Dr. Moleskine, or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love My Journal
By day, UK-based Neal Dench is a mild-mannered project manager and technical writer. By night, he assumes his secret identity of Mr. Porkpop, a fearless crusader in the war against... uhm... technical... and, er... project stuff.... *cough* Is this mic on...? Okay, I confess. I wanted to put a spotlight on journalling and Moleskines, and he was just the perfect chap. - DJ
The key to keeping a successful and effective journal is to make sure the writing process is an enjoyable one. By using materials that make writing a pleasure, and by giving yourself the freedom to do what suits you, rather than conforming to traditional diary formats, this can be easier than it sounds. In this article, I'll explain some of the materials and methods I've used to reinvigorate my journal writing in recent months.
I think we owe it to ourselves to make some record of our lives. I hate the idea of waste in general, and I know how much of my time, how many thoughts, ideas, and memories, would be lost forever if I didn't write at least some of it down. Consequently, I have written journals on and off for around 25 years now; I have recorded my thoughts in diaries and PDAs, written regularly every night, written on an occasional basis, and yet, until now, never been satisfied with my efforts, often giving up altogether after only a few months. My diary often descended into a mundane list of things that no-one, not even me, was interested in. What did I watch on TV? What homework did I do? Who cares! When I wasn't writing lists, my diary became an excuse to descend into maudlin self-pity. Sure, life isn't all roses, and a diary can be a useful medium for sounding off about the world and working off your everyday frustrations, but it's all too easy to overdo it, and ultimately that's not good for the soul. It doesn't make for very interesting re-reading either!
So what has changed things recently? Why am I happy with my journaling efforts now? One simple word: Moleskine. Now, before you stop reading, I know how tritely 2005 that sounds, so my aim in this article is to explain why the Moleskine works for me, and tell you a little about how I use it.
For those not already in the know, a Moleskine (the correct pronunciation is "Mo-leh-skeen-eh" but I confess to being unable to think of it as anything other than "Moleskin") is a distinguished hardback notebook with a black oilskin cover, a cotton bookmark, an elastic closure, and an expandable pocket in the back for keeping stamps, money, photographs, or whatever else takes your fancy. Moleskines come in small or large sizes, and with blank, ruled or squared paper. There are also sketchbooks, diaries, reporters' notebooks, address books, and so on, the total number of variations adding up to quite a sizeable range. My journals are kept in small plain notebooks, and I also have a large ruled notebook for longer pieces of writing.
On removing the plastic wrapper, you will find that every Moleskine has a short "history" of the notebook slipped into its pocket. This history does its best to convince you that this is the same notebook that was used by intellectuals and artists of the likes of Hemingway, Van Gogh, Matisse, and Chatwin; a piece of marketing that the manufacturers, Modo & Modo, could arguably have omitted. Opinions about the Moleskine seem to divide into two opposing camps: ardent fans who feel that the Moleskine's quality justifies its price, and sceptics who can't understand why you would want to spend so much on a notebook. It will probably come as no surprise that I fall into the first of these groups.
What drew me to the Moleskine in the first place? Was it all that stuff about Hemingway and Matisse? Of course not. Was it the thriving Moleskine internet community? Well, perhaps all the online enthusiasm helped persuade me to part with money, but it wasn't what made me buy another, and another, and I had coveted a Moleskine for several years before I'd even heard of Moleskinerie or 43Folders. To be honest, the biggest attraction for me was a sort of nostalgic appeal. People often say "they don't make them like they used to", and yet here, in the form of a small (albeit quite expensive) notebook, was the exception that proved the rule. As a child, I was captivated by all the old notebooks we had at home, some belonging to my parents in their youth, and some belonging to their parents or even grandparents. There were books for random thoughts, books that my Dad had used for his projects, sketch books, autograph books, diaries, some rich with the ideas of others, some empty, all with that same musty "old book" smell, and all of them with an overwhelming sense of potential. Like boxes of old photographs, they were something from a past age, that somehow was no longer available to me. Now here, in the form of the Moleskine, was my own opportunity to create something similar.
What surprises me is that the initial rush of enthusiasm for the Moleskine hasn't gone away. I've kept on writing. Why haven't my little black books just become the latest repository for boring lists and depressed recollections? I think it's partly down to a sense of freedom. My Moleskine has no boundaries, not even lines (I use the small plain notebook), and so doesn't try to confine what I do in it. Feel the need for a sketch? No problem. Want to write sideways, rather than from top to bottom? That's OK. Try doing those things on a PDA. Because I'm not confined by a diary format, I need only write a sentence, if that's all it takes. Alternatively, I can write pages and pages if I'm so inclined. My Moleskine even gives me the freedom to write nothing at all if I want, which is something a diary doesn't, with its pages and pages of empty days constantly reminding me of events left unrecorded.
I've also found that I write about different things, and I don't necessarily just write for myself, and perhaps this change is the most crucial. My diary is no longer about what I did today; it's about what I might want to remember tomorrow. And it's no longer for my eyes alone. If my wife or kids (or just about anyone else) want to have a flick through, that's fine. Perhaps that restricts what I might want to say a little, but it also makes me think harder about what I want to put in my Moleskine, and the end result is that I have something that is a more enjoyable read â€“ something that I'm happy to pick up and read myself â€“ and that, surely, is the whole point. These days, my diary can contain anecdotes, funny things people have said, jokes, interesting websites, ideas that I have read about on the web, or anything else that takes my fancy.
And then there's the quality of the paper in a Moleskine. Get a good pen â€“ I don't particularly care for all the debates about which pen is best, which pens cause the least bleed-through, which produce archival quality writing, and so on, just get a pen that you enjoy writing with â€“ and write on some Moleskine paper. It will make you fussy about the paper you use whenever you're not buried in the pages of your Moleskine. Yes, these things are expensive, but for a reason.
A lot of people talk about Moleskine "hacks", or tips on how to put Moleskines to the best use , and I use a few of them myself, mainly to help me refer to old entries. They've become so ingrained into my daily journal writing that I don't really think of them as hacks any more.
- I put a page number in the bottom right hand corner of each double page spread.
- I use a basic table of contents, starting on the first double page spread in the book, and then flipping over to the last double page when that's full. The table of contents just lists each page number in the book, together with the major topics of conversation on that page. If I keep my writing as small as possible, I can fit most of the table of contents at the beginning of the Moleskine.
- I use "Moleskine hyperlinks" to relate entries together. For instance, if I write down a joke that I want to remember, I'll link back to the last joke that I wrote down, and also put a forward reference from that older entry to the new one. That way, if I want to find all the jokes that I've written down, all I have to do is find one of them, and then follow the chain in either direction.
The first two hacks I'm religious about. Every page gets a page number, and every page has an entry in the table of contents. I only use hyperlinks when they occur to me. My nature is such that I could become obsessed with making sure that everything was perfectly linked with everything else, even to the point of linking between different Moleskines. So my answer is to just not stress about it. If a related entry occurs to me, and I can find it in, say, 30 seconds or so, then I'll add a link. If I can't, then I leave it. I also tend to keep 2 or 3 blank Post-It notes on the inside front cover, just so that I always have some on me, and a piece of blotting paper in the back pocket, for when I'm using a fountain pen.
You can find out more details about these and other Moleskine hyperlinks over at 43Folders, as well as many other places on the internet.
I hope I've managed to convey a little about how I use my Moleskines, and about why I'm so enthusiastic about them. For me, the combination of immediacy, permanency, and quality in these little black books has provided me with the means to write a journal that I am happy with, and have a bond with. That's something that I've never had before, whether my journal was kept in a Lett's diary, on a PDA, or a file on a computer. I have a feeling I'll be going back to the shop for more Moleskines for a long time to come.
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