Favorite Writing Journals (C’mon, You Know You Want One)

JournalsJournals.  Oh, God, journals.  In the recent purge of much of my office crap, I gave away a ton of them.  And yet I still have tons of them (note photo.  And I’m pretty sure I’ve got at least another box and another bag of them somewhere upstairs).  But that’s because I love them so much that I hoard them.  And then when I go looking for just the right journal for what I need (because I start journals for everything) I usually decide nothing I have works right and I go buy one.  That’s probably the exact definition of a hoarder.  But if I had a house piled full of journals, the way those people on the hoarding shows have piles of junk, I’d be a happy woman.

Anyway.  It is only a few days until the new year and I need you need a new journal.   So I thought I’d share with you some of my favorites.  And do bear in mind, this is only a partial list.   I can fall in love with the simplest notebook at my local Fred Meyer, or buy bunches of pretty ones in France and forget that I had recently vowed lifelong allegiance to a certain brand.  I’m fickle that way and I blame it on my right brain.

But if I were going to vow lifelong allegiance to a certain brand, it would likely be one of these:

  1. The Moleskine.   We’re all familiar with these by now, as they are the journals that famous writers such as Hemingway supposedly used.  Originally available only in black with a hard cover, they now come in a million different sizes and cover colors.   I like the classic best.  The paper quality is good, and there’s that handy pocket in the back. Hard to beat.
  2. Leuchtturm Journals.  These were love at first sight for me.  Very similar to Moleskines, but they have…wait for it…numbered pages and an index.  The best features ever!  Because ever since I discovered the Bullet Journal system (see below) I number the pages of all my journals and keep an ongoing index.  Its the only way to track your ideas and brilliant thoughts.  The Leuchtturm does this for you.  And the colors–oh the colors! They’ve got Moleskines way beat on the colors.
  3. Bullet Journal.  The inventor of this system is a brilliant graphic designer who figured out a way to personalize his Moleskine to make it into a truly handy organizer, adaptable to anyone.  You can use any notebook you want for it, but now he also has a store where you can buy one designed especially for this system.  When I first learned of the bullet journal a couple years ago, I used it quite successfully for a year.  Then, in my usual fickle manner, I moved on.  But I’ve maintained some of his innovations.  And I’m sorely tempted to buy one of his journals to check them out.
  4. Plain old-fashioned spirals.  You know, the kind you buy at office supply stores with little kitties or butterflies on them.  I’ve got stacks of these babies lying around, and sometimes they just can’t be beat for practicality.  You can’t go wrong with notebooks from Mead (including their Red & Black brand, which I like a lot) but lookit all the cool ones I found on Etsy, too!
  5. Rhodia. Oh God. I just went to their website.  They’ve branched out from the classic (or “iconic” as they call it) orange and black notebooks.  There are all kinds of goodies to consider here.
  6. Claire Fontaine.  Another classic manufacturer of quality notebooks.  And I love the way they look.

Okay, so those are my picks.  Do you have a habit for collecting journals like I do? What are your favorites?  Please share in the comments.

The Writer’s Notebook: Loving Moleskines

I know.  I'm fifty gazillion years behind everyone else on this.  It
is a perverse streak I have that I don't quite understand.  For
instance, if everyone and their uncle is reading and talking about a
current bestseller, I won't buy it.  (One exception is the Stieg Larsson books.)
I'm not proud of this because it reeks of snobbery…or something else
I can't define but which doesn't reflect well on my moral character. 
(Another example–I'm only just now on the third volume of the Harry
Potter series.)

But back to the moleskines.  I've gone whole hog for them.  I resisted them for so long because they were a thing.  And they had a mystique.  I can't do mystiques. All those famous authors and artists used them–Picasso! Hemingway! Van Gogh! Bruce Chatwin! 

Also I resisted them because I thought they wouldn't work for me. 
With some rare exceptions, I've always preferred spiral notebooks, the
easier to turn the cover back on itself and balance the book on a
knee.  Perfect bound notebooks often break and split and are sometimes
awkward to handle. But guess what? They turn back on themselves beautifully and the standard size is perfect for carrying around.  The paper is thin, but not too thin.  They have a ribbon to mark your place, a generous back pocket to stick stuff in, and an elastic band to wrap around the whole thing. Sigh deeply.  Have I mentioned I'm in love?

And plus, there's more–there's something about the overall feel of the moleskine, more than the sum of its parts, that lends authority to everything I write in it.  My first moleskine has rejuvenated my journaling habit.  My journal is my constant companion, but sometimes it just feels….dull.  Not anymore.  Not with the moleskine.  Just opening it makes me happy.

What kind of notebook do you use? What do you write in it?

In the Election Day Department of Odds and Ends

It's election day, in case you hadn't noticed.  Have you voted?  Or, if you live in Oregon, have you taken your ballot in (we have vote by mail only here). If not, what are you doing reading this blog?  Go get in line to vote.

I'm alternately biting my nails and cautiously optimistic.  Fortunately for me and my work load, I won't be home today, because if I were, I'd be on the Huffington Post and other websites obsessively all day long.

Before I leave however, I wanted to let you know about a couple of things.

First of all, The Institute for the Future of the Book is starting "an experiment in close reading" beginning November 10th. They are pairing women, one in her fifties or sixties with one in her twenties or thirties, to read Doris Lessings' The Golden Notebook.  You can read about the experiment here, and let me just say that I'm onboard because Harriet Rubin is one of the readers and she is awesome.  If you are going to read along, you might want to order your book now, though it is available online.  Or so they tell me, though I can't seem to find it.  You can, however, read more about the book here, for you young'uns who are not familiar with it.

In this morning's Oregonian, (yes some of us do read newspapers upon occasion) there was an article about this amazing local company that makes incredible journals out of old books.  Instead of sending them to the dump, Ex Libris Anonymous take vintage books and makes them into spiral journal.  Each journal is only $13 and you can choose from a bunch of them online.  This is so cool on so many levels that I almost can't stand it.

Watch this space for news of a contest.  Yes, a contest.  With books as the prize.  What could be better than that?  Not a lot, if you ask me.  Details soon….

Oh, and one more thing, stay tuned for news about the release of The Christmas Story, a fabulous anthology of, you guessed it, Christmas stories, with a story by none other than me included in.  Quel excitement!  More soon!

The Power of Observation & More: 5 Reasons to Keep a Journal

Pumpkins 1
Yesterday my daughter had a pumpkin-carving party, complete with home-brewed Nut Brown Ale from her boyfriend and all kinds of delicious pot luck treats.  We carved the jack-o-lanterns in the backyard with leaves falling all around us in the autumn breeze and ladybugs landing on everyone.

I got up this morning and wrote down all the details in my journal.

I write in my journal nearly every day, usually first thing in the morning.  It is actually a bit of a compulsion with me.  Over the years I've filled up dozens, if not hundreds, of journals in all kinds of spirals and composition books and diaries.  They fill crates in various closets, all neatly labeled with the appropriate dates.  I'm not entirely sure why I save them, because lord knows even I can't read my own handwriting.  But something compels me to do so.  And I know that when our house caught on fire and the upstairs burned many years ago, the thing I was most grateful to find unscathed was my journals.  Pumpkins 2

(Brief aside: you know how you always hear people say what they'd save if their house was on fire?  Let me just tell you, when you are fleeing a burning house with children and pets you do not for one minute stop to worry about saving all the family photos or the Grandma's antiques.  All you think about is getting the living creatures out.)

Sometimes I think journal writing is a distraction.  It's a choice I constantly make: write in the journal or work on the novel?  Make notes about what I did last night or get some work done on a ghost-writing project?  When I'm fully engaged in a book project, I tell myself I shouldn't waste time on my journal.  And then I find myself reaching for it and before I know it, I'm writing away.

However, I'm also aware of how valuable journal writing is.  Honestly?  I'm constantly in awe of people who make it through life without one.  I process everything on the page, saving my friends and family hours of drama and myself years of therapy.  But beyond the emotional benefits, there are clear advantages to keeping a journal for writing, too.  To wit:

1.  It gets the crap out.  If all your worries about your day are clogging up your brain, how are you going to write?  Get it out on the page and get rid of it.

2.  It encourages the practice of observation.  There's no better way to start remembering details than writing them down.  The more you write what you've seen and experienced, the better you get at it. And the better you get at writing it in your journal, the better you get at writing on your novel or whatever creative project is dear to your heart.

3.  It is a place to make notes on projects.  Sometimes–often–I start a journal entry by writing about what I did the day before and soon I'm writing a scene for my novel or figuring out how to write an article.  I actually wrote this whole blog post as a journal entry this morning.

4.  Regular attention to a journal can be life altering.  Sounds grandiose, doesn't it?  But it is true.  When you commit to writing in your journal every day, suddenly you start to see patterns in the desires and goals you note.  Hmmm, day after day you write about the creative non-fiction book you want to start.  Is this a clue to what you should be doing?  Or perhaps every day you write about how miserable you are in your job or marriage.  Is it time to make a change?

5.  You can track your writing goals.   Writing down your word count on a long project can be a powerful motivator.  Writing about that project can help you get clear on it, too.  John Steinbeck wrote journals about the writing of his novels. 

Bonus point:  It is a spiritual practice.  People always talk about their spiritual practices, such as prayer, or ritual, or meditation and I always pouted because I wanted a spiritual practice, too.    But I don't seem to have a lot of patience for those kinds of spiritual practices.  One day, however, it hit me–hot damn, I already have a spiritual practice.  It is writing in my journal, which I do as regularly as anyone who meditates or practices yoga.

One last thing.  Michael Masterson has an article on writing journals in his weekly newsletter today.  He looks at it from a manly, business point of view, but I'm a huge fan of Masterson and I like what he has to say about writing a journal.  Read it here.