I always thought of my next door neighbor Ray as my grandfather. Ray was an old WWI vet, retired trucker, and junior golf instructor who had a stack of hardbound journals he had written in for decades. I remember one of the things he shared about his Parkinson’s, was the difficulty writing in his journal. It had become a very important part of his life. I wish I had started one then, when I was a kid. Ray told me as much.

I recently decided to start a personal journal to record my days activities and thoughts, and to be able to reflect on them later. I think keeping a daily journal will be useful in many ways, far more than just having my life on paper.

Writing every day

I’m one of these pathetic bloggers who really enjoys writing, but doesn’t do it much. I’ve got plenty of great excuses too:

  • I’m busy working
  • I need to finish “insert one of my many side projects here”
  • Usually three paragraphs in, I realize how dumb of an idea the post I’m writing is.
  • I want to stay “on-topic” with what I’ve written about before
  • Someone else wrote about it better

Ok, these are all really lame reasons to not write. The real reason is that I haven’t gotten into the habit of doing it. It’s always hard work to form new habits.

A journal will be a great way for me to get in the habit of writing every day. By putting my thoughts on paper, I will solidify, and give more respect to my ideas, and life in general. Hopefully this will lead me to share more ideas here on my blog.

Look at your thoughts

One of the biggest benefits of a journal, in my eyes, is that it gives you a chance to actually look at your thoughts. Both the act of writing them down, and reading them can give you a new perspective on them. Some things you think one day might seem ridiculous the next.

For this reason, I’ve decided to start each day by reading the previous day’s entries, and commenting on them. By forcing myself to look at what I was thinking, I can review the conclusions I may have come to. We all know hindsight is 20/20, but how much do we use it to our advantage? How can we give our ideas, activities and thoughts more measured attention? Start a personal journal.

In order to reference entries in comments, and make it easy to review, I’m using a simple numbering method, combined with symbols. Each day starts at 01 ( I doubt I’ll ever need 3 digits in a day ), and may prefix the number with a symbol to signify what the entry is relevant to.

Writing on paper

As a web developer, I spend A LOT of time typing. I write code and emails all day for a living and fun ( the emails aren’t as fun as the code ). The last thing I want to do is write a personal journal into text files. Aside from my affection for stationary and fine pens, the act of handwriting has a quality of it’s own that I really enjoy.

Creative people often forget how beneficial it can be to exercise different parts of their mind. Working with your hands, and the control needed for handwriting can be a sort of meditation. You are forced to pause and formulate your thoughts more. For a computer geek like me, typing doesn’t require any thought. Words spill from my fingers onto the mechanical switches of my klackity Tactile Pro sometimes faster than I can compose them well.

Make a commitment, use an ink pen

When I first picked up the journal to start writing in it, I started with a pencil. I thought it would be good to be able to rewrite, and make sure it’s neat and tidy. That was a big mistake. I spent about 20 minutes writing and erasing before stopping, and getting a pen.

There is something telling about the way you write. Some people make a career out of analyzing handwriting. Perhaps over time, I will be able to look at the way I write each day as a journal entry in itself, telling me things about myself at the time of writing them that I might not be aware of, or wouldn’t write. Was I having trouble staying in the lines, was my script nice, or sloppy? Did I write in it after a few beers?

I also decided I want it to be perfect in the way that it is just what I wrote at the time, no erasing or editing. Don’t pull a George Lucas on your journal. You deserve the original article when you look at it later.

Whitelines Squared

Of course, starting a journal, I need something to write in. Having a ridiculous fetish for paper products, my needs were pretty specific.

My journal needed to fit the following criteria:

  • hardbound
  • clean black cover
  • book ribbon
  • heavy graph paper
  • environmentally friendly
  • size A5 ( 6 x 8.5 inches )

With this in mind, the Amazon navigation lead me to the Whitelines Hard Bound A5 Notebook. It has everything I wanted, aside from the clean black cover, but the orange stripe doesn’t bother me, as it’s using Futura, and the orange is a nice contrast to the black cover. It’s not surprising that they would be so beautiful, and enjoyable to write in. Whitelines was founded by a Swedish designer named Olof Hansson.

The killer feature of the Whitelines, is the . . . white lines. Instead of a high contrast blue grid on white, the paper is shaded light gray, with white lines. I find that the white lines provide guidance, but are not too demanding, or distracting. The words are what stand out, not your guidlines.

Though I am not really a stickler about recycled paper or finding out “how the sausage is made”, I prefer to give my money to companies who take responsibility for themselves. Whitelines makes the following statement about their paper processing:

And not only is Whitelines working harder to support you and your ideas, but it is working harder to support the environment; the paper is processed and printed in a mill in the South of Sweden with zero carbon emissions.

If you are considering starting a personal journal, I hope this pushes you over the edge. When you’re old, looking back at your life, you’re more likely to wish you had started a journal than to think it was a waste of time.