How My Journal Notebooks Have Changed Over the Years

When I first started keeping a journal/diary, I used a thin, bluish “Record” book that I found in an office supply story. I bought for two reasons: (1) it was inexpensive, and (2) it was thin. I wasn’t sure how long this endeavor of mine would last. If I filled one notebook, I could buy another. So, on April 6, 1996, I made my first entry in that “Record” book.

After filling two volumes of that notebook, I felt more confident that I could keep up my journal every day. When the time came to get a new volume after filling the second, I opted for something larger. This time, I bought a thick, leather-bound volume that contained more than 300 lined pages. This was a more expensive notebook than the blue record book I’d used, but I was making a little more money so I figured I could afford it. As an added bonus, the pages were numbered. I ended up filling three of these volume between late 1996 through 1999.

In both of these notebooks were lined, but other than that, were completely free-form. There was nothing limiting what I would write. Most entries were relatively short for a given day, but some could go on for a page or more. The pens I used varied. Flipping through these older journals, I find a mix of blue and black inks, as well as print and cursive writing depending upon my moods.

When the millennium rolled around, I decided once again to change things up. I decided to buy a “Standard Diary” dated for the year, with the idea that I could continue these volumes on into the new century. The edition I chose was one that had a pre-printed page for each day in the year, with the date already there. All I had to do was fill the page. This simplified things, somewhat. I had a limited amount of space for each day, and so I didn’t have to worry about filling pages and pages each day. Just hit the highlights. I was inspired in this by a passage from the first volume of Isaac Asimov’s autobiography, In Memory Yet Green. Writing about starting his own diary, Asimov said,

In most cases, I suspect, a dairy pasta for a few days, a few weeks, a year at most. Sometimes, though, it endures, and in my case it did. It is still going on today, and dozens of annual diaries stand side-by-side on my shelf like good and faithful soldiers, each of them, with one or two exceptions, in the same style.

The idea of having a shelfful of these standard diaries side-by-side appealed to me.

The Standard Diary lasted five years, although in 2010, I went back to it for a single year. After 2010 my written journal become more intermittent as I wrote more and more on this blog (which started in 2005).

In 2017, things changed again. I’d written a post on the paradox of journaling, and in reply to that post, a reader, Jack Bary, pointed me to an article about a fellow named John Gadd, who’d been keeping a journal since 1947. The article was a revelation to me. In this article, I saw how it was possible to really keep a journal, to do it all longhand, to index it, and to make it multimedia. So in October 2017, my journaling began again with renewed vigor. After pondering several choices, I settled on the Moleskine Art Collection Sketchbook A4. At $27/each, it was by far the most expensive notebook I’d used to that point.

I fell in love with it almost at once. The paper is off-white and thick, at 111 lb. There are 96 usable pages, all completely blank which makes it perfect for both written word and pictures and other items. I began to tape photos into the books along with my entries. Sometime ticket stubs from events would find their way in, or “I Voted” stickers alongside entries on elections I’ve voted in. I also decided to try something new: rather than try to index my notebook by page, I gave each entry a unique number (beginning at #1) and when I index things, I refer to the entry number. This has proved useful in several ways. In volume 3 I might refer to an entry in volume one simply by number. Unlike page number, the entry numbers don’t restart with each volume.

Since October 2017, I’ve filled 8 of these volumes, approximately 770 pages over the last 4 years. They have been more successful than any other notebook I’ve tried.

And yet, I recently decided to try mixing it up once again. I happened to look back at pictures John Gadd’s notebooks from the article and saw that his notebooks were lined. I thought perhaps a lined notebook would help with my handwriting. These days, I write my journals in cursive because I can write faster, but the legibility varies from day-to-day. Perhaps lined paper would help with the consistency, I thought.

I ordered a Moleskine Classic Notebook, Hardcover XXL. At 8-1/2 x 11 inches, it is a little smaller than the A4. On the other hand, it has twice the number of pages. And they are lined pages. It is also even more expensive than the Art Collection version at $29. Alas, my little experiment lasted exactly 3 days. The main problem was the quality of the paper. It is less than half as thick as the Art Collection paper. Ink from my fountain pen easily bleeds through. And because the paper is so thin, it is not as easy to tape or glue photos and other things into the notebook. You can see some of this illustrated below, with the Art Collection edition on the left and the newer Classic Notebook on the right.

The new notebook didn’t even make it 2 full pages before I realized it was wrong for me. Indeed, if you can manage to read my writing on the right-hand page, the final paragraph of the top entry reads:

Not sure if I like the thin paper in this notebook. There is a lot of bleed through. But I am going to stick with it for now because I have the notebook and I don’t want it to go to waste.

This morning I realized that it just doesn’t work for me, so I am going back to my trusted Art Collection editions. I think I knew how much I liked the Art Collection editions from pretty early on. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to get my hands on them in later years so I bought a bunch in advance. There, on my shelf where my journals are arrayed like good and faithful soldiers, are 3 blank Art Collection notebooks, still in their shrink wrap. I just pulled one of them off the shelf, and volume 9 will start today.

It is important to experiment with change. Sometimes you discover something new and wonderful. Other times, you learn that what you’ve been doing all along really is what works best for you.

Did you enjoy this post?
If so, consider subscribing to the blog using the form below or clicking on the button below to follow the blog. And consider telling a friend about it. Already a reader or subscriber to the blog? Thanks for reading!

Follow Jamie Todd Rubin on


  1. I’m slow to catch up (the story for my own blog someday), but the Moleskine paper has been a big deterrent for me. If you ever try it again, try the leuchtturm1917 – slightly larger pages (barely), numbered, and the paper quality is far more consistent. I actually swear by them.

    1. Mike, you probably missed it, but as I said at the end of the post, after trying out the standard Moleskine lined edition, I didn’t like it, and went back to my trusty Moleskine A4 Art Collection edition. The paper there is outstanding and 111lb weight, so not thin at all. Way thicker than the standard Moleskine. And I use the Lecuhtturm1917 notebooks for indexing my journals and for keeping my master list of everything I’ve read since 1996.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.