Robin Camille Davis
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Digital & paper journaling

January 18, 2014

TL;DR: I now keep a digital journal. I had it printed & bound. It turned out awesome.


My grandmother's 1943 diary

My grandmother's 1943 diary, a family treasure

Since the year 2000, I've regularly kept a personal journal. I rely on my journal to record my life's various events — and to remember them, too. Revisiting memories physically strengthens them in your brain, and of course a journal serves as a reference, too. As the granddaughter of a prolific journaler, I also know that life-writing can become a family heirloom.

Until 2011, I wrote and drew in paper journals, filling thousands of unlined pages. My many journals are among my most prized possessions! They follow me and my life and feelings from the age of 12 on — important and interesting years. I know what I was feeling on September 11, 2001, and what my first kiss was like, and how hard it was going across the country to college, and how thrilling it is discovering new intellectual passions, and the names of the people I met in my travel adventures in Europe and North America.

But around the time I enrolled in my MLIS graduate program, I  found myself journaling less. My lifestyle changed — in class, I took notes not in notebooks, but in Evernote; I'd been a regular snail-mail-sender for quite a while, but now email felt like it had the same level of intimacy; though I had enjoyed the feeling of depositing paper checks before grad school, I went right ahead and enrolled in direct deposit when I became a research assistant. But my journaling habits had not evolved. I was hesitant to take my deepest feelings to a digital screen, knowing that they would be more vulnerable to both loss and privacy invasion. Still, I felt that I was missing out on personal growth by not reflecting more.


Day one screenshot

Day One entry screenshot

Day One timeline screenshot

In 2012, I decided to take my journaling into a well-reviewed app called Day One. It began as a superficial professional notebook but quickly attained the same level of intimacy as my paper journaling once had. Now that my subway commute is around 45 minutes underground, I typically write when I'm heading home or am between engagements. After all, as Gwendolen in Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest points out: "I never travel without my diary.  One should always have something sensational to read in the train."

I really like Day One — I've got the app on my iPhone, iPad, and (non-work) MacBook, and I use it on about a daily basis. It's been a relief, to me, to revive my journaling habit. In 2012, I wrote 38 entries; in 2013, 273 entries; and so far in 2014, six.

I'm still skeptical about the security of the app. There's no web version, but it's still a cloud database, which means that while I've got all the entries downloaded on my devices, they're also in some data warehouse accessible with a username and password. At this point, I've just accepted that vulnerability, knowing that only I would have any major interest in its content. (Okay, and perhaps some past lovers and frenemies, too, but there aren't too many of those who could feasibly hack me.)

Digital + paper

Journal cover

Printed (boring) entry

My other worry was the preservation of this precious digital object. The digital dies; print can survive longer. So a few weeks ago, I exported all of my entries, created a 6x9" PDF, and sent it off to be perfect-bound by Lulu, a self-publishing service. For $18, I got a 400-page book of my own writing. I'm quite satisfied with the quality. (I wasn't enough of a book snob to shell out more moola for a sewn binding.)

The front cover is the view from my Bushwick apartment one rainy day. The back cover (not photographed) is a view of the Empire State Building from my previous East Village apartment. For many entries, Day One auto-included the geolocation and weather of that day's entry. The contents are riddled with iPhonetastic typos, but I don't mind. It is so gratifying to hold this heavy book in my hands.

If you're into Day One and also want a printed & bound copy of your writing, here are a few tips & gotchas I have compiled.

Self-publishing your journal using Day One and Lulu

2012-13 journal

Ahh, so satisfying to hold my own words.

  • Currently, Day One only exports as a letter-size PDF, Markdown file, or HTML file. I didn't want a letter-size bound copy, as that just seemed tacky, so I simply copied/pasted everything from an exported PDF into a 6x9" Word doc. (You could copy/paste from HTML, too, of course.) I reformatted extensively using Advanced Find/Replace.
  • Color printing would have cost $90 (as opposed to $18), so I decided that I could live with black & white photos.
  • Lulu will print exactly what your PDF is, with no extra pages except one at the end if your PDF has an odd number of pages. So I put extra pages in the beginning like "real" books do, and put in manual page breaks around my intro & colophon.
  • I recommend a margin of 1". The gutter (area between your text block and the book's binding) will feel squished otherwise. Mine is 0.75" and I wish there were more space.
  • Remember to insert page numbers!
  • Set your Lulu project to be private, and not visible in their public marketplace. (Obviously.)
  • I tried dozens of times to import a PDF into Blurb, my previous preferred self-publisher, but the importer just would not work. I wasted hours on the site before moving to Lulu, which was a total breeze. Well, still a little clunky, and the cover text could only be in one of a small number of fonts I didn't care for, but I had no issues importing the PDF or cover images.