Journaling: Pen or Keyboard?
July 9, 2015 8:38 AM   Subscribe

Have you made the transition from paper journal to digital journal?

I have kept a hand-written journal for more than half my life. I am a pretty dedicated writer of Morning Pages, and I love carrying a pock Moleskine in my purse to capture thoughts, ideas and memories. I also write each day in a 10-year journal, just a few lines of what I did that day.

MeFi and other venues have raved about the Day One app, and so I finally downloaded it. I like a lot of the features (search, tagging, weather, photos) that make it more organized than a paper journal. But there are still aspects of paper journaling I am hesitatnt to let go of, namely seeing my own print, the slowness of writing by hand, and the break from screentime that journaling gives me.

Have you made the transition from paper to digital journal? Do you use Day One? I am looking for tips, ideas, how you use the app, how you made the switch, and whether you grew to love the app or eventually went back to paper.
posted by Brittanie to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I actually made the opposite transition--from digital to paper. Paper is much more satisfying for me. Something about staring directly into a glorified light bulb makes it hard to think clearly about my life.
posted by sam_harms at 9:03 AM on July 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just to address one point you make there are tons of journaling apps that will accept handwriting using a stylus, which would preserve that aspect you enjoy. Does DayOne do that? (I couldn't tell based on a quick Google search.)
posted by Wretch729 at 10:00 AM on July 9, 2015

I made the transition from paper journal to computer journal about two years ago. I'm not using any app though, just a text file synced on Dropbox.

I think overall, this was a good change. I can write faster on a keyboard, and for longer without feeling my hand straining.

One thing I miss is that I don't write down dreams nearly as often. Before, I would usually sleep with the journal on the night-stand, and if I wanted to write something down when I just woke up, I could just do it -- nowadays, it usually isn't worth extra effort of getting out of bed and to the computer.

Other than that, my habits and lifestyle meant that I was usually close to a computer when I wanted to journal anyway, so lack of easy computer access is not a problem. Obviously, this is something for which your mileage my vary depending on your lifestyle.

One big advantage of the computer journal, I found, is the search abilities. I often find myself looking for something specific. Just as an example, I was thinking "oh, I wonder what I thought of such-and-such person when we first met?", and easily found the answer by pressing Ctrl+F and typing their name. With a paper journal, the same task would involve either having a very good idea of exactly when we first met, or a lot of leafing through the journal.
posted by water under the bridge at 10:02 AM on July 9, 2015

I've been using OneNote for journaling for several years. It's improved the way I organize my writing. I have one notebook per year, one section per month and one page per day/event. If there are particularly big events or projects that come up, I give those their own section. This, plus the fact that it's searchable, make it easier for me to find things when I need to.
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 11:38 AM on July 9, 2015

I journal in Evernote since about a year ago. I like that I generally have either my laptop or my phone handy, and it makes it easy to journal for a few minutes at work / in situations where I wouldn't want to obviously whip out a journal. If I journal on paper, it's easy to photograph it and add to the digital journal (with handwriting recognition) - paper journals tended to accrue lots of taped-in pages.

I don't like that I also use the same account for research notes, and should probably segregate it a little better.
posted by momus_window at 12:00 PM on July 9, 2015

I'm with sam_harms. I've tried all kinds of electronic journaling but it is so much less satisfying.

Typing allows editing, often on the fly, which interrupts the flow of ideas and absolutely kills any emotional connection between the words and the mind. There's a sense that typing needs to be perfect, and my writing voice becomes formal and distant.

Writing longhand is much easier to tap into the unconscious mind. I am often surprised by insights revealed when writing longhand. That never happens at a keyboard. I can let the words flow in a way that typing can't.

Now, having a digital transcription of a handwritten journal, that's not a bad idea.
posted by trinity8-director at 12:35 PM on July 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I considered a journal program on my computer years ago, didn't go for it. Now that program is not available for current operating systems, and the proprietary format means the files couldn't be read by another program. Avoid special apps and programs that save files that other programs can't read.

Instead I've gone for creating plain text files. I use whatever simple text editor I prefer at the time. I started this on a work computer fifteen years ago and it's worked out so well I'm still doing it. Separate file for each entry, filename includes the date, suffix initial in the filename indicates which device I wrote it on. Every couple of weeks I copy files from my iPod to my computer, which gets backed up automatically, so I don't risk losing any entries; I put them in the same folder that I write new journal entries on the computer into. Since they're plain text files they can be read with any program, now or decades in the future, as long as they get transferred to the more up-to-date system whenever I get a new one. If I want to look back, for example to see when I got sick or how old the cat is or when a job started, I can do a quick search by a keyword and find the information I need in a moment.

It turns out that being able to write on more than one system makes a big difference for me. If I want to write something in the middle of the night, I don't have to turn the light on to write by hand; I can just type into my iPod.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 1:23 PM on July 9, 2015

I moved from writing on big, unlined drawing notebooks to typing on the computer using a bare-bones text editor. The main reason for the switch was that I liked being able to type so much faster than I can write. The change was also part of digitizing my life before leaving the country -- I didn't want to haul notebooks around. The main drawback was that journaling now means sitting in front of a screen, which I already do too much.

Like water under the bridge, I like being able to use the Find function. I also use yellow highlighting to highlight particularly useful lessons I've learned or decisions I've made. I cram about three months into each file and save them in an encrypted spot on my hard drive. I periodically go through my files and copy & paste the main lessons learned into a central file to make sure I don't forget them.
posted by ceiba at 1:55 PM on July 9, 2015

I use Day One. It me to actually keep a journal regularly for the first time ever.

When I use paper I simply don't write often and, if I do, I lose the journal eventually.

With Day One I can do it on my phone- I write a lot in line at Starbuck's or, frankly, in the bathroom stall at work. And I use the Dropbox sync so I can write on different devices and computers.

I get the appeal of pen and paper, but for me digital is the difference between doing it in an organized form I will be able to look back on in years to come, and not doing it at all.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:56 PM on July 9, 2015

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