Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Document everything

I journal. A lot. I started journaling in 1993, and I more or less journal every day. There were some times when there were gaps, but I now religiously put pen to paper every morning for at least a page.

My problem (or challenge) is that I now have probably too many different journaling systems. Just to think real quick:

  • This is a journal, of sorts. I used the term “journal” when I started this thing back in 1997, before the word “blog” was invented. It’s far from daily, but maybe I need to work on that. There is something like 1400 posts here, which is a bit excessive for a WordPress site. Just checked, and that totals up to 1,065,687 words.
  • I use Moleskine journals for the daily paper journal. I used to use spiral notebooks, but switched to the hardcover books in maybe 2010. There’s a printer paper box of the spirals in storage, and then I’ve got about 15 of them on a shelf next to my desk. There’s some thought about scanning all of these, but I don’t know an easy way of doing this aside from cutting them apart or spending my lifetime in front of a scanner.
  • I use Day One to journal on my computer or phone. I like the look and feel of Day One, and it’s nice being able to drop in a picture or a quick note when I’m in transit or at work. Part of my thing on the Iceland trip was sitting at breakfast and writing a quick summary of the day before. I also do a lot of automatic writing every day when I don’t have an active project, and I file those brain dumps in Day One. I started using it in 2013, and there are periods when I write daily, and then chunks of entire months when I completely forget about it. There are 1,312 days of entries in there, 1399 entries.
  • I started using separate Moleskines for therapy-based journaling. I’m only a few into that.
  • I used to carry a Field Notes journal in my pocket for jotting down writing ideas or for taking brief notes while at lunch or whatever. I remember first buying a three-pack at the public market in Milwaukee at a little gift/card shop across from the spice place. I think I have about a dozen of those full of scribbling. I also probably have two or three dozen in storage. I used to be on their mailing list and every time they announced some new special edition, I felt a compulsion to buy them. I also had some of their pens, which are just the standard Bic customizable Clic pen, and I would use them until they wore out, for all my writing. For some reason, you can’t easily buy like a three-pack or a dozen Clic pens, so I ended up buying them by the dozen from Japan. Japanese people love their pens.
  • I’ve used Scrivener for all my writing, and for a long time, my automatic writing was in there, so I could easily move chunks of it into my morgue file and then into books. I’m starting to question my loyalty to Scrivener, but that’s another post.
  • There was a LiveJournal for a while, but we’ll forget that era ever happened.
  • I use Obsidian at work to take meeting notes and day-to-day things. I also used Notion to take notes for school. I’m not happy with either, but that’s yet another post.

I don’t know why I document everything like this. A few reasons maybe include a need to refer back to things, to easily brainstorm ideas without self-censorship, and maybe to someday leverage my journaling into actual writing. I think I had some dumb idea that at a certain point, a university was going to show up with a moving truck, a few people in white gloves with clipboards, and a blank check to move everything to an archive. That obviously isn’t happening.

There was also this thought that I’d publish my journals at some point. This brings up the issue of public-facing journals versus private, and self-censorship. Having to keep in mind who can see things online or in print – family members, coworkers, exes, etc. -is a real wrench into the works for my writing process. A lot of the “what do I write here” is gummed up by who will see it. I know I have people who stalk me here and I have to just let that go and avoid documenting certain parts of my life. Yes, I could lock it down, or blog anonymously. Why is it important to write here? I don’t entirely know, but I’m sure if I thought about it, that’s yet another blog post. (I’m really building up a backlog here.)

Being able to write unimpeded in a notebook or in Day One is helpful to me. But it also makes those journals a huge liability, and I’m not about to waste a lot of time stepping on these old entries to get them in a book form. I published my entries here form 1997-1999 in a book, and I think two people bought it. So I’m not spending any effort on that. Maybe you’ll see them when I’m long gone, but I have a very strong feeling everything here is going to get landfilled when that happens.

* * *

All of this makes me thing of Robert Shields, a former minister and avid diarist who was written up in The Eccentropedia. (That book, by the way, is like in my top five all-star all-time books, and you absolutely need to get a copy, no questions asked. Trust me on this.) Anyway, Shields basically live-tweeted his entire life, long before that horrible site existed. He would only sleep two hours a night and then spend hours and hours typing up everything he saw, ate, shit, thought, or dreamed, from 1972 to 1997.

This ended up being 90-some boxes of journals, 37.5 million words. He would sometimes paste in food labels and even his nose hair so maybe someone in the future could study his DNA. When he left the journals to Washington State University, he stipulated that nobody could read them or generate a full word count for fifty years after his death in 2007.

A quick excerpt from his wikipedia:

July 25, 1993
7 am: “I cleaned out the tub and scraped my feet with my fingernails to remove layers of dead skin.”
7.05 am: “Passed a large, firm stool, and a pint of urine. Used five sheets of paper.”

This obsession is interesting to me for whatever reason (the journaling, not his 7:05 am procedure), but the fact that he basically couldn’t leave the house to do this makes it maybe a bit impractical. Maybe if he had Day One he could have traveled a bit.

(He was originally from Seymour, Indiana, BTW.)

* * *

Anyway – the reason I started thinking about this was that Day One has this feature I didn’t know about where you can print books of your journals. It’s just for printing one-offs, like if you have a baby journal of photos or whatever. I decided to try this out by printing my 2013-2015 entries in a single hardcover volume. It was not cheap (fifty-some bucks, I think) but it looks very nice. It puts the photos in there and made a nice cover. It also adds title pages for each month or so, which show a map of where you were, and what cities were visited. (Oh yeah, Day One keeps a lot of metadata on things like your location and the weather.)

The journal looks very cool, but because it’s all private info, there’s no way I could publish this. It’s interesting for me to read. There are a lot of book and story ideas I completely ignored or never followed through with, some stupid and some maybe useful. I would often take a selfie with my laptop camera before I started writing, and it’s interesting to see me 40 pounds lighter, still having hair, sitting in the Frankfurt airport trying to get in a thousand words after being up all night on a transatlantic flight.

I think the most compelling thing about the old entries is that in 2014 or 2015, I was struggling with a lot of the same questions about my writing and dealing with the same interpersonal drama I have now. A lot of that hasn’t been resolved, and some of the entries look like I wrote them last week. There’s a lot of work angst in there too, and I guess that’s much better now. But it makes me realize exactly what I need to be working on.

And I say all of this after publishing a two-thousand word diatribe about how I need to look forward and not be nostalgic. I think there’s some difference between introspection or investigation of the past and using it as my drug of choice. Another blog post? Looks like I have a lot of work to do here. I should take notes. Where?


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