Journal: Lines or No Lines?


These lined ledger journals are available at Staples.

People who keep journals have a strong preference for using a journal with lines or one without lines. There are even journals with alternating lined and unlined pages.

For years, I’ve been a no-line journaler. No matter what the journal was for (and I keep more than one), it had to be unlined. I’m changing my mind. Maybe.

Here are the journals I keep:

1. Client notes, telephone numbers, deadlines, to-do list journal. Unlined. I use Moleskine soft-covers with vibrant cover colors. When they are full, I write the dates started and ended on the cover and keep them. They help me remember where I was and what I did when. Good for taxes and how long a past project took.

2. Sketch journal. Unlined watercolor paper. I use ink and watercolors to do sketches,  small collages and other design work. This unlined journal keeps me from having to fight perspective.

3. Capture journal. This is the one I just switched to a lined journal. I write down brain dumps, ideas, emotions, class ideas, problems with solutions, in this one. I write only on the right side for the first pass. Every now and then I go through the journal and “distill” it. I find insights or ideas and write them on the left page. Sometimes I highlight or add another thought on the left side as well. This distilled material winds up on the free-standing pages.

A selection of my journals.

A selection of my journals.

4. Free-standing pages. These journal pages have art on one side and writing on the other. I’ve been making them for years and they are all the same size. They are the result of a combination of the  distill pages’ lessons and the artwork it inspires.

5. Commonplace Book. I didn’t know this type of book had a name till Kaisa from Vakloinenponi mentioned it. This is the book I use for quotes, well-written sentences, poems, titles and authors of books I want to remember, even articles I’ve cut out of a magazine. The history of Commonplace Books deserves a whole blog post on its own.

6. Nature journal. This is an unlined journal. I am finishing up a big, bulky book with rough pages. I keep notes on the weather, when  my fruit trees bloom or set fruit, or unusual events like this year’s killing freeze. I keep notes about trimming and fertilizing trees, birds I see, and general nature notes. I’d like to switch to a journal I can also sketch in. That’s the next one.

Using a lined journal helps the lines stay even, which helps me write faster and concentrate on the words and meaning-making instead of what the page looks like. The even lines also help me keep my handwriting the same size, which makes it easier to find a word or a specific idea when I hunt through the pages to distill the information.

It’s a new idea for me, but I’m warming to it. I will keep a mix of journals always, and it’s good to switch to a new size or type to see if it changes your journaling habits.

How many journals do you keep and do you prefer lines or no lines?

—Quinn McDonald may have to take a 12-step program to reduce the number of journals she keeps. If she does, she’ll probably keep notes in a journal. Oh, wait. . .