Journal Writing in the 21st Century

I'm not a journal writer. I wrote one for about a year when I was living in London in the early 1990s but found I was leaving bigger and bigger gaps between entries. It got to the point where it wasn't much use trying to catch up. I was just fooling myself. Still, I have dragged out that journal from time to time and find myself reading about someone from another time; someone almost recognisable.

Being a livelong procrastinator, I'm always on the look-out for a good excuse: the journal volume is the wrong size, the colour of the paper or cover is no good, the paper inside has the wrong texture, the printed lines (the lines for God's sake!) are the wrong colour, the pen is no good, and my writing is unreadable. Actually the last of these is quite reasonable. I've had terrible hand writing since I was a kid. No matter how much I slow down, print or write larger, sooner or later I degenerate into a pathetic scrawl that even I can't read later on. I envy people who have a good writing hand. It's probably way too late for me to change now.

Even a few years ago a good journal (right size, colour and paper texture) wasn't all that easy to find. There were volumes around but they tended to fit into either end of the market: mass-produced or expensive. Then a friend introduced me to the Moleskine notebook range and I was hooked. I like the cover and the paper texture. I like the elastic band that holds it all together, and I like the little pocket at the back where I can keep notes and receipts and other scraps of paper. The biggest of them is not quite big enough for a journal for me - I prefer something around the A4 size - but they are very good as a desk-top notebook, and smaller ones work very well as a pocket book. I got to the stage where I was carrying one around just about everywhere. I had them at work, at home and in the briefcase. They seemed to keep turning up in with a bag of books I might purchase at certain bookshops round town. They were always paid for, though I did worry for a while that I was getting a tad addicted to the things.

I knew I was onto something when I discovered a massive web-based community dedicated to Moleskines, notebooks, pencils and the concept of just putting pen to paper. But it's note-taking, not journal writing, that I was doing. Or at least not journal writing as Ann Nugent describes it in "The Lost Art of Journal Writing", published in the October 2006 issue of the "National Library of Australia News" - note, this is a PDF file.

The National Library of Australia has a special interest in journals and diaries ranging from Captain James Cook's account of the voyage of the Endeavour (1768-71), through exploration journals, 19th-century shipboard emigrant diaries, to modern-day hand-written journals by people from all walks of life. It's a huge collection. But Nugent wonders if the art of journal writing has been lost. Or whether it has been taken over by "the 21st-century heirs to journal-writers, the bloggers whose personal web logs give instant global expression to their daily lives or what they care to impart online." I think she has answered her own question. There are probably more journal writers alive now than have ever lived. They just tend to express themselves using a different medium.

It was interesting that I came across Nugent's article today as the UK just yesterday held its "One Day in History" blog day, run by the National Trust, with the final entries held at the British Library for, one suspects, perpetuity. Maybe the National Library of Australia might like to take up the idea and run with it here in this country. Once a year? I might just be able to handle that.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on October 19, 2006 9:32 PM.

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