Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Pen or Keyboard: Choosing the Perfect Journal Medium

By Summer Jayne

It’s probably fair to say that I’ve been a journaler since the day I learned how to write, though perhaps I wasn’t aware of it. I’ve had multiple journals along the way, most of which are half filled; I’ve never like the idea of finishing an entire book before moving onto a new one. I’ve always felt it was important to have an emotional relationship with my journal, and that came with the physical act of putting pen to paper and crafting the words by hand that needed to spill from my soul.

While I was in my mid-twenties, I noticed something odd was happening. I could no longer marathon write without excruciating amounts of pain in my hand. Well, this was a problem, and a big one at that. How was I supposed to put everything on paper? This was my coping mechanism for everything in life. It preserved my sanity, and in many ways, probably saved me from jumping off the nearest tall building. How would I be able to do this?

Fortunately for me, I went to a high school that insisted on teaching typing to every student. Instead of my beloved tomes of paper, handpicked for its texture and coupled with the pen that felt the best gliding across it, I turned to my laptop. At first it was just a running Word document, but over the years, I’ve developed an affinity for both manual and electronic journaling. Each has its merits and drawbacks, and each has a time and place.

Manual Journaling
Over the years, I’ve begun separating journals loosely by topic instead of putting everything in one book. Currently, I have two manual journals I use on a regular basis. One is a travel journal. I chose to do this one with a pen and paper instead of a digital source because it contains everything travel related, and it’s a light weight item that can be tossed into a suitcase without taking up too much precious space or weight. This volume not only contains a record of my adventures, but also the copious amounts of notes I’ve compiled while planning the trip, from budgeting to sight-seeing. I daydream in this journal because no one can tell me it’s unrealistic, and I find great comfort in being able to take my mind somewhere else, even if my body never physically gets there. I’ve spent many blistery Boston nights mentally lying in the sands of the Caribbean and blizzards wrapped on the beaches in Hawaii, which have served me well on planning the three various Caribbean cruises I’ve been on!

The other manual journal I have is a spiritual journal. I was born Catholic, but as I grew older, I never felt it resonated, so I’ve been on a spiritual quest for the past 20 years. To loosely quote U2: “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” And yet, this is another area where sitting in silence with a physical piece of paper and a pen seems to resonate more than pushing buttons. When I’m trying to reach G-d, so to speak, I don’t want the clacking of a keyboard as a distraction. I’ve always found spirituality to be a deeply personal topic of the utmost intimacy. The act of crafting the words from ink again seems fitting for times such as these.

I switch journals quite a bit, and as gorgeous and appealing as the expensive leather ones are, I could never justify the cost. Knowing my habits, I’ll change my journal before it’s full, and that’s an expense I can’t justify. The other issue is that, if I absolutely love it, I’ll fill it too quickly, and I’ll still need another journal. A refillable journal is a good option in this case. There are many blank refill journals on the market in a plethora of sizes. The key to choosing this option is to choose a journal with a standard size paper, ensuring that new volumes can be loaded into the (expensive) beautiful cover as needed.

I mentioned that I separate my journals out loosely by topic, and I’ve only mentioned two so far. So what about everything else? Surely I can’t always write about traveling and G-d (although sometimes I wonder).

Electronic Journaling
Over the years, my arsenal of technology has evolved. When I was in high school, we had one computer that took up all of the space on one desk for the entire family. By the time I graduated from college, everyone had a laptop, and most people were buying into the iPad frenzy. In 2012, I purchased my first iPad, and I was amazed at what it could do. It reminded me of something out of Star Trek, and I must say, I’ve always found Star Trek appealing. I wondered what it could do for my journaling habits, too.

After much trial and error, and experimenting with different apps, I stumbled across Noteshelf. Noteshelf is a remarkable app that allows for the creation of different journals with infinite pages and customizable covers. It can pair with a Bluetooth keyboard, or it can be used with a stylus and record handwriting, if the need arises. Like most journaling apps, it has a magnified window that allow for easier writing with a stylus. This has definitely become my “go-to” app for journaling!

I’ve created journals for writing topics, short stories, novel excerpts, recipes, notes from meetings at work, as well as a catch-all-I-just-need-to-vent book.

The Bluetooth capability has help immensely when I can’t physically write. I actually type faster than I can write by hand, so using this method almost allows the writing to keep up with the rate at which I’m thinking. And sometimes that’s the entire point—just get it out of my head as quickly as I possibly can. For me, that’s typing it out. I’m not worried about what the writing looks like or how the pen feels on the paper. I’m not concerned with anything except the flurry of my fingers as they roam over the keyboard. The organization feature of Noteshelf is nice, but it’s also just as easy to have multiple Word documents. Pull out your tablet, search for journaling apps, and see what pops up. You never know, there just might be one that’s perfect for your specific needs.

Manual vs. Electronic
So which is better? In my mind, neither. Or both.  There are some die-hards who will insist on handwriting, just as there are those who insist keeping an electronic journal is more versatile and secure (hello, password protection!).  The truth is, they both have a place. The important part of journaling isn’t about the paper or what app you’re using; it’s about being able to put thoughts to feeling and transcribe them onto a page (actual paper or virtual). 

My journal is still my best friend, all twelve of them. 

Happy journaling!


Summer Jayne is an author and avid journal writer in the Boston area.  When the economic crisis of 2008 hit, she was unemployed for nearly two years.  She turned to writing to combat the unending boredom from being home-bound, ultimately creating the novel Lioness (April 2009) available on Amazon.  She works as a chemist by day for a local medical device company while pursuing her second novel in her spare time.  She currently resides with three roommates, three cats, and a pile of student loans.