RedNotebook and Other Journals

There’s evidence that suggests that writing every day can make you happier. There’s also evidence that suggests that keeping a journal is good for you. I don’t know know how much I believe this but I do know that I have kept a journal for a very long time, and the one that I use most is RedNotebook.

It’s free, it’s open-source, and it does what it says on the tin. It lets you write, and it gets out of your way. It’s pretty basic. The interface shows a calendar, a tag cloud the text input window and a place for adding tags on the far side of the screen which I find unnecessary so I just don’t use it. It opens automatically on the daily entry so you can just get started making your notes, and you can navigate your way through the entries by clicking on the calendar or the arrows or home button on top of it.

I am tempted to say that’s it, but I won’t. I know RedNotebook can do a lot more, but I have never used any of the features except it’s ability to make zipped backups and export to a variety of formats. I like to make plain text backups of my journals at the end of each year.

I didn’t always use RedNotebook, and I don’t always now, but I keep coming back to it, and I keep cutting and pasting the entries I have made in other journals into it. The reason is that it’s simple, it’s cross-platform and, to use a very familiar phrase, it just works. It plays nicely with Dropbox, and I can use it on a Mac, a Windows PC or on Linux.

It’s a place where I jot down ideas, recollections of what happened that day, snapshots of where my head is at during a given moment, and many other things. It let’s me go back in time to any given date and see what I was up to, and what I was thinking.

It’s not my favorite piece of journaling software. That would be MacJournal, which I would be writing on to this very day if I had stuck with using only Apple machines. Unfortunately, it only works on OSX/MacOS. I tried using Scrivener for my journal as I have tried using it for pretty much all my writing. It worked, but I missed calendar navigation. That’s the same reason as I gave up on plain text back in the day. I tried OneNote. It didn’t work for me although it’s exceptionally cross-platform these days.

I do use Journey, which is a lovely program, but what I mostly use it for is snapshots. Usually, my entries there are just pictures taken on my phone camera with a sentence or a paragraph of text about what is going on. Here’s an example from our family day out at Dino Park, Praha.

As an aside, I can recommend this as a great way of keeping memories. Day One does something similar on the iPhone. If you’re new to journaling, it’s a good way of getting started and a great way of looking back at your years.

The main problem with Journey for me is that it takes a long time to sync. It uses GoogleDrive. The fact that I am adding photos probably accounts for this as well. It is brilliant for use on an Android Phone, and it has clients for Windows, MacOS and Chrome. The last of which lets me use it on Linux.

MostlyI use RedNotebook, and I use it with plain text. This is the place where I put my freewriting exercises and most of my thoughts. It is a pure journal of the sort that many writers keep.

I do keep another form of journal, the book journal. This is a great idea that I picked up from David Hewson. Basically, it’s a text file that lives in the same folder as my work in progress, or a text that lives in its Scrivener file. It follows the format of a diary with a header for each day but it concerns only the book I am writing.

Every entry starts with the date and the number of words in the project at the start of the day. Below that each writing session gets its own line, saying how long I wrote for and how much I wrote. Beneath those are notes, sorted by the time of writing, detailing my thoughts on the project, any ideas I have had, any technical difficulties I have encountered and anything else that seemed relevant. It might take note of what I was listening too when I was writing. This is one reason I can tell you that I am marginally more productive when listening to film and game soundtracks than when listening to music with lyrics. I know that seems only logical, but I am the sort of man who likes empirical evidence. I can’t help myself.

Usually, a book diary is longer at the start because it will contain things like my ideas for the actual outline, imagery, and bits of business for the story. These normally mutate into a formal outline at some point. It is interesting to be able to look back on a project and see how your ideas develop over time.

That’s one of the most attractive and frightening things about all sorts of journals. They represent your time crystalized into sentences. They show you what you thought was important enough to set down. Sometimes I find it scary to see how trivial my thoughts were. Sometimes I am astonished to be drawn back into a moment with perfect clarity. Looking at the statistics entry in RedNotebook I can see I have written almost half a million words in this journal since November 2014. It’s been a useful tool for procrastination if nothing else.


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