Practically Paperless with Obsidian, Episode 27: Use Case: Journal Writing in Obsidian

notebook with blank pages
Photo by MESSALA CIULLA on Pexels.com

Welcome to my blog series, “Practically Paperless with Obsidian.” For an overview of this series, please see Episode 0: Series Overview.

For those just joining us, one of the things I have been trying to do is to use Obsidian for all of my writing. In Episode 25 I described how I used Obsidian to manage my “professional” writing. In Episode 26 I showed I I use Obsidian for my blog and social media writing. Besides my professional writing and blog writing, the other major kind of writing I do in for my diary. That is what I’ll discuss in this episode.

Background

I recently passed the 26th anniversary of my diary1. Those interested can follow that link to see some of the history of my journaling. The short version is that I started fairly late, when I was 24 years old2. The bulk of my diaries are on paper.

When I first started using Obsidian, I toyed with keeping my journal there, but eventually gave up and returned to paper. There were two reasons for this. First, was the lure of paper systems. They are simple and reliable. The second was that it seemed to me that I was more likely to write in my journal consistently if it was on paper. When the calendar rolled around to 2022, however, I decided that my logic on the latter point was flawed. After all, I had spend years using paper journals. I should give a digital version a fair shake. So for 2022, I decided, I’d force myself to write my journal in Obsidian. If, at the end of the year, I want to return to paper, fine.

Format of the journal

My paper journals started as big blank books. There was nothing limiting the size of an entry. There were also no pre-printed guides for dates or anything. I’d scribble entries and include the date. Beginning in 1999, I switched to those red At-a-Glance Standard Diary volumes. There is a page for each day of the year, with the date information pre-printed on each page. There were also little markers at the top you could circle to record the weather (sunny, cloudy, etc.). Unlike the blank books, I was limited to what I could write in a day by what fit on the page.

(Image from At-a-Glance)

In 2017, I switched to large Moleskin Art Collection sketchbooks. Once again, I had blank pages and was free to write as much as I wanted. To add structure, however, I began numbering my journal entries. My idea was that the numbering would continue from one volume to the next, rather than restart. That way, I could index my journal based on entry numbers instead of volume/page number. It also meant I could refer to previous entries by their number.

An image from my Moleskine journal
An image from my Moleskine journal

I wanted the best of both worlds in Obsidian. Here is how I got there.

How I setup my journal in Obsidian

1. A template for my journal entries

I started with a template which has some meta-data in it like the templates I demonstrated in the previous two episodes.

My New Diary Entry template
My New Diary Entry template

I don’t tag the vast majority of my journal entries, but occasionally I will. For example, if I am writing a journal entry while traveling, and about my experience, I will tag the entry with a “travel” tag.

The “note-type” is relatively new. I’ve gone back and added this to my other templates. It allows a quick way of searching for notes of a particular type, for example, diary entries, story submissions, blog posts, etc.

The entry date and time are self-explanatory and used in dataviews for sorting and filtering on dates.

As I mentioned, those Standard Diaries I used to use had a template at the top of each page to note the weather. I added a weather line to my journal entry template, and then added a custom function in Templater to fill in the current weather based on my current location. See the “Templater + QuickAdd Plug-in” section below.

The part of the template marked “Dateline” serves two purposes:

  1. I wanted a way to easily see the date of an entry. I like how the date appeared at the top of each page in the Standard Diary, so I used a callout in Obsidian to emulate this.
  2. The dateline is also a link to the daily note for the date in question. That way, the diary entry automatically shows up in the backlinks of the daily note for that day.

2. One note per entry

I like my method of having a unique index number for each diary entry. Some entries are general and might cover an entire day. Other times, I’ll have multiple entries on the same day, some of them topical, others more general. The entry number allows my entries to be atomic in nature, if I want them to me. It serves as an index number to an entry and makes it easy to link to a specific entries from other places.

In Obsidian, I just continued the numbering from where I left off in my Moleskine notebooks. The filename of the entry is simply the index number. This is convenient because I can then use the QuickAdd plug-in functionality to automatically increment the entry number upon creation of a new entry.

3. Templater + QuickAdd Plug-in for creating new entries

In Episodes 25 and 26, I said that I used the Templater and QuickAdd plug-ins. As I demonstrated above, my template makes use of Templater substitutions. It also makes use of a custom function for getting the weather. Here is what that function looks like within Templater:

Weather function in Templater
Weather function in Templater

Here is an example of an entry including the weather:

An example entry showing the weather line in an actual journal entry.
An example entry showing the weather line in an actual journal entry.

For creating the new journal entry, I use the QuickAdd plug-in. For the New Diary Entry it is configured as follows:

QuickAdd configuration for my New Diary Entry template
QuickAdd configuration for my New Diary Entry template

The result of all of this is when I create a new diary entry, I can immediately begin typing and the entry is already properly filed, includes the date, time, and weather. I can type as much or as little as I want, giving me the best of both the templated Standard Diaries and the blank Moleskine sketchbooks.

Linking my journal

One advantage that immediately became obvious when I started keeping my journal in Obsidian was my ability to link to and from the journal. I mentioned how the dateline in my template ensures that entries show up in the backlinks of my daily notes, like this, for instance:

A daily note showing backlinks to journal entries.
A daily note showing backlinks to journal entries.

In addition, I will sometimes link to specific entries from within my daily notes when I want to provide more context to the line item in the notes. This goes along with my desire to make my daily notes an index for my life. Here is an example of that from back in early April:

A daily note with references to journal entries in context.
A daily note with references to journal entries in context.

Then, too, within my journal, I sometimes link to other notes to make connections and provide context. There are a couple of ways I do this:

  • When writing about a noteable event involving someone in the family, I will link to my note for that person. This causes the particular journal entry to show up in the backlinks of the note for the person in question. For example:
A journal entry that references links to one of my People notes. The entry will show up as a backlink on the note for Grace.
A journal entry that references links to one of my People notes. The entry will show up as a backlink on the note for Grace.
  • When writing on a specific topic, I will sometimes link to another note on the topic. If I am writing about a book I am currently reading, I’ll link to my source note for the book, for instance.

Privacy concerns

I imagine the question might arise as to whether I have any privacy concerns about keeping my journal in Obsidian. The short answer is: no, I don’t. For a longer, more detaied answer, see Episode 23: Protecting My Data in Obsidian.

Typing versus handwriting

I learned to keep a journal on paper, so I have a natural bias toward paper journals. I also like using a fountain pen I acquired for my birthday a little over a year ago for this purpose. However, I’ve committed to keeping my 2022 journal in Obsidian for duration of the year. There are some advantages and disadvantages that I have discovered so far.

Advantages

  • I can type fast and because of this I tend to write longer journal entries in Obsidian than I would write in a paper journal longhand, frequently adding more detail.
  • The ability to quickly find something in my journal through a search is a big plus. I use a search that focuses on the path where my journal entries reside to cancel out noise from other sources.
  • Being able to link journal entries to other notes is also a plus

Disadvantages

  • For reasons I can’t fully understand, I am not nearly as consistent about my journal writing in Obsidian as I am when using a paper journal. Perhaps it is the distinctness of the act: I pull the journal off the shelf, set it on my desk, open it to the current page, unscrew the cap of my fountain pen, and begin writing. It is a unique ritual in my day. On the other hand, creating a note in Obsidian is something I do countless times each day, and making a journal entry is one of those times. There is nothing distinct about it.
  • I miss the physical act of handwriting. My journal was one of the few places where I still wrote in cursive3and I enjoyed the flow of that.
  • Paper still feels like a more permanent storage medium than digital storage.

This last point serves as a nice transition to next week’s topic. As I wrote yesterday, I recently uncovered some digital treasure–files and writing I’d done from nearly 30 years ago. Some of that I’ve pulled into my archive in Obsidian. This archive serves as a kind of digital scrapbook for me, and so I thought I’d give a tour of my Obsidian archive next week to illustrate the kinds of things that get stored there.

See you back here next week.

Prev: Episode 26: Use Case: Managing My Blog Writing in Obsidian
Next: Episode 28: Archiving in Obsidian: A Tour Through My Digital Scrapbook

Written on April 16-17, 2022.

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  1. I use the terms “diary” and “journal” interchangeably, although they may mean different things to different people.
  2. I say “late” because I wish I’d started soon–eighteen maybe. I have encouraged my kids to keep journals of their own, but it is only taken with my middle daughter so far. She has filled several volume and just is ten years old.

2 comments

  1. Hi Jaime,

    I’ve been enjoying this series since I discovered it and it has helped me a lot as I figure out my own organization for Obsidian.

    However, one thing I don’t think I understand with this post, is why the distinction between Daily Notes and Journal Entries? Why not just put the Journal Entries in the Daily Notes? Why have both?

    Although, if/when DataView tables are able to do transclusions, I could see the Daily Note being able to collect all of the journal entries for a day.

    Thanks – David

    1. David, I can think of three reasons, but they are all specific to how I work/think:

      1. I think of my daily notes as an index to my life. As such, I want it to be quickly scannable. Adding a lot of narrative text seems to go against that model. It is a kind of executive summary of my day. Linking allows me to point to notes with more detail as needed, and avoids cluttering my daily notes with too much information I don’t need to see at-a-glance.

      2. I often have more than one journal entry each day. Some of them are general, some are topical. I like the atomicity of a single entry per note. It allows for better linking with other notes. That’s not to say I couldn’t link to a heading within my daily notes, but I’ve found that to dilute the linking somewhat.

      3. My journals have always been separate volumes outside of any other writing I do. It makes sense to keep them that way, if for no other reason then out of habit.

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