Before I journaled as regularly as I do now, a journal was just a thing in which to put my ideas. I didn’t really think of my journal as much more than that. I shuffled from flip paper to cheap ringed binders from an office supply store.
Unsurprisingly, over these years my writing did not feel like a particularly “artful” experience.
There wasn’t any feeling of nuance or beauty or true creativity to my journaling. It was just a thing I did. Ink lines on paper.
But when I discovered that artfulness was a high personal value of mine, I realized why my journaling practice had never really provided me a true sense of fulfillment: because it wasn’t a nuanced, artful or creative experience. It was transactional. It was a remedial task.
From that point forward, I pledged to treat my journaling practice like an artful experience. Even if the words themselves didn’t suddenly become more artistic or poetic or brilliant, at least my daily journaling practice would provide me with a more steady feeling of creative embodiment.
Today, I’m sharing another simple way to make your journaling practice more artful, nuanced, and creative-feeling:
Change what you write in!
Your personal journal is an opportunity to subtly embody your inner values and intentionally express your beliefs, even more than just the words on the page.
After all, writing is an experience of communion with the self. When we write, we can treat it like it’s just about the task of putting words on paper. Or we can treat it like it’s really special. We can intentionally assign more meaning into our writing process.
Here are my favorite journals for making your journaling practice even more special.
Large (5 x 8.25), Line Ruled, Red Hard Cover (~$15)
Moleskine is a popular brand of notebook that boasts decent quality for an awesome price of under $20. The notebooks feature sewn spines (so they can lay flat), ribbon to bookmark your page, an elastic to hold it all together (I tuck my pen in there, too), and a little back folder to hide away scraps of paper, notes, and more.
The Italian brand was born in the late 1990s and has grown worldwide, now easily be found in most bookstores and major box stores. Moleskines are a great affordable option if you’re looking for a consistent notebook that can handle rough and tumble use (whether traveling abroad, or to the local cafe).
I wrote in Moleskines consistently from around 2011 to to 2015, before upgrading my writing utensils to fountain pens, which required a finer and stronger paper.
I prefer the traditional flat colored notebooks and used to rotate colors from red to green to yellow to suit my mood. Go with Moleskine if you’re looking for a safe bet entry into personal journaling, and want something that’s functional and fun for housing your musings at home and on the road.
Medium Size, Hardcover, Ruled Pages, Orange ($19.95)
This is my preferred and most highly recommended upgrade for those journalers who want a step up from the Moleskine notebook, and may feel like the quality of Moleskine has been slipping in recent years with the boom in popularity and cheapening of the brand (now featuring designs with everything from Star Wars to Hello Kitty to other superheros… whom I love… just not on my journals).
I’ve personally noticed what seems to have been a degradation in the quality of paper by the time I switched.
In its place, meet the Leuchtturm 1917.
You may know that I’m a total globophile (which is a word I just made up to represent my affinity and love of anything culturally unique and/or “global”), so this German-made notebook fits the bill.
The Leuchtturm embodies a sense of German culture, being built with precision and proclivity to organization. The journal featuring numbered pages, an empty table of contents page that you can fill yourself, stickers for labeling notebooks’ spines, and a deep pocket in the back for keeping a hold of loose papers or notes.
The Leuchtturm has the heavy-duty construction of a full on automobile, with two differently-colored ribbons for marking pages, a wider page frame than Moleskine, and better quality paper.This is my business brainstorming and creative organizational space notebook.
For around $20, you can’t go wrong with this super cool, writerly-nerdy notebook!
Brown Leather, 6.4 ounces, 8.4 x 5.1 ($32)
Next, meet the DIY of travel notebooks! Midori (around $30) is a Japanese brand of notebooks from the Traveler’s Company, designed and constructed in Japan and Thailand. It’s a fully customizable notebook experience that you can piece together, bind, organize, and reuse endlessly.
Since writing is itself a creative experience, it stands to reason that your journal should be a creative expression, itself!
Midori’s cult followers have invented countless ways to customize these notebooks. You can fill the leather case with one notebook, or upwards of 5 or 6. You can choose inserts and add-ons like zip-up plastic pockets, credit card holders, or a passport slot. You can change out (or make your own) colored elastics to bind the book, too.
The Midori is my go-to for personal journaling, being so light and convenient to travel with. I fill mine with 2 or 3 notebooks (my preferred paper listed below!), and a single plastic zip-up slot that I use to carry spare currency and backup travel docs while on the road.
Lightweight Blank Paper (128 pages)
These unbelievably thin pages are strong enough to hold heavy inks from fountain pens, and masterfully so!
No bleed. Barely visible from the reverse page.
If you’ve ever had ink refuse to dry on cheap paper, you know how annoying (and messy) it can be when you’re trying to write, find some flow, and feel artful.
Midori’s Refill #13 (around $7) is probably my favorite paper to write on, ever. And, because the paper is oh-so-thin, you can pack an absolute ludicrous number of pages into a single Midori Traveler’s Notebook: with my 2 or 3 notebooks in a single leather binding, I can carry anywhere from 512 to 768 blank pages with me wherever I go.
And it fits into my back pocket!
Does the journal you write in really matter?
Of course it doesn’t. Unless you want it to matter.
Your journal won’t make or break your writing, make you a better writer, or make you look like a “real” writer.
But these journals really have changed my writing practice. Because they’ve made my writing more personal. More creative. More “my own.” A nice journal — like a nice fountain pen — can help your writing practice feel more artful, and turn the art of self-expression into something more than just a skill to build.
If the journals you write in help you feel more expressive, then your writing will certainly be better for it.
P.S. – Got a journal you’d like to recommend that’s not on this list? Email me! I might include your recommendation in a future round-up post.