How I Rediscovered the Art of Pen-and-Paper Journaling

Originally published on Medium.
I started my first diary when I was ten. My father, a writer himself, who noticed my penchant for elaborate compositions at school, thought that not only it would be good for me, but I would also enjoy it. He was right, as he often is, at least when it comes to nurturing literary creativity. He handed me an exquisite little hardcover notebook, black covers with red spine and red corners. I am quite sure it was made in China. To this day, I have no idea where he sourced it. High quality anything was rather difficult to come by in pre-1990 Romania.

“A pencil on the blank pages of an open notebook” by Jan Kahánek on Unsplash

I eagerly started journaling, and kept at it until college, when life became hectic, much more social, and certainly more interesting than my journaling habit. For the first time I was among plenty of people to whom I could relate. I came to realize that keeping a diary, along with my voracious reading habit, helped me survive high school. During college, I gradually lost patience for journaling. Now I regret not regularly recording my exploits during those years. I was studying natural sciences, had the most amazing classmates, and each and every one of our field trips was nothing short of epic. It was the time right before the internet and digital technology boom (we were still using analogue cameras).

“An overhead shot of a blank notebook, a magnifying glass, a camera and several other exploring-related items” by Dariusz Sankowski on Unsplash

After college, I journaled sporadically, especially when I came across nice notebooks. I attempted designating different notebooks for different purposes. I started a dream journal long before it was trendy. However, I could never get to my senses fast enough to properly hold a pen, let alone write down my dreams as soon as I woke up, as it was recommended. My dream recollections had to be edited by the filter of daylight.

“The moon on the night sky with a glowing halo around” by Hoàng Duy Lê on Unsplash

I started using planners, which I loved. Most of them had hard covers and fancy paper. However, sometimes days, weeks and months went by without me jotting down a single thing in them. So I used those blank pages for drafting essays, poems, writing all kind of recipes, or various lists.

Photo by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash

In came the internet era, and, sooner than most of my peers, I discovered blogging (I was also one of the first people in my circles to have an email address; all of the acquaintances who already had one were IT pros). A few years before starting to blog, I was keeping a “digital multimedia diary” on my computer, a precursor to public “weblogs”. The idea of sharing my thoughts with the world seemed a little intimidating, if tantalizing. I still find it a little unnerving. However, to my former shy self, it was sure vastly better than public speaking… Yes, I said former. In a future article, I will tell you the story of how I overcame shyness and excessive self-consciousness.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

So I blogged for a while. Never with any serious intention of turning any of my blogs into a business. I considered blogging a novel way to stay in touch with friends and maybe make new ones. However, I started being increasingly aware of how much information I was sharing about myself, and what image I was projecting. It started as a hobby blog, mostly, an idiosyncratic idea diary based on select cultural events, places, and people. I almost never wrote about my professional life, my career as a wildlife ecologist, my opinions on current events, or specifically about my core beliefs. Now, in the era of “sharing”, I view my personal blog as an extended business card. I am in the process of rethinking it. So check back regularly, or subscribe to my feeder.

Photo by João Silas on Unsplash

Fast forward ten years, the benefits of journaling are praised by productivity and self-improvement gurus everywhere on the web. Bullet journals. “Brain dumps”. Dream journals. Planners for everything, from fitness to business. The benefits of longhand. I never stopped collecting pretty notebook; meanwhile, I was blogging less and less. I realized I was missing writing, and especially writing by hand. So I returned to pen-and-paper journaling. Here is a tip, by the way: if you are new to journaling and want to give it a try, start with “brain dumps”, in the cheapest composition book you can find. Just write down everything that crosses your mind, stream-of-consciusness style, for as long as you want. It will feel like your psyche is taking a shower, and you might even have a few epiphanies.

Photo by Easton Oliver on Unsplash

As a seasoned diary keeper and user of planners, I was very intrigued by bullet journaling. I am in the process of fine-tuning my own approach to it, after years of under-using planner pages. In a future article I will tell you how I am using my classic planner as a transition to bullet journaling.

Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

Follow me — I am planning a series of articles about the habit of journaling and cultivating creativity — two of my most beloved topics.
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