What do people do for keeping journals? I have developed an evident keen interest in wasting scads of time pondering this issue. Why? Because although I’ve always kept paper journals, I now have these portable always-with-me devices on which I can type far faster than I can write and in which it is easier and less resource intensive to stick memoires like photos and even videos. The sticking point is that I still have my journals from seventh grade, and I’m not sure I will pick a storage format for digital material that I’ll always be able to access. I have, for decades, kept a pretty regular journal. I write what I’m up to, what I’m reading, what I’m pissed off and scared about, what my plans are, what I hope to get done in the next week…you name it, I probably write about it. I doodle. I write sideways and upside down to entertain myself. I gluestick in ticket stubs, cards, and other memorabilia. My early journals contain the very rare snapshot because those were back when you had to take film rolls and have them developed, which was expensive and logistically difficult without a car. Since the advent of digital photography my journals bulge increasingly with snapshots, but it’s still an expense to maintain a photo printer and buy supplies for it.
Speaking of expense, my first dozen or more journals were spiral-bound half-size lined notebooks, but in the last 10 years I’ve switched to Moleskine notebooks. They cost a lot, but I like the elastic bands to keep them closed and the way they don’t age and get falls-aparts like the spiral-bound ones. Interestingly, I found Moleskines in Italy and planned to buy up a supply only to find they’re cheaper here in the states. But I digress. My original point was a lead-in to the point that journaling software costs money, but I’m not sure that it costs much more than paper journaling supplies when you consider I buy Moleskines, photo paper, and printer ink.
Here are the digital-journaling solutions I’ve tried.
- Plain text. This is the most obviously likely way to preserve my pearls of wisdom, and with iPad apps like Elements and PlainText it syncs with Dropbox seamlessly. Cons: I can’t add photos or other memorabilia, and I can’t highlight text or make notes in the margins. Boring. However, I’ve started messing around with Markdown, and I’m betting I’ll come up with a system there. You can use plain text that also looks nice in HTML. Brilliant.
- MacJournal. This is a really popular Mac journal application, and it now has apps for the iPhone and iPad. It has a typical, familiar Mac interface; allows for tagging, highlighting, and linking; and lets you include photos, videos, and PDFs. Cons: it syncs unreliably with Dropbox, and the sync with iDevices is indescribably awful. Getting the data out of MacJournal into a possible archiving format is also unsatisfactory; text-only obviates including the media to begin with, and PDFs export in odd formats with weird spacing.
- Evernote. I use Evernote a lot anyway, so using it for a journal is compelling in theory. It’s easy to get data into, it’s searchable, and by definition you can put anything into it. Problems are the same as with MacJournal regarding export.
- Online options. I’ve tried Penzu.com and password-protected Tumblr blogs. Penzu sucks because you can’t easily navigate from day to day to read your entries and because exporting more than a few entries returns an error message. Again: I want my data BACK. The Tumblr option is not bad if you have a Mac because they have a Mac exporter; take the password off for long enough to export the data, and you’re set. Unfortunately, you have no control over the HTML generated, and the PDFs have chopped-off text, so once again data export is unsatisfactory.
- iPad. There are a metric ton of journaling apps for the iPad. It’s tempting. The thing is portable and cute, and many of the apps have export and sync to Dropbox, Evernote, and other services. I like MaxJournal best, and if it would sync and not just export I’d probably use it a lot. I just can’t have my iPad as the primary source of journal entries.
But here I am still scribbling in my Moleskine, printing out digital photos and using a gluestick. (And wishing I didn't have experimental electronic entries scattered around in these other modalities.) I do tend to write MORE in electronic form because I can type faster, and I like the searchability, but...I want durability.
Clearly I'm wasting far too much time and energy on this, so leave comments and tell me your opinions, readers!