6 Reasons to Make Analog Journaling a Part of Your Life (Read or Listen)

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analog journaling

I’ve always been a journaler.

As a kid, I feverishly filled spiral notebooks with everything from weird sci-fi to Shel Silverstein-esque poetry to undelivered letters to crushes—and usually when I was supposed to be doing something else. As I got older and computers became a larger part of life, I’ve usually kept some form of a digital journal—either using mobile journaling applications or word processors. 

And while the experience of journaling digitally has been deeply therapeutic, the tech has come with ample downsides. A moment of insight could be derailed by judgemental spellcheck. Backspace makes it too easy to second guess an idea and leave it unexplored. 

I began to feel a draw to the various other distractions that resided within the same device I was simultaneously trying to escape with a good journaling session. This is usually a losing battle.

 Around the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022, I picked up a dot-style Moleskine notebook and some pens just to see what would happen. 

The result? Just one month and 98 pages later, I’m kicking myself for not trying this sooner. 

Why? I could give you 98 reasons. Instead, I’ll give you six.

Before I do that, let me clarify what I mean by “analog journaling.”

I consider analog journaling the simple practice of regularly documenting various content on a paper, non-electronic page, such as:

  • Capturing ideas
  • Taking down necessary notes
  • Dumping out your head 
  • Documenting life’s stories
  • Tracking personal habits
  • Creating systems
  • Virtually any function where it could be deemed a helpful idea to open the release valve on your thoughts or feelings

I don’t subscribe to any particular journaling style—such as bullet journaling (though morning pages seem to be pretty much the same thing)—but I will occasionally borrow heavily from them as they seem helpful. 

Ok, ok—enough with the introduction and onto the reasons why I’d recommend keeping an analog journal. 

Reason 1. Analog journaling gives you an escape from screens (and novelty). 

Whether we’re scrolling down the infinity pool of content on our hand-held screens, accessing work-related content on our desktop screens, or shuffling through the endless program choices on our wall-mounted screens, we are inundated with screens. 

And now for something that seems off topic but it will make sense. 

This may come as a shock to some of you, but I used to smoke cigarettes. 

Though I eventually switched to vaping, I was still hopelessly addicted to nicotine—despite hating how it made me feel.  My pulse would become erratic, digestion a bit off, but the worst aspect was simply the craving sensation that reminded me that I was addicted. Any time away from my vaping device or between refills, I would crave nicotine to the point of even bumming drags or cigarettes from friends. 

After a while, I decided to quit for good. That was several years ago and my cravings for the device vanished, thank God…until craving a device returned.

No, not a vaping device—for a scrolling device. A screen. 

Was I looking for any specific information? No, just novelty—something entertaining or interesting that didn’t require much mental bandwidth. I was essentially yanking the handle on the slot machine of Gmail, YouTube, or Google News in hopes of shiny, easily consumable content. 

 The answer? Well, not through empty electronic calories. Instead, I’ve sought fulfillment from internal sources rather than external electronic novelty—everything from physical fitness to creative endeavors such as creating music and writing. This is where analog journaling really shines—no screen pun intended

Instead of the slot-machine-like-dopamine-triggering effects of glowing screens, analog journaling strips away the novelty of external stimuli and forces us to look within for meaningful entertainment. 

But that sounds pretty boring.”

Yes, analog journaling takes some getting used to—even in comparison to digital journaling. But I challenge you to sit down in a quiet space with nothing but a blank page, a pen, and your mind, and experience how thoroughly and satisfyingly entertaining it can be. 

Reason 2. Analog journaling requires you to go within. 

Journaling in general is a deeply introspective experience—requiring you to drill down into the aquifer of your psyche and pump out the ideas that spill onto the page—a concept I’m borrowing from Van Neistat’s video about running

Analog journaling, however, creates additional friction on the pathway to distraction—especially if you turn off all nearby screens and leave your “hand screen” in another room. Digital journaling comes with an army of distracting novelty gremlins calling out to you from the same device in your hand that you would use to usually consume them. 

Because of this higher barrier to digital distraction, analog journaling makes it easier to drill deeper into our minds to access thoughts, emotions, ideas, and solutions that normally wouldn’t stand a chance against exterior distractions. 

Reason 3. Analog journaling requires you to slow down. 

It seems that every service, every device, and feature are designed with convenience at their core. The words “value” and “convenience” have become synonyms. 

While infinite convenience at every turn seems mighty swell, I’ve personally found that such abundant ease reduces the meaning in my daily tasks. Like an underworked muscle, if everything is convenient, easy, and quick, my day just seems to wash right past me in a quick blur where no single endeavor stands out.

We’ve all become obsessed with saving time without much thought to how we end up spending it.

Analog journaling, on the other hand, is immensely valuable while not being very convenient at all—and that’s a good thing.

This deliberate inconvenience, albeit slight, carries over to other activities. Since picking up an analog journaling practice, I’ve found myself leaving my phone at home when I go out running, leaving my phone in the other room while reading, or simply enjoying the physics, slowness, and textures involved in brewing my morning coffee in a french press sans phone.

In an instant-download, “Prime delivery,” K-cup culture, intentional slowness seems to enrich common activities with meaning and renewed enjoyment.

Reason 4. Analog journaling provides a much-needed (missing) tactile experience. 

Outside of journaling, I rarely write by hand anymore. I’m a “writer” by trade, but I’m actually more accurately a “typer.” Bank cards, Venmo, and PayPal have replaced the need to write or sign checks. Even most of the legal documents I’ve had to interact with leading up to the purchase of a house (easily the largest transaction of my life) have been completely digital and were signed by clicking an agreement button. 

The physical act of writing or crafting something by hand is becoming a bygone activity. And that should be terrifying.

Analog journaling allows us to rebuild our lost tactile world—the mind-body connections that typing, tapping, and swiping can’t replace. 

  • The feeling of the pen across the texture of the page. 
  • The care required in writing each letter so I can read what the hell I just wrote. 
  • Consciously remembering to steer clear of freshly written words until the ink has dried. 
  • The consequence of not properly internally articulating a concept before putting it in ink so I don’t have to scribble it out—though my journal remains about 15% scratched-out words

All of the experiences culminate in a gratifying tactile experience—almost a return to analog craftsmanship that we’ve nearly lost. 

Reason 5. Analog journaling allows for unlimited formatting potential for the avid journaler. 

One of my biggest beefs with word processors is the ease of formatting—or rather the lack thereof. While any graphic designer or web developer could likely format a digital space beyond my imagination, I simply want this functionality on the fly. 

  • Sometimes, I want to write simple sentences in straight lines. 
  • Sometimes, I want to create a table to track how many miles I’ve run that week. 
  • Sometimes, I want to write why I like dub reggae music and what it makes me feel while I listen to it, but using the words to fill in the outline of the beard of a fictitious character I doodled.

Analog journaling allows for the quick composition of mind maps, Venn diagrams, customized headings, and cyborg dinosaurs wherever you want them. For example:

analog journal doodle

Reason 6. Analog journaling is a superb method of chronicling and archiving eras and experiences. 

Though most of us will never have biographies written about us, there is a high likelihood of instances in which knowledge of our lives or mental states will be sought after—either by future generations, but most likely by ourselves. This being said, writing for a future audience of one or even zero is not time wasted. 

“But isn’t digital information protected better against aging than paper?” 

Technically speaking, probably.

With that being said, my mother still has a box full of my elementary school and middle school spirals in her basement—accessible anytime I want them. Unlike the availability of this information, years of my junior high blog posts on Xanga and digital writing pre-Google-Drive are gone forever—lost to the perceived disposable nature of hardware and content distribution platforms. 

And while those spiral notebooks won’t last tens of thousands of years, they have the potential to last a few hundred years or longer—more than long enough for anyone with the faintest memory of my existence to dive deeper into my internal dialogue during any stage of life in which I was keeping a journal. 

For example, my grandmother is well into her 90’s and her mental facilities aren’t quite what they once were. Despite this, because she kept an analog journal for decades, future generations will have a firsthand perspective of her life as well as what life was like for someone throughout the 20th and early 21st century. All we’ll have to do is open one of the dozens of journals she’ll leave behind and turn to any one of the thousands of dated entries. 

Her daughter, my mother, was even telling me about a letter she had uncovered that she had written to her mother. She had written this letter when I was in elementary school. It outlined everything she was experiencing during a particular week. As she told me about the contents of the letter, the details allowed me to time travel to that week. I even helped her fill in details with my third-grade perspective. 

So, do I think anyone will want to read my analog journal entries hundreds of years from now? Eh, probably not. But at least I’ll be able to randomly crack open one of my journals, read its contents, and think, “Remember when we used to pray for what we now take for granted?

Thinking about keeping an analog journal? Here are a few tips to help enrich your experience.

Tip 1. The right journal can make or break your journaling experience. 

When shopping for a journal, choose a page layout that is conducive to how you intend to journal. 

  • For those who only plan to write words, a lined journal likely makes the most sense. 
  • For visually artistic folks, you may opt for completely blank pages. 
  • For people like who are me in the middle between writer and doodler—a dotted page layout is a great choice. Dotted pages are somewhat like graphing paper, but with only the dotted intersections and not the lines on the page.  These pages allow for the use of the illusion of lines when needed or line-free expanses when they’re not.

Ideal Cover & Size

I’d recommend a hardback journal to a soft-backed journal for easier lap writing. 

Also, keep the size comfortably medium—not so big that it is unwieldy, but not so small that writing inside it is cramped and difficult. 

Use Page Numbers and a Table of Contents

Keep page numbers and a table of contents in your journal. There are several journals that come with page numbers as well as a blank table of contents. If your journal of choice doesn’t include them, they’re easy enough to write in yourself. But it’s up to you to maintain them.

I personally recommend doing so for the sake of quick referencing later. Include the date and a summary title of what you wrote about. 

Tip 2. Not sure what to write about that? Write about that.

Possibly over half of your journaling experiences will begin with you having no clue what to write about. That’s fine—simply start by writing about that. It’ll soon go somewhere after you blow out some mental cobwebs.

Remember that this is nothing more than a conversation with yourself. It doesn’t have to make sense. You don’t have to pull any punches. You can leap from topic to topic at a moment’s notice. Let go of all expectations and enjoy the process of putting ink on the page.

Tip 3. Spend time every day with your journal—which is really just time with yourself.

The idea of making an appointment with your journal can feel like homework. In actuality, it’s more like therapy. It is time to check in with yourself, what you’re celebrating, how you’re stuck, or just maintaining your self-preservation systems so loose ends don’t dominate your thoughts.

Batch Journaling With Stuff You Already Do

Regular journaling may seem like a tall order. The momentum to get started can seem overwhelming. However, it’s easier to get into the rhythm of spending time with the page if you batch the activity with something you already do.

Perhaps immediately after you hit the “brew” button on your coffee in the morning or start your dishwasher after dinner, settle into your journal for a few minutes. 

Consider Journaling a Break From Your Phone

Before you start journaling, turn off all other screens and leave your phone in the next room. If you’re afraid you’ll be too distracted by not having your phone for that long, you definitely need to leave it in the next room. While uncomfortable at first, the experience will become a relief. 

I look forward to you looking forward to those quiet, constructive, purposefully inconvenient journaling sessions with nothing but your journal, a pen, and your thoughts.

And yes, this entire piece was first composed in my analog journal.

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