A Review of Five Journals

I love journals. I love opening up a blank book and running my hands over the grain of the paper. I love surfing the internet seeking new and high. I love thinking about the great potential of a blank notebook. I love knowing that the same construction for notebooks today hasn't really changed for seventeen hundred years. I love knowing that the words I capture may last another seventeen hundred years, to be read by a future I cannot even comprehend. Few share this strange and often expensive drive, but those that do know exactly the feeling I mean when we open the cover of a new notebook for the first time.

We like to think how much greater computers are than the written word, but any archivist will tell you, the only way to preserve our writings is to store them in the only reasonable medium proven to last for thousands of years: paper. Hard drives freeze. CD's rot under the corrosive gas we all breathe. The internet runs on a delicate balance of precarious machines. Anyone who has tried to restore data from as short as ten years ago knows how hard it can be to recover old information. Yesterday I opened a book over fifty years old, seventeen years older than I am, and it looked as good as the day it came off the press. Books are the only reasonable way to store information.

For the past two years I have been a great fan of Moleskine plain pocket notebooks. I have carried one in my pocket for twenty four months. I have filled twelve of these books from cover to cover. I have a stockpile of nearly fifty blank ones, enough to last a good long while should the company ever change them or go out of business.

I have dabbled with other journals as well, however. This writing will describe my experiences with five different journals. We will start with my old favorite, the Moleskine.

Moleskine Plain Pocket Journal

180 Pages

$12 for a Plain Pocket Journal, cheaper in bulk.

7 cents Per Page

At seven cents a page, the Moleskine is a good value. It is very portable, very convenient, widely available in the US, and not too costly. The utility and durability make up for the heavy snob factor. Though the marketing lays it on a bit thick (you aren't Van Gogh no matter what notebook you write in), the Moleskine is a favorite not just for the snob appeal but for true practicality.

The Moleskine is thread-bound, acid free, and has 180 blank pages of acid free paper though you can get grids, lined, and thicker sketchbook pages as well. It has an accordion pocket in the back and an elastic fastener.

The Moleskine plain pocket is a favorite of mine. In three months of heavy use, I have yet to have one fall apart on me. If I had to pick only one journal to ever write in, the Moleskine would be the one.

Renaissance Art Large Journal

216 Pages


39 Cents Per Page.

If snob factor is important, go no further than the Renaissance Art Journal. These journals use the soft-cover leather wrap common to medieval style journals. Pictures of the Nag Hammadi Library show 4th century books using this exact same style.

The Renaissance Art Large Journal reveals excellent quality. It uses a 100% cotton acid-free paper called Arches Text Wove. The paper is very coarse but writes very well with a medium tipped fountain pen. Each of the six codices, the sets of folded sheets, is bound using waxed string through the soft leather cover. A woven string wraps three times around the book's body to close it. Anyone choosing to purchase this journal must get it in the hand-sewn gift pouch.

The Renaissance Art Large Journal may be the best journal in which I've ever written. My only problem, an important one at that, is the price. At 39 cents a page, it is nearly five times the cost per page of a Moleskine, already an expensive notebook for most people. Many times I have a hard time writing in a Renaissance Art journal. What nonsense could possibly come out of my thick head that is worth 39 cents a page?

One should get over this mental trap, however. The Renaissance Art Large Journal with its rough Arches Text Wove paper is a pleasure in which to write. If you have the means, I highly recommend it. If eighty bucks for a journal is a bit too much, read on for some better values.

Jenni Bick Italian Distressed Leather Journal

300 Pages


28 Cents Per Page.

I purchased the Handmade Italian Distressed Leather Journal with Deckled Pages from Jenni Bick because I wanted to try a hardbound leather journal in a more traditional 18th century style. This hardback leather journal has excellent style and fine craftsmanship. The spine has three ridges to resemble traditional bookbindings of the 18th century. The paper is a cream colored acid free paper, though not as nice as either the Arches Text Wove of the Renaissance Journal above or of the handmade Amalfi paper found in their more expensive leather journal. Even I have trouble justifying $130 for a blank book.

The style is excellent. The build quality is very strong. I have yet to write in this journal but I plan to as soon as I finish up my current Moleskine. If you are looking for a fine hard-back leatherbound journal, consider this one.

Again, at eighty bucks for 300 pages, this journal isn't cheap. I can only see writing my most valuable writings in a book that costs this much. However, from a style perspective, there are few nicer books.

The Everyman's Journal

400 Pages


3 cents Per Page.

I found the Everyman's Journal linked around by fellow Moleskine enthusiasts and for $12, I figured I'd give it a shot. The Everyman's Journal is very large. The pages are roughly 8" by 10" and there's 400 of them in the book. It is a thread bound book with canvas covers. The build quality is excellent.

My only problem with this journal are the lined pages. I prefer the freedom of blank pages although it is nice to have the pages already numbered.

If the pages were unlined, I'd give this journal my highest remarks simply for its excellent value and high build quality. If you don't mind a lined journal and you simply prefer to write instead of ponder and pontificate the justifications for an $85 journal, the Everyman may be for you.

Cachet Classic Black Cover Sketchbook

212 Pages


3 Cents Per Page.

I have not tried this book yet myself, but I felt it important to dig for the best value in blank books. From the look, this journal may be the best overall value for daily writing. At three cents a page you shouldn't have any problems writing any old thing you wish in them. While the style is very basic, the thread-based binding will help keep the book together for ages. Plain white acid-free pages also help with durability and usefulness.

As a bargain value, I cannot see any reason not to consider this inexpensive blank sketchbook.

Final Thoughts:

I love journals. I love knowing that worlds can be created, characters can be born, and lives can be lived. I love knowing that I can read the thoughts of a writer from centuries earlier and perhaps one day a reader will read my thoughts centuries from now.

The five journals above can all help capture these thoughts and preserve them for decades, centuries, perhaps even a millenia. Some may be very expensive, some may be relatively cheap, but all of them serve the same purpose: capturing our thought for the eyes of the future.

I would recommend any or all of the five above journals depending on your needs. However, two of the five leap ahead of the others. I recommend the Moleskine Plain Pocket Notebook for its value, durability, and utility. I recommend the Renaissance Art Large Journal for more important writings and writing when quality outweighs budget. Both are excellent journals and journals I enjoy using myself.

Above all, remember the one rule of writing, the one instruction that is more important than any lesson any writer can ever learn:


The only way to be a better writer is to write. No journal is worth more than the words they store.

Mike Shea

Moleskinerie Contributor

Visit his blog.

Image: dickblick

This review is double- posted at Moleskinerie.

Are You a Crayon BREAKER?

"Read over the following 32 human traits and check or mark the ones you believe are you at work or school, if you are not working full-time. You may choose as many or as few as you want. Some definitions are provided for words that are often mis-understood or may be unfamiliar to you.

Once you have completed reading and marking your choices total up how many you chose and write that number down. Then continue reading.

Some Definitions

can synthesize

you see patterns or the big picture quickly

divergent thinker

look at things in many different ways at the same time


willing to try things in many different ways


produce lots of ideas or possibilities when working on a challenge or simply choosing a restaurant to go to..."

32 Traits of Creative People

Robert Alan Black


Walk a New Ground

""Your brain changes. Three pounds of meat changes. It changes a little bit every time you see an image or hear a sound or feel a surface or taste a flavor or walk a new ground. Everything you sense changes your brain. Your brain measures things and those things change your brain. It learns new changes and forgets or unlearns old changes. A single photon of light changes your brain. TV ads and movies and books and talks and ad jingles and all the stuff that your mind eats changes your brain. It changes right now as you read this. Your brain starts out with about 100 billion neurons or brain cells and ends up with several billion fewer. That's about as many stars as are in the Milky Way galaxy or as many galaxies as are in the known universe. The neurons do not act as computer memory sites. No cell holds a picture of your mom or the smell of lime or the idea of God. You can pull out any cell in your brain and your mind will not change. You could pull out a few million cells at random and not miss them. Pull a few wires or circuits out of a computer and it crashes. What counts is the wires between cells..."

Whiskey River

Hipster PDA + Handywrite

" You could go the retro-retro PalmOS route and write Graffiti 2 (warning: pdf) into your Hipster PDA. But wouldn't it be nicer to be able to capture entire words and phrase with clever wiggles of your pen instead of just letters? Personally my cursive handwriting died shortly after high school, no one ever desired good penmanship anymore so what was the point in trying? It *always* took longer to write it in cursive instead of typing it out or lettering it out in a rush. At least if you wanted to capture the information purely by sound. I used to use those index cards a lot, but I never binded them or thought of them as an alternative to the PDA. I just threw a bunch of them out--I think that I may be stopping by an office supply store tomorrow and changing that. That and maybe some Zebra F-402's with blue-ink refills...."

Simon James


Can't help posting this most beautiful sight.

"It doesn't feel like spring quite yet, but I wanted to show off the first iris of the year. I finished my spring flower planting a week or so ago (one of many procrastination activities when trying to find reasons not to study for a test... ;) Hopefully we'll see excellent growth out of the other bulbs."

J. Showalter

"I'm as busy as a spider spinning daydreams,

I'm as giddy as a baby on a swing,

I haven't seen a crocus or a rosebud,

Or a robin or a bluebird on the wing,

But I feel so gay in a melancholy way,

That it might as well be spring,

It might as well be, might as well be,

It might as well be spring."

"It Might as Well Be Spring"

Nina Simone

Living Big

"Keep a vital journal. Therapy isn’t for everyone, certainly, but most people can benefit from at least a little introspection. The more solid your sense of self, the more you can use it as a springboard to being big in the world. Ways of going inward that can pull you outward might include everyday activities like reading, enjoying stimulating conversation, even watching Dr. Phil. Spiritual practices serve for others. But one of the most reliable methods I know, one that seems to work for almost everyone, is keeping what I call a vital journal, which energizes you as you delve into new mindfulness about the stuff of substance you’re dealing with right now. There’s something about committing thoughts to paper (or computer screen) that makes them more real, something tangible to tangle with. A vital journal is, above all, organic and not forced. It’s a tool that tunes you in without burdening you with common journaling “shoulds” like writing a certain number of times per week or writing “well.” It is your safe place, where you can bare your imperfect soul, speak your truth, and grapple with those feisty little bits of awareness as they surface."

Janet Ruth Falon

for Body and Soul

Robert Wilson

"Throughout his Stalin notebooks, Wilson obsessively redrew the structure of its seven acts, most often arranging them in an S or spiral shape. His challenge was to organize time nonlinearly, for this was a non-narrative play running in near slow-motion all night long.

His solution was characteristically clear. Picturing act 4 (the forest) as the pivot and reflecting point of the play, he mapped the other acts onto each other in mirror reflection. The temple of act 5 evoked the cave of act 3, the bedroom of act 6 matched the drawing room of act 2, and the final planet landscape looked all the way back to the beach of the opening."


Robert Wilson

[Thanks Bemsha!]

Paper over Gadgets

"Since December, my open planner has lived in front of my keyboard on my desk (where I can see it without changing screens) every day. I refer to it, I make notes in it, I doodle in it and I use it heavily. AND it never dies for lack of power or gives me an error message.

I have found that for the creative and often surprising task of day to day living, a human scale solution - such as a blank piece of paper with lines on it - is a far better design than anything you have to turn on, boot up, or type into with your forefinger. Paper just works better. "

MGR Apartment Therapy

[via Lifehacker]

Try this when you are exhausted

"I got this advice from someone I greatly respect and it works extremely well if you are tired and just need a little bit of sleep to keep going:

* Sit in a chair at a table.

* Clasp a quarter (other coins will work) in between the thumb and forefinger of your right hand (your left hand will work as well).

* Place the quarter edge onto a plate or saucer (basically on to any surface that will make a sharp noise when the quarter hits it).

* Close your eyes.

* The sound of the quarter falling when your fingers release it will wake you up and you will feel refreshed."

Ross Strategize

[Image: suicidegirls]

Happy Presidents' Day

"Kids: We are the mediocre presidents.

You won't find our faces on dollars or on cents!

There's Taylor, there's Tyler,

There's Fillmore and there's Hayes.

There's William Henry Harrison,

Harrison: I died in thirty days!

Kids: We... are... the...

Adequate, forgettable,

Occasionally regrettable

Caretaker presidents of the U-S-A!"

The Simpsons

LINK: Presidents on the Simpsons

A generation lost in its personal space

"Men raise their hats to women; people stop to talk; groups congregate at junctions and street corners. The clear implication is that, for Edwardians, being out in public meant being on display and being sociable. It meant paying attention to what was going on around you, and acknowledging the existence of others.

It's not clear when all of this changed, but my guess is that technology - in the shape of the Sony Walkman - had a lot to do with it. As the Walkman de nos jours , the iPod is simply continuing what Sony started. But not even Sony could have single-handedly destroyed the notion of social space. The coup de grce was administered by another piece of technology: the mobile phone.

We haven't really begun to explore the social significance of mobile telephony, but already some things are becoming clear. The first is that the technology provides some people with an opportunity - perhaps even an imperative - to ignore the fact that they are in a public space. This is shown by the readiness with which they enter into phone conversations that in earlier days would be seen as requiring privacy.

We've all lost count of the number of personal conversations we've had to listen to in trains. But I've also been astonished at the cavalier abandon with which businessmen and lawyers talk into their phones on railway journeys, unconsciously revealing information that could be useful to anyone in a position to join up the dots.

It's the bubble effect again. I'm pretty sure these folks wouldn't be so careless if their conversations were taking place in an office or a bar. But somehow the fact that they're using a mobile phone makes them feel invisible, or at any rate inaudible. Maybe they should read Heidegger's essay on technology. Dead philosophers sometimes have their uses."

John Naughton

The Guardian

Writing in Japan

"...my travels have taken to many places including Japan. I was very much struck with how important the "written word" is in that culture. The quality of the paper is also of great importance.

Pretty common to see a nookish little store (I saw them often enough to remember them) with high quality metal stamps with a single kanji letter for sale. Also writing instruments, wax (seal letter) and the such. Weird.

My guess it comes from the hours spent learning Kanji as a kid and what a bitch it is to type in their language on the PC. As I understand it, basically you type some keystrokes (phonetically spelling with western characters) and a popup begins to form with kanji characters .. keep going until you see the word and then hit return to accept. Now go onto next word. .. If only we were so lucky!"

Mike Mccamon

The pen is mightier than the laser

"When did we get so subservient to our new typeset-quality overlords that we have to apologize for anything done by hand? Why do we think that the Times New Roman Bold 24 point medium is more important than a well-written message?

Take a look at this sign from a high school drama department.

At the bottom, an apologetic addendum reads "Sorry for the hand written note... computers are not my friend today." Look at that sign. It's wonderful. Its heading is clear, easily readable, and it catches the eye. The three bullet points are well-formed and thought out. The different colors help the reader differentiate between them.

Why would that sign have been any better if it was laser printed in Word? No clip art, or variety of fonts, or anything that any page layout program could offer, would make things better...

Pen and paper works on the small scale, too. Extreme Programming uses the concept of the "story card", a 3"x5" handwritten index card that shows high-level tasks to be done. They're easily shuffled and reorganized.

Stop assuming that the computer is the way to go! Step back and consider what your target format is. Is it something you're mass-producing? Is it something that needs that "professional" look? Maybe you don't actually (need) the computer to take care of it for you..."

Andy Lester

How I Write and Authors who handwrite novels

"Last night I finished a short story called "Vrenna and the Red Stone". I seem less frightened of writing stories with gratuitous sex and violence for some reason. Perhaps I've been reading too much of Robert Howard's Conan.

The last page of Red Stone ended on the last page of my August through December Moleskine. I carefully labeled each of my used Moleskines with a slip of paper folded over the cover and fastened with the elastic band of the notebook. So today I get to start page 1 of my next story on the first page of a new Moleskine. That's a daunting page as many Moleskine junkies know. You want whatever you put in these books to be really good.

I have a pretty solid writing process now. While I am not exactly consistent, I get about 1000 to 2000 words a week written each week. I usually write when I get home from work around 6 or later in the evening around 11. I sit at a desk in my bed room which has no electronics anywhere near it. The only electronics in the room are three lamps and an alarm clock. I call this my "analog" room. I also have a poang chair from Ikea and a reading lamp to sit back, put up my feet, and pretend to read but pet the cat instead.

I handwrite about 250 to 500 words in a sitting in a Moleskine plain journal with a Waterman Expert 2 pen loaded with Pilot black .7mm G2 ink. I try not to do any editing save for a misspelled word or two. When I'm done with a story, the second draft gets typed into my computer using OpenOffice. I have a format template for the standard science fiction manuscript format (double spaced, 1" margins, courier new font).

Once finished, the story goes off to my best friend and editor. He beats on them and sends me an email with comments and specific suggestions aligned to quotes from the story. I open up the draft and make his corrections and then the story is finished.

Over the last year I think I've written about a dozen stories not including my Loral Ciriclight Everquest fan fiction. These stories include: The Fall of the Knives, The King's Man, Recruitment, The Blademaster, Mad Cow, Honesty, The Traffic Jam (which I wrote in a real live DC traffic jam), The Sword of Light, The Warlord's Legacy, The Bear, Pavlen (I wrote this short short in a boring meeting), The Demon Knight, Loyalty, Vrenna, and Vrenna and the Red Stone.

For some odd reason I became fascinated by authors who hand-write their novels. Sure, Orwell wrote 1984 longhand, he sort of had to, but what about modern authors who handwrite?"

Mike Shea


Image: sa.dk

Ah Boy in trouble

"Ah Boy got himself in a mess last night. He chewed on a block of ink meant for Chinese calligraphy (which has been carefully kept in a box). Little did he know that his mouth and paws were stained with ink. Then he proceeded to drink water and started walking all over the house with his wet, ink smeared paws. The final straw was when he jumped into bed with Papa and Mama Snag and started licking Mama Snag all over her face.

The Consequences

Ink stained paw print all over the house, including the bed

Mama Snag's face was black with ink (must be quite hilarious to see her like that)

Papa Snag has to wake up in wee hours of the morning to bath Ah Boy and clean up the whole house

Ink - $5

Electricity & utilities - $4

Mama Snag with her ink smeared face - Priceless"

First of May

Can you think better when you're typing?

"According to one researcher, kids who were bad at handwriting did worse in tests -- not because they were stupid, but because the mere act of enforced handwriting chewed up too much processing power, leaving them little left over to focus on the intellectual task:

Professor Graham's study of elementary school pupils indicated a link between their difficulty in handwriting and weaknesses in the grammar and content of their compositions. One reason, quite simply, is that a brain struggling to make a hand form letters does not devote enough attention to more advanced tasks.

This, the reporter suggests, is a good reason why it's best to leave keyboard-trained kids at the keyboard. After all, the keyboard dominates most of the professional jobs they'll hope to get. And they perform better while typing, since it's their natural output device:

In high school and college, any student without a 24/7 laptop cannot hope to keep accurate notes on a lecture course. Kate Gladstone, a handwriting specialist based in Albany, estimates that while a student needs to jot down 100 legible words a minute to follow a typical lecture, someone using print can manage only 30. "That's fine for class," she said, "if the class is first grade."

For me, there's an even deeper question: Are there any qualitative differences -- in the way you think, create, or express yourself -- between handwriting and typing?"

Collision Detection


Back to Pen and Paper

"I love to put things down on paper artistically, especially my thoughts and feelings and dreams. The texture of paper, the way ink or paint behave differently on paper, the millions of possible ways to use one page.... these aspects seems irreplaceable by digital. So after over 10 years of struggle with digital devices, I came back to pen and paper for certain tasks and personal enjoyment, and digital for the inevitable."

Patrick Ng Jeremy Wagstaff's LOOSE wire

Getting Back To Work

"I procrastinate. You procrastinate. We all procrastinate. Let's get back to work...

Often these distractions are things you want to do. To get rid of these, just write them down. I always carry a notebook with me that I can write these things down in. The notebook also serves to focus my thoughts when I have a spare moment and need to figure out what to do next. By keeping everything in here, any part of my brain that was worried about what I have to do goes away."

Mark Taw


Ta-da To-do

"Ta-da makes it easy to...

- Keep track of all the little things you need to get done

- Make lists for other people (co-workers, friends, family)

- Share lists with the world ("My favorite movies of 2004")

- Subscribe to your lists in RSS so you're always on track..."

Handwritten note to self:  "Watch an excruciating video of someone creating and editing a list."


Only Connect

"It seemed the Moleskine was a version of the madeleine: the dunked tea cake's smell evoked a world in a grain of sand from a taste/smell; the word Moleskine set off a desire to follow a snail trail wherever it led without much fore-knowledge even if a hypothesis.

I am visual: film is more interesting than writing. The frustration is the web has not developed enough for weblogs to be mindmaps + JPEGs. Spider-charts are, to me, the essence of what can be said: an easier way to explain where you have come from and where you think you are going. If two things appear to be connected - you draw the line between them - an idea has been effected: no need for long-winded explanations. If the person "reading" the diagram has similar knowledge to you, the message will get through.

Was it Goethe or E M Forster who used the expression, only connect?

43 was the starting point."

Molesky Blogspot


[Thanks Andy!]

The Moleskine Multi-Tab Hack

Jeremy Wagstaff has an interesting variation on Jerry Brito's Moleskine Tab hack over at his Loose Wire weblog:

The basic idea is that there are five main divisions, or colours: Tech (anything tech related, subdivided into notes, ideas for columns or posts, expenses, dealing with the Editor), Personal (moving house, getting married, diary, that kind of thing), Action (the to do stuff, from Now to my Big Picture stuff, which I call 30,000 feet), Dump (anything, from phone numbers to words I want to Google at some point) and Book (for a book I’m writing). Each section is a colour, each subdivision is a tab — actually those sticky labels that are a cross between Post-Its and book markers (which seem to come in five colours anyway).

While Jeremy's hack is applied to a Moleskine, it certainly could work well on any journal. I'm inspired — maybe I need to try something like this on my own pocket Moleskine (gridded) for capturing ideas.

Future of the Book

" Last month, I had the good fortune to speak briefly with Peter Lunenfeld at the Scholarship in the Digital Age conference at USC. I was surprised to learn that this famous digital media theorist is currently obsessed with a print-based initiative. His new Mediaworks Pamphlets are "theoretical fetish objects for the 21st century" - elegantly produced collaborations between designer and writer, intended to break serious media theory out of "the hermetically sealed spheres of academia and the techno-culture" and into the public discourse, much like the famous collaboration between Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore, "The Medium is the Massage." By shifting reading, writing and design practices to the screen, Lunenfeld argues, digital media have effectively "taken the weight off" of the print codex, enabling its tactile qualities to flower anew.  There is room now to play and invent in the realm of paper, and a resulting emphasis on the pursuit of pleasure and grace in the experience of book objects. As evidence of the resurgent fetish book, Lunenfeld points to the immaculate productions of McSweeney's, which has made its mark by coupling serious literary output with elegant design at relatively low cost to the reader."

Future of the Book


This weblog is an attempt to invite a return to analog. Many of us live very digital lives. We push pixels around screens. Our lives are stored as bits on shiny hard drives. Our words and images can be published online, available moments later, all around the world. But this digital life can often seem very shallow.

While we recognize the power of our digital existence, we long for the tactile feel of ink on paper. We celebrate the freedom from power supplies,  batteries, wireless networks and fragile electronics. We seek to elevate the written word and the freehand sketch on fine paper. We celebrate the  journal as the optimal analog device for expression and enjoyment.



Journalisimo is a collaborative effort between graphic designer Mike Rohde and Armand Frasco of Moleskinerie.com.

Email us.

© 2004-2011 journalisimo.com All Rights Reserved.