Journals are pretty much the bane of my existence. There are so many beautiful ones out there. Ones with leather bindings, magnetic closures, fancy mechanical closures, embossing, foil embellishment, pages to track your reading, questions to help you write—THERE ARE SO MANY. But no matter how enticing they are, no matter how much I want to run my hands over their beautiful bindings and ingenious closures I have to stop myself because I don’t write in journals.
I have a desk drawer that is full of empty journals. Some of them I purchased, but the majority of them were given to me over the years by well meaning people who decided that the present you should buy a writer is a journal. I get where these people are coming from—after all, I have purchased an amazing number of journals on my own—but not all writers use journals and I am definitely a writer who doesn’t use journals. I like working on outlines by hand, and I love the idea of story bibles, but I can’t translate either of those things into writing in journals.
To me, a journal with a cover sets the theme of the content inside. That means a journal with say, Anakin Skywalker on the cover, should be used for Star Wars fanfiction, or at least something fandom-y, or Star Wars-y. A journal with frogs on the cover might be more generic, but I’m not going to use it to plan a sci-fi time travel story or start drafting my next steampunk adventure. So, if a journal I own doesn’t match a project I want to write, I feel like it’s the “wrong” journal to use. Thus, it sits in the drawer, waiting for the right project.
So when the right project comes along, I immediately go for that journal, right? Wrong. What if I “mess up” the journal? What if when you open that beautiful journal with the leather bindings and the mechanical clasp all you find inside is scratched out names and wrong details about characters or outlines of a book I abandoned? What if I wait until I’ve done the dirty work and start transcribing it into a journal to make a story bible, but change my mind while I’m writing? How will I live with myself knowing I ruined that book!? Thus, it still sits in a drawer, waiting for me to finish the novel and then write the story bible after the fact. (I’ve never done this, but it’s the only thing I can think of that would satisfy my perfectionist fears.)
It’s easier for me to admit that I don’t write in journals. I’ve tried a few times to force myself past my neuroses—and I do actually keep a bullet journal that is far messier than I would like—but using journals for fiction isn’t something I’ve been able to do. I finally started giving away my collection of empty journals, and I’ve repurposed a few, using one to keep track of editorial work and another to jot questions for phone interviews, but ultimately I don’t write in journals. So please, when you’re thinking about giving your writer a gift, ask yourself if a journal is really the right thing.