Journal in Obsidian Notes?

Once I got the hang of how Obsidian worked for me, once I realized the power of its linking capabilities, and that it really did everything I wanted a note-taking app to do, it was natural to consider what could go into my vault. Daily notes were a given, of course. All of my reading notes, and even a version of my reading list could go in there. Borrowing some concepts from Zettelkasten, it could become a kind of digital commonplace book, something I’ve always wanted. What about my journal? With all of the other information in one place, linkable and searchable, it seemed to make sense that my journal should go there as well.

The thing is, my journal has always been handwritten, going back to 1996. There were times when I experimented with it in a digital form, but I always came back to the handwritten form. In the current incarnation (since late 2017), they fill eight Moleskine Art Collection sketchbooks.

My collection of journals.
My collection of Moleskine journals

As it turns out, how I keep my journal lends itself Obsidian linking. Rather than an entry-per-day, I number entries, beginning at 1. Each discrete entry gets its own number. I date the first one of each day, but there may be two or three entries in a day, each of which will have its own number. I did this thinking ahead: if I ever wanted to index the thing, I wouldn’t have to worry about what volume or page and entry was on. All I’d need was its entry number. (I took this lesson from Isaac Asimov’s description of how he numbered entries in his Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and Technology in order to avoid the tedious work of tying index entries to page numbers.) Thus, I have 1,782 unique “entries” each with its own number. This makes it ideal for linking in Obsidian.

Several weeks ago, I decided to give it a try, and I began writing my journal entries in Obsidian, giving each entry a unique number, continuing from where I left off. I liked being able to link these entries to other notes.

Journal entries listed in Obsidian
Journal entries in Obsidian

Something nagged at me, however. I missed writing in my journal. I missed how the pages contain more than just writing. I paste pictures and clippings in the pages. Sometimes I sketch things. It just didn’t feel the same typing the entries rather than writing them out in my journal.

A typical multimedia page from my journal.
A typical “multimedia” journal entry

It occurred to me that I might have the best of both worlds with a little effort. At the end of each week, for instance, I could type up the entries I’d written in the Moleskine notebook, copying the entries into Obsidian. Then they’d be there for searching and linking. After a little thought, that felt like a monumental waste of time.

Last night, I decided not to keep my journal in Obsidian and to continue with the notebooks. I did this for several reasons:

  1. I still think there is a compelling argument for how long paper lasts. Digital media has been around half a century or so. Paper has been around centuries. Witness John Adams’s diaries or Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks.
  2. I don’t actually search through my journals that much to make it worthwhile to put every entry into digital form.
  3. When I do search them, I enjoy the feel of flipping through them, seeking out what I am looking for.

But there was one other thing that occurred to me that sealed the deal for me. My Daily Notes in Obsidian serve as an index to my life. If I needed to know when I wrote about something in my journal, I need go no further than my daily notes. I can search them for the appropriate reference and then use the date of those notes to look up any entries in my journal. Moreover, if I write something in the journal and want to make sure I can find it easily, I can just add a reference to the entry number in my daily notes.

That seemed to satisfy me, and with that, I began this morning, transcribing those entries I made in Obsidian back to my Moleskine notebook. Going forward, the journal will stay in a notebook, but I’ll rely more and more on the daily notes as a kind of compass for finding what I need.

6 comments

  1. Ahhh yes, totally can relate to that constant struggle to find the perfect solution for journaling. I am frequently switching between paper and app. I prefer DayOne as my app for journaling though feel always unsatisfied after going back to one or the other. Either I am missing the haptic part of writing with a pen. On the other hand do I love the organisational ability digital note taking grants me. Probably will never find the best way, it’s all a compromise.

    1. Sebastian, I think I’ve satisfied myself with my decision to continue in the notebooks. Using my daily notes as an index to events (and from there to dates that I can look up in the notebook) helped me get over the hump on the decision. That said, like you, I have waffled back and forth on this. Part of the problem is that I can type far faster than I can hand-write. I can hand-write pretty quickly if I write in cursive, but the faster I go, the messier my writing, the harder it is to read. So I have been torn between wanting to write more, which I tend to do in digital form, and write longhand, which I enjoy more.

  2. Same struggle here! For journaling I used MacJournal for years, but Mariner Software stopped support and it’s now back to Dan Schimpf, the original developer, who runs a one man’s show.
    The iPad version is still working but the iPhone version died. Anyway Dan is not intend to support those platforms. So I was following your struggle to solve the same problem and tried Agenda (my own idea!), Bullet Journal (more task and manual writing oriented), Obsidian (I am not intend to upload my journal to the web, so learning .md is not useful for me) and lately The Archive by Zettelkasten.de, which is more or less a rtf-note system for writers, who want to hold on to ideas coming up spontaneously, in order to produce their next book or article.
    I prefer electronic documents, because of their fast search possibilities.
    So continuing my search I stumbled on a system of Douglas Barone (douglas.com), called File System Infobase Manager. He invented this himself, based on ideas from AmberV.
    It comes down to make a file system so proof that when Apple and Microsoft go bankrupt (likely won’t happen, but…), you can still continue your work the next day on f.i. Unix. It looks promising, so I’ll be busy to do more research in that direction.

    1. Mainly because I found everything I was looking for in Obsidian. But secondarily, one of my requirements was something that was based on plain text and could be stored locally. As far as I can tell, Notion does neither of these things.

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