Margin Notes in Your Journal

The English Patient's journal, stuffed with stories and sketches

In the movie version of Michael Ondaatje’s  The English Patient, the main character, Almasy, has a journal. Instead of filling page after page of a blank book, Almasy is writing in the margins and over the pages of  Herodotus‘s book, The Histories.  Almasy stuffs the book with sketches, including the haunting Cave of Swimmers, and information on the Bedouins who saved his life.

The book may be the most famous visual journal. One of my future projects will be to turn an existing book into an art journal. Not just the cover, I’ve done that, but the whole book.

Meanwhile, the idea is encouraging one of my best bad habits–writing in the

Proof of my bad habit. © Quinn McDonald

margins of my books. When other people avoided buying used college texts with other people’s notes, I loved them. I wanted to see what was important to them, to read their ideas, to see what appealed to them. I’d add mine in another color ink.

Writing in the margins is finding favor again, in a way I’d never do it. People are now happily sharing their searches on various search engines as a way of finding people interested in the same topic.

I”m sticking to writing in the margins. It makes a book more real, more personal, more interesting. A few weeks ago, I was looking through an old journal of mine, as had a new idea about the original post. My idea of layers in journaling is adding more notes to the old page. It’s a marvelous way to show that as you grow, so do your ideas.

Marginalia, ink and colored pencil on paper. © Quinn McDonald

Quinn McDonald is addicted to art journaling. Her book, Raw Art Journaling, Making Meaning, Making Art will be published by North Light Books in July of 2011.

Image of English Patient’s journal: Iris Watts Hirideyo.  Both other images: journal pages © Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved. 2011.

10 thoughts on “Margin Notes in Your Journal

  1. Pingback: Links From Art To Moleskine To Architecture « An Inkophile’s Blog

  2. I never imagined so many margin writers! ANd not only in books, but in journals, too. ANd I love that others also write table of contents for their journals. It make it so much easier to find a certain entry. Yes, I agree. How wonderful we margin-writers are!

  3. Love that movie. Read the book twice. Transports me away to another world, every.single.time.

    I’m a margin writer too. And I usually start a listing on the inside front cover, or near table of contents (kind of a personal TOC) listing page numbers and key words so I can find important passages.

    • That personal TOC–when I was younger, I thought I’d invented it. When I heard of another person, I felt shocked and pleased. The article that Susan mentions talks about that, too. How wonderful we margin-writers are!

  4. I love margin notes, drawings, and annotations! When I was little, I used to write alternate plots & endings to fairytales on scraps of paper. How I wish now that I had written them into the books. It would be so much fun to see them today, but the paper scraps are long gone.

    • It’s sad they are gone. But time keeps moving on, and you could write down one you remember, or create a new one. In two years, you will have a whole trail with a new memory!

    • Thanks for the link–it’s a great article. I had two sections done–a post on The English Patient’s journal and one on making notes in my own journal when I saw the NY Times article. I felt encouraged to combine them. Thanks for passing along the link!

  5. Oh Quinn, I watched the trailer of “The English Patient” and it gave me goose-bumps! I’ll be searching for the DVD now. 🙂

    The idea you have of adding notes to margins is great, although I believe I may be just a tad timid about adding notes to my precious books! Your suggestion of adding future notes to a journal, however, really appeals, for as you say, it shows that as you grow, so do your ideas.

    • Susan left a great link to an article in the NY Times about writing in the margin of books. I grew up in a family who valued books greatly–we treated them as members of the family. But writing notes in the margins was considered scholarly, and allowed. I’ve begun to look at some past journal entries, and I’m loving adding to them. Let me know if you do, and how it feels to you.

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