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Journaling for Creativity.

Journaling Media options: What to write on, pt1

This post forms part of a serialisation eventually building into a complete reference on Creative Journaling and the writer's notebook. One that will demonstrate how to journal in order to improve creativity and effectiveness of artists, writers or anyone needing to be creative.

Introduction Contents What Media Options are There What to Write On, Pt1


Mention journaling to anyone and the chances are that their first thoughts on how to journal will be to do with writing. So it is fitting that we start our examination of media options for creative journaling with 'what to write on’.

Newspapers today are forever reporting about how people are sliding towards illiteracy and how the written word is no longer in fashion; but if we stop and look, we will find that there are actually more methods of working with the written word than ever before, and this is good news for the creative journaler.

This section covers writing media that also lends itself towards creative journaling. We will start with the ubiquitous notebook.

The notebook

"A notebook is useful in the moment — it's portable and doesn't need time in order to boot up or load software."

Author unknown

Choice of notebookCreative journaling: What to write on

There is something to be said about the act of choosing an expensive bound journal over a ‘bargain buy’ jotter. Which is, if you spend time and money choosing and buying a prestigious journal, then the human mind will attribute a greater value to the entries.

This is good as far as making an act of journaling an important activity in your mind. However, there is a downside, the downside being that because of the expense, you will desire to only make ‘good’ entries, attempt to not waste paper with white space and may spend too much time making it neat.

The feeling ‘I don't want to spoil it’ can be very strong and so the expensive and beautiful journal sits waiting for the absolutely perfect moment when you make your perfect entry. Whatever you spend on a notebook, don't save it for the "good stuff" because the really good stuff is often in the messy little scribbles, sketches and scratchings dotted around a page.

I started this section by looking at beautiful bound journals in comparison with inexpensive notebooks for a reason. The management of perceived value vs. functional value is eventually down to the individual and how they work with their tools. Just remember, a scruffy tool that performs is valuable, a shiny tool that fails is a liability.

Some of my most valued journal entries have been made on pocket-worn Post-it® notes, hastily scribbled down during a moment of inspiration and stuck inside wallet, pocket or bag for later transfer into a permanent journal.

It's not cost, looks or size that is important, it is how you use it and how it works for you that is crucial.

Having said that, let us have a closer look at the parts that make up a notebook.



Your choice of paper can become an issue. Will you do more writing than sketching, would lines spanning your sketch offend you? Do you write small and prefer to cram in the words on a page, keeping them corralled by narrow ruled lines?

Some people write their words as large as the importance they signify. For those people lines are a bane. Maybe you will be doing lots of editing, where small writing and large lines leaves room to include all your editing notes.

Notebooks come with many types of paper and many types of rulings. Do not simply accept some neat little notebook with narrow ruled lines and ruled margins as being an acceptable choice for you. Take your time and search around; be prepared to try a few differing styles and qualities in order to find out which type works for you.

Also, do not keep using a notebook that doesn't work for you. One page or twenty pages in, if it is offending your pen then set it aside and try something different, or go back to a variant that works. You owe it to your creative-self to give him/her the tools that he/she feels comfortable with.

Following are a few of the options you may find, with my (personal) thoughts on each;

Thick paper: Good for sketching, especially with ink pens that bleed through paper.

Thin paper: This gives lots of pages in a notebook but the pages curl and ink shows through.

Plain paper: Optimum choice for freeflowing text and graphic entries.

Thick ruled: Less text on a page but easier editing.

Medium ruled: Neither one nor the other.

Fine ruled: Maximises your text but editing is a chore.

Up/down half plain half ruled: A good compromise for the new creative journaler.

Ruled facing page, plain on back: A better compromise for the new creative journaler.

Square ruled: Suitable for accountants and playing noughts and crosses.

Music bars: Yes, you can get a music journal.

Margins: You’re best off without these.

Perforations: Some are robust, others fall out too easily. Be cautious with perforations.

Neat tip: If you are drawn towards ruled paper, keep some plain paper in the back of your journal. Either fold double-sized sheets in half and retain with a rubber band running along the fold and around the cover, or buy some of the larger Post-it® type notes and stick a few inside the back cover.



What size journal should you use? The simple answer is, – the size that suits you best. Which it will be depends on your style of journaling, personal activities and even what clothes you wear.

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way, prefers a large journal. She claims:

"The problem with small journals is that you make small thoughts to match the size of the pages. You sort of shrink the format of your thinking to match the pages."

However, remember that there is a cardinal rule with creative journaling; you must be able to journal at any time of the day, during any moment when you observe something to enter or a creative moment occurs. This means that large desktop journals will necessitate the support of an additional journal kept in a pocket or bag.

Desktop size

Larger journals normally reside in one place, in a desk or beside a bed. Their bulk making them unwieldy to carry around, so they are best used for aspects of creative journaling that are sedentary, for example, creativity exercises, freewriting, mapping, night notes, practicing beats or reviewing. Needless to say, they are not suitable for the majority of creative journaling, because at the times when you are most likely to be stimulated into a creative moment, they won't be with you.

However, larger notebooks do make good project journals; these are ones where all related ideas can be harvested from your creative journal and collected for one project.

Bag size

Bag-sized journals are probably the best for all round usability; they may be carried with you most of the time, whilst still being suitable for desk work and importantly, are big enough to be worked on comfortably.

Just what size is a bag-sized journal? Well, that rather depends on how big your bag is. From experience, I would recommend that the best way to answer this question is to first find the journal that is right for you, and then go out and buy a bag that fits it.

The advantages of this size of journal are;

· They are always to hand.

· It is easier to write on the larger page.

· They can have rigid covers that form a firm writing surface.

· Because they have a bag, other journaling tools can be easily carried.

· They have a large page count, allowing for entire projects to be in one journal.

· They can contain pockets for keeping samples.

· They store neatly on a book shelf and you can write a title on the spines.

The disadvantages are;

· There are still times when you can't have them to hand.

· If you are not careful, the bag may become a general tote for the family.

Pocket size

What a wonderful size of journal a pocket-sized journal is. These little notebooks or notepads can be brought out in an instant to capture ideas, and since they are so inexpensive, they can be distributed around your home in handy locations. Although beware, such scattering of content will cause you other issues when trying to review or collate your entries.

Also, because of the low cost, you won't mind writing only on one side of a page and later ripping pages out to paste in another notebook.


"The notebook should be small, shirt pocket size, the size of the palm.
The reason is suggested by one definition of poetry: Any utterance that sings in short space.
Kim Stafford (poet) from “Writers and Their Notebooks”, edited by Diana M. Raab.


The drawbacks to small notebooks is that they hold so little per page, that it is 'bitty' to write in them for long, and because pockets are a harsh environment, they soon become scruffy with curled covers and pages. The covers on these are normally very thin, so writing whilst travelling is difficult as there is no firm supporting surface. Then, once they are full, trying to organise them is like trying to stack ball bearings.

Neat tip: Paste a piece of stiff card on the inside of the back cover to make these easier to write in and more durable. Only paste it along one side and along the bottom; you will then also have a useful little pocket in the back.

Neat tip: For full notepads, wrap paper around the pages and inside the covers, this will form a spine that you can write dates or titles on.

Haphazard sizes

As more and more journals fill up, you may want to organise them into a neat row standing side by side and so impress yourself with your productivity. However, just think how disturbing it might be if there were a few odd sizes in-between the neatly-sized uniform journals. What if the row of journals was a row of higgledy piggledy shapes, and not so inspiring to look at….

The paragraph above describes where the logical side of the mind is too dominant and the logical-self is trying to force control and order on to the world of your creative journals. However, the creative mind embraces chaos, it is extremely comfortable with a variable stack, with unusual notebooks bursting with oddments and rich textures. The creative-mind prefers to relate the different shapes, sizes and colours with the experiences, sensations and emotions contained within the journals. Neatness of binders, sterile uniformity of covers or alphabetised order will hold no interest for your creative-self.

So if you have a row of journals of haphazard sizes, in various thicknesses, types, textures and colours then think yourself lucky, because for you your creative mind is much closer to the surface than for most people.

In summary, haphazard is good!

Neat tip: Coloured ribbon and paperclips are good for controlling ball bearing inclined small notebooks and pads. Wrap a bundle in ribbon and secure with a paperclip, ribbon is easy to remove and doesn’t perish like rubber bands or go tacky like tape.


That covers choice of paper and size of notebooks. If you have any thoughts, experiences or tips on journal notebooks, please share them in the comments area below.

The next post continues to discuss notebooks. Topics will be;

Counting pages
Physical rigidity + neat tips
Sample pockets + neat tip
The difference a spine makes
Ring binder types
Pen holders + neat tip
A mention about Moleskines
Stockpiling supplies


Photo credit: Personal journals, by Ingo Bernhardt.
"Media options: Creative Journaling what to write on" by Andy Shackcloth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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8 comments to Journaling Media options: What to write on, pt1

  • [...] This post forms part of a serialisation eventually building into a complete reference on Creative Journaling. One that will demonstrate how to journal in order to improve creativity and effectiveness of artists, writers or anyone …  [...]

  • I love these tips! I’ll definitely be bookmarking this page for future reference :) thanks for taking the time to share this post with us.


    • Hi Nutschell, thanks for the kind words and thanks for popping back.
      If you are going to bookmark any page I would suggest bookmarking the contents page (click on the big blue “contents” button :) ). Because I am constantly updating the links on that page as each of the posts/sections are being completed.

  • Sarah

    Really good information and I love the humor. I myself have a motley of journals – all different sizes and types. I hadn’t thought about how they might look on a shelf.

    • Hi Sarah, Thanks for the nice comment. Would you mind if I ask where you keep your journals and do you review them? If you do review them is there any particular reason why you would pick one from your “motley” in preference to any other one. If you would prefer to not answer publically, reply to andy (at)

      I do like that word as a collective for a diverse journal collection; a motley of journals.

      I wonder what collective could be used for an organised and uniform set of journals. A ‘pride’ of journals maybe?

  • Sarah

    I’ve only been keeping a journal for about 2 years and I have my journals stashed in my bedroom dresser. I intend to start reviewing them, perhaps in another year. My intent would be to start at the beginning since it isn’t that long ago, but I have learned so much about myself since I started keeping a journal! I want to go back and see the differences in myself. I really wish I had started years ago. Ha! How about a fleet of journals?

  • Thanks for that Sarah.
    You will find a lot of surprises when you do review, some enjoyable, others thought provoking.

    Neat tip: When intending to review a “motley” of journals it is easy to overlook reviewing and so years (and years) of good intention pass. If you write your intended review date on a post-it note and leave it half in, half out, of the journal with the review date visible, you will find yourself reviewing old journals more consistently.

  • Sarah

    Thank you! Good tip.