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Observations on Analog Journaling & Sketching

The past weekend and last few days have got me thinking about my recently acquired pen-based habits, such as starting a diary and sketching. MoleskineI've gone on here about both of these, focusing a little attention on my desire to process daily input by keeping a personal journal and then later, my affinity for Moleskine notebooks to sketch in.

I mention this now, because some weblog comments and emails I've received over the past few weeks have got me to thinking. Just what has caused me to keep a regular journal and sketch book after years of not doing either? Further, why have I chosen analog approaches over digital ones for this verbal and visual expression?

Well, there are many reasons. I think as a creative person, creativity you have inside has this way of finding its way out, one way or another. You think that you're not creative? Nope, you really are. So, maybe you're not an artist who sketches or even a writer... some way or another I believe we are all creative, each in our own ways and we find ways to express that.

Over the past few years I've expressed creativity through my Palm Tipsheet newsletter, which I sold early in 2003. I moved to blogging and have found it a very enjoyable and expressive avenue for my thinking and creativity. The Tipsheet was great, but so rigid. It had to be related to Palms and PDAs or it was off topic. There was so much editing and research. It was stressful. On the other hand, blogging opened a door for me compared to technical writing, because I was "allowed" to explore many other areas of interest: design, film, books, technology, writing travel stories and expressing memories and even Palm OS and PDA stuff.

About two weeks after I'd switched from the Tipsheet to blogging, my work colleague Matt said something like "Mike, you're writing way more in a week of blogging than you ever did in a monthly Tipsheet!" I had to laugh, then I mentioned something like what I said above: that blogging is freeing in its variety, which allows me to write magnitudes more than I had been while feeling no stress to post. Somehow the posts here just seem to come out, nearly every day. Don't ask me how. :-)

So, I do feel that blogging has played an important role in this decision, because it has me writing more often than ever and in a freeing way. Blogging also affirmed that "yes Mike, you can maintain a daily record of your thoughts." This was big, because I had always felt unable to maintain a written diary. I'd tried it before, but it would always fade away after a short time. Seeing that I could maintain a regular weblog (for almost a year now) encouraged my decision to try an analog diary -- and while it's still only about a month, I now look forward to penning my thoughts each night as a luxury and a joy.

Sketching came about the same way though with some different "bumps" to get me where I am now. Some of it was seeing Witold Riedel's wonderful sketches, some was the natural flow of moving from words to images and some of it has been my contemplation about why I've felt a little creatively dry the past few years. All of those things sparked my memory of joyful sketching in college, which I wanted back. And it was really so easy -- just start sketching! Of course I had to shake the rust off (and its still flaking away), but again, the more I sketch, the more I want to sketch. It's something of a feedback loop I imagine.

Alright, so why did a very tech oriented guy like me turn to analog means for writing and sketching? Keeping a digital journal certainly has some real benefits. My typing is reasonably fast, and I'm proficient at Graffiti writing on the Palm. Further, anything I would write could be searchable and portable, especially if I used an excellent tool like DayNotez.

There are a few reasons why I decided to go analog. First, growing up with pens, pencils and paper, I really enjoy the feeling of ink on paper. The other day I wrote a little note with my old Shaeffer fountain pen and marveled at how nice it felt. There is something about the tactile feel of paper drag and ink flow that's just pleasurable.

I also like the idea that what I write is permanent. Sure, I can scratch over something but it will always be at least a blob or scratched out word. Digital letters can be edited and perfected... magically erased. Undo. Command-Z please. There is something about not being able to edit, tweak and perfect in my personal journal that I like. It forces me to just stop worrying about editing so that I just write. It's stream of consciousness, whatever is on my mind writing there -- I like this idea.

The idea of getting away from keyboards and touch screens is part of this for me... having a little break from technology is refreshing and makes going back to tech more fun when I come back. In this way, being analog is attractive after a day in the digital world and the analog time then refreshes me for another day being digital. Maybe it's a symbiotic thing.

As for sketching, well, there's still not much out there that can recreate the feeling of an analog sketch. Styluses and tablets for the Mac seem nice, but still a bit artificial. And the Palm... well, it has its charm and unique pixelated qualities, but again something is just lacking in stylus sketching on a touch screen.

In the end, I'm quite pleased with how my analog journaling and sketching is going. It's provided a new outlet that seems to be regenerating my creativity at weblogging and at my web and graphic design day job.

As for books and media, I'm very much sold on Moleskines (as anyone stopping here in the last few weeks can tell). Today, with part of the money from the sale of my Sony Clie N610C I bought a Moleskine gridded book for ideas. I did this because and "Idea" book offers a place to store concepts. Things that are not journaling but are also not quite sketches. Journaling was stream of consciousness, sketching was observation and expression, so I felt the final gap was a place to store written and drawn ideas and concepts.

So, we'll see how this comes along. Maybe in a few months I'll provide an update and share how my multi-journaling is effecting me personally and professionally.

Hopefully this dialogue of mine about journaling and sketching (and letting yourself be creative) will encourage others to try it for themselves. I think that's the beauty of the Internet... that we all provide little "bumps" for each other and can have effects on those we may not know or even every speak to. Pretty cool.

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