote to back up your journal

If you haven’t heard of Evernote, it’s a free (there’s a premium version too) note taking, web clipping, archiving tool that you can use on your desktop or your iPhone, Android and Blackberry devices.

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It makes a great analog journal backup tool and search tool. Just snap a picture of your journal page and upload it to your Evernote account. You can create an Evernote notebook to store all your journal images. You can then sync your Evernote notebooks between your desktop and your phone, which means you’ll have a copy of your analog journal on your digital device. Cool right? It gets even better though…

journal 5You can search for words in the images you’ve uploaded to Evernote. Just type a word in the search box and Evernote will give you a list of all the entries where that word shows up. Even your hand written words are searchable. I’m not just talking printed words – even cursive! That makes it super easy to find a specific entry. It doesn’t work 100% of the time as in it sometimes will show you words that don’t match your search criteria, but it works well enough to be a super useful tool. Evernote is also an excellent companion to one of my favorite iOS journal apps. But more about that in part 2 of this series where I’ll talk about digital journaling.

In the mean time, I’d love to hear from you about your journal preferences. What is your favorite brand of notebook? Do you include drawings? Do you add photos? Write in code so people can’t read it?

36 thoughts on “Starting a New Journal – Which Format Do you Use, Digital or Analog?”

  1. Gadgeteer Comment Policy - Please read before commenting
  2. You’re gonna leave me hanging like that?!?!
    What’s your favorite iOS app that works with Evernote??

    Un-tethered jailbreak for iPhone 4s is anyday now… Just do daily checks on greenpoison website 😉

    1. @Anson you really want me to spoil the surprise? 😉 At the moment, my favorite iOS journal app is Wonderful Days. It does have a limitation in that it’s not a universal app… So no full screen iPad app.

      I plan to cover several iOS and Android apps in part 2.

  3. For all the technology I have been exposed to and have at my disposal, professionally I am still a yellow legal notepad person. Its come in handy more years than I can mention…which is why I keep them. Personally I have let go of logging because ive had some encounters with nosey people. RAfter.getting my HTC Evo (still stock with a few exceptions) I blogged. For daily wake up thoughts and.dreams I use UltraMate. Its been a while but between that and Tweetcaster…i’m covered.

  4. I think you missed one advantage of paper- format longevity. One of the saddest lessons we learn from technology is that formats change, and amazingly soon after they do, the old formats are unreadable. When it is time for grandkids/nieces, etc. to read the journals, will there be a way to do so?

    More importantly, where are the links? Now I have to do an actual SEARCH for the Rhodia and PoGo- sigh.

  5. This is great… Especially the ideas about integrating Evernote in the process – clever.. I use Evernote a LOT, but it never occurred to me that this would work…duh… I used a 1in. think lined journal notebook for years but haven’t done it in sometime… My iPad gives me some new freedom to do just that.

    I noticed in the first small pic you were using a Saddleback Leather diary cover… Good choice.. I use one of their iPad sleeves and as advertised, it will be around longer than me…

    I look forward to your second installment !

  6. I switched from a Moleskine Sketchbook with colour pens to Livescribe when they released a Moleskine like notebook. While it is great to have recorded audio tied to the notes, I was missing the ability to use colours. Recently I rely on my iPad 2 in a leather BooqPad with a large Moleskine Reporter Notebook. So I can combine paper and pen with the electronic device. I also take picture and send them to Evernote for sketches I need to archive. Like Captain Jean-Luc Picard in the 23rd century is enjoying to collect and read “real” books, I need paper and pen to develop creative ideas.

  7. Vladimir Estragon

    I write books for a living, and I’ve found that journaling electronically feels too much like work. I’ve also never embraced a dedicated application for the purpose, so I ended up with dozens of Word files scattered about. A few years ago, I came upon a book by Julia Cameron called “The Artist’s Way,” which, while rather precious overall, recommended the practice of Morning Pages. You write three pages every day of whatever comes into your mind, for no ones eyes but your own, deliberately trying not to censor yourself in any way. I started doing that religiously, (though not in the morning), in longhand, using large Moleskines with a handmade leather cover by Renaissance Art and a particular brand of pen that does not bleed through. I hadn’t written anything in longhand in years, and it opened me up creatively in several different ways. I started several stories in different genres I’d never tried before, continuing them each day like serials. For over a year, I didn’t miss a day, writing three pages and sometimes many more. I filled five or six Moleskines. The first time I missed a day, the spell was broken, and it became easy to skip more days after that. Journaling has become an occasional thing since then, but I’d like to get started on the daily grind again. Maybe this will motivate me…

    1. Hi am thankful for you story 🙏 I have many journals now and want to write a book. The thought of loading all my journals on to a computer so I can access them is stressful to me and writing on a computer does not feel good to me. However I am not one to embrace the computer and I may find it wonderful but I love writing by hand as I feel I flow better ! I am also fearful I will lose it or delete it by mistake 😜

  8. Vladimir Estragon

    Oh, and Mark makes am extremely good point. While moving recently, I found a bunch of 5 1/4 inch floppy disks. They might as well be stone knives and bearskins. Meanwhile, people still have photo negatives on film and even glass that are over 150 years old and still usable.

  9. Hi,

    My Journal was on paper until July 2011. Then I start to use my Ipad for that. I found “Note Taker HD” and use it with a stylus. My favorite stylus is one of kingstone.
    There is a lot of ofter note taking tools for Ipad.

    So why is this setup good for me ? Well I still write my journal by hand. ( I’m not quick enough on keyboard) Then I export my notes to Evernote & dropbox ( For backup in PDF format).

    that was my 2 cents 🙂

  10. The tactile pleasure of a fountain pen on quality paper invites me to write. The pace of longhand creates deliberation. It also allows tangential thoughts to happen while still writing the previous one. If the tangent goes long enough, it needs reporting as a likely insightful free association. If it is merely tangent, it can be ignored. Finally, keyboard editing sometimes allows, and writing by hand controls, too effete an attention to grammar and vocabulary. (see?)

  11. Ok, this was funny! How dare you write in your journal that I write dumb stuff in mine! roflol!

    The truth is, sister dear, I still write “dumb stuff” in mine. lol

    For the last few years I’ve just been writing my journal stuff in a refillable daily planner that I call “My Brain”. It’s pink of course! I write anything exciting I do during the day, if I exercise, books read, any knitting and crocheting done, and random quotes. I also started writing “The Best of My Day”, which is just one sentence a day.

    and BTW…I still have all my journals from childhood till now. =)

    1. @Amy Oops! I didn’t know you actually read my stuff 😉 Ha! Remember the silly codes we used to create? That diary pictured in this article has some of them.

  12. Excellent article, I’m looking forward to the next part of the series. My wife’s grandfather, who passed away in the late ’70’s, kept a journal from the time he was in his mid-teens up until just a few months before his passing. I’ve read parts of it and it’s a fascinating look at their family history. There aren’t a lot deep thoughts in the parts that I’ve seen, but it was more of a day to day record of his life and how he and his wife raised 8 children in an incredibly small house and what now would be considered a poverty level income. One of the things he recorded was every penny that came in and out of the house and what it was spent on. If they spent 10 cents on a loaf of bread in January of 1943 it was there. My wife said he wasn’t a cheap man though, he was supposedly very generous. Even though I never met the man, I feel like I know him a little through what I read and from the stories told about him.

    All of his many journals are now in the possession of his children and grandchildren and are scattered around the country with them. They come out at family reunions and holidays when the family gets together.

    It’s really a great way to teach the younger generations about their family history and I think that seeing the actual handwriting brings things alive a little more than typewritten words on a screen.

    Sorry for the rambling, but I wanted to share my experience with journaling. I don’t think it’s so much the tech used, but what you’re putting on the page. Anyway, thanks for the great blog and I wish all a great New Year.

    1. @Chris I love that story, thanks for sharing it. I totally agree with you that seeing the handwriting is almost magical. Reading my own diary was very enlightening because my handwriting changed so much from the beginning to the end of it. I could almost see myself growing up as I flipped the pages.

      @Bryan The Livescribe did not cross my mind while thinking about this article, but it has now and I’ll definitely talk about that in part 2 when I cover digital journaling.

  13. What about the tech you actually introduced me to to in a review before I came on board? The Livescribe pen. I have one of the old versions that looks pretty ugly, but the newer Echo model looks really nice. You get the physical feel and the digital backup. I don’t use the OCR add ons, but even with not it does a great job sorting through the digital copy. On top of it all you can journal an event, while recording the audio and it syncs up.

  14. Hi,

    Well I use to work for “Anoto” tech that Livescribe pen use.
    Sadly the idea was great but some issues made it difficult to use on daily use.
    I found same “feelings” using my stulys on my Ipad.

    On my Ipad is it easy to remove some “errors” which is difficult on Anoto tech products.

  15. Nice write-up; thank you.

    The Saddleback cover looks interesting, but judging by the way it doesn’t appear to fit I am wondering if it just a wallet? Please put me out of my misery and tell me!

    Shetland Islands

  16. Julie, I’ve never journaled for more than about a week in my 61 years, but began a bit on my iPad because I wanted to play with a stylus and some of the note taking programs. But I didn’t find it real satisfying. Somehow I found my way to the Fountain Pen Network and got re-interested/enamored with some of my old fountain pens. I’ve been handwriting a journal for a while now and am enjoying it immensely.

    A benefit of paper and ink (especially fountain pens) is that it can really improve yor handwriting

    And believe me, fountain pens and the myriad of ink colors appeal to the gadget lover in me.

    1. @Ted That’s great that you found a way to keep yourself interested in journaling 🙂 I agree that fountain pens are cool and very gadget worthy. Have you seen the Pen World magazine? Wow!

  17. Great post and comments. I have been keeping what I call “brain books” for years. I prefer journals that are spiral bound so that I can open them flat and not loose my page, my current favourite brand is “Ink Jot”. I have a beautiful leather cover I use, it feels wonderful.
    I got an iPad for Christmas and have been thinking of converting my journal writing to digital format. I did some research and downloaded a few apps to test out. Since I often record work related items in my brain books I am interested in an app that will convert my handwriting to text that I can edit and export. I thought I had found the right app in 7Notes but I hated how it immediately converted my handwriting to text, mostly not very accurately. Since my entry had been converted to text i couldn’t even read it to edit the entry. You can read more about my frustration in my blog at I guess I am looking for an app that can convert my writing to text if I ask it to, but that won’t automatically convert it. Plus I’d like to be able to include drawings, photos and other non-text things. So far I think my best best is PhatPad. The same company makes another product called WritePad but it seems to convert to text immediately.
    Looking forward to your next entry Julie, maybe you can help me find the ideal journal app that works for me.

  18. Julie, Looking at Pen World all by itself can make one feel poor. It’s a different world than technology gadgets.

  19. In a week’s search for new things for note taking, I just came across the iPad, Penultimate… A .99 cent notepad app, has some fundamental writing controls on pens, tips size, color, etc and can be done with the figure or a stylus or both. It also has Evernote and Dropbx integration so saving backups is easy… May be a nice way to start back in !!!!

  20. Julie:I know you and your folks have got a LOT to do, but could I be so bold as to ask when you might write and collect the data for part 2 ?? I’m real interested for example which stylus you guys finalize on for the electronic side of the puzzle… I’ve found a couple of good ones but I don’t want to get too far out ahead of you and start down a dark road I can’t get back! HA !

  21. As always a really interesting article. Hoping that Part 2 will include some form of comparison between Livescribe and using electronic note takers on a tablet e.g. NoteTaker HD. It seems to me the problem with using a tablet is the stylus – its big like a crayon (capacitive screens cannot work with a thin tip). iFarraday sell a stylus that they claim is excellent for writing on a tablet, Jot do as well. This would be the ideal, but you cannot write well with a “crayon”. Perhaps Livescribe is the best of both worlds.

  22. Journalling on an iPad
    Just came across the By Zero Studio Pen (on sale $159). This is very similar to the Cragle iPen (to be launched in February for $89) and an Aiptek version ($100 from Expansys). These are ultrasonic and infrared “pen’s” for writing on the iPad’s capacitive screen. The tips are much thinner than a normal capacitive stylus (about 1mm rather than 6-8mm). What this means is that you can use them as writing instruments (not just drawing and coloring) for an iPad. It comes with free software (the pro version of the software is also free at the moment from the Apple AppStore – Studio Basic and Studio Plus). This might mean that a the iPad could be a serious contender for being a diary / journal tool. The software exports to a pdf file.

  23. Hi, thanks for the post its really interesting. I keep a scrapbook type journal where I record things and put photos in but its not too private but I had my other more private journals scanned and destroyed the hard copies, I keep trying to put the ranting stuff on the computer but it doesn’t seem to work for me, yet I don’t want to put it in a permanent journal for fear of it being seen which is why I had my other books scanned, have you got any ideas?

  24. Great comparison. I prefer paper…. there’s no data to backup, and the format doesn’t change. You could pick up a journal in 100 years and it would be readable. With digital, file formats and computer types and software changes over the years… data can crash… file types can change… files themselves can error out…. etc. Of course, paper can get wet or lost, but at least there’s no “maintenance” with file formats like there is with digital. Somehow paper seems less risky even so.

    I do like paper backups of my “life scrapbook”– the large scrapbook I have that kind of summarizes my life. I have it in paper and digital so that gives me the benefits of each format. I don’t personally scan my personal journals…. that would make them feel like “work” to me. And I like the privacy of paper.

    I like paper since it feels more “private” too. Tech feels more like work to me, and paper is more like a quaint escape. I like to write by candlelight or take a journal outside to the lake.

    I like Pogo prints too, and wish I could get my phone to print to it.

    Good points about sticking with it and why someone should journal.

    I’ve gotten into adding more washi tape, magazine collages, restaurant menu cut outs, and random stuff from daily life to my journals these days.

    I also like old handwritten letters and vintage cards, and journals are right up that alley. Somehow it’s more endearing to hold a 100 year old postcard, or a handwritten letter from someone you care about, than it is to look at a text message on a screen or some blog comment. Paper has a more quaint… sentimental effect.

    I’ve never tried Rhodia notebooks.

    Since 2007ish, I’ve used mostly pocket Moleskines– until this year when I branched out into Markings/CR Gibson, Barnes and Noble leather journals, and other brands. I’m liking the variety now, though I still like pocket Moleskines.

  25. I absolutely love this post. I am such a journal addict. I’m like you… I went a few years without writing regularly until just recently when I discovered collage and art journaling, and realizing that I don’t have to write sentences and paragraphs. I can write bullet statements, draw, write big, small, makes lists of thoughts… just on and on. Plus, who said it had to be in date order. I skip back to empty pages and write there as well. Everything is dated.

    You’re so right about the difficulty finding a specific journal entry. I have journals dating back to 1978 (think I can get all of that into Evernote!? Oh boy). Speaking of Evernote – what a great idea! I already use it regularly so that’s a very good way to back up journals.

    And! Thanks so much for the Polaroid printer info. I’m definitely going to consider it. I had been thinking about a regular Polaroid camera, but what you’ve shared is a great alternative and inexpensive as well.

    I’ve been writing a lot about journals on a site I contribute to. Here’s a link to one of my posts: Here’s a post I really like that I wrote some time ago: I hope you visit and like my posts as much as I like yours. 🙂

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