One of my New Year’s resolutions is to maintain a year-long journal with the goal of completing at least 250 entries. I started journal writing back in the early eighties when I was in college, but haven’t really put personal thoughts to paper in the last fifteen years.
After thinking long and hard about what medium I wanted to use to keep my journal, I chose Penzu.com because it offers advantages over traditional paper notebooks and even popular blog sites like WordPress and Tumblr.
We have written about Penzu before, but it has grown since then. However, many of the features and tips I share about journal writing with Penzu can be applied in one or another to other similar online writing application sites.
Why Journal Writing?
I have a box of over a dozen journal notebooks I filled up over a ten year period, and I learned that journal writing was and is a great way to reflect upon one’s life choices, aspirations, fears, important experiences, and the like.
Though journal writing can indeed be a literary endeavor in which your life’s experiences my well be published to the world, like the Dairy of Anne Frank, that should not be the initial goal of journal writing. Instead, the journal should be a secret place to share thoughts and insights with yourself. Your journal might go way beyond what you post on Twitter or Facebook, so in this regard Penzu offers some advantages that you might consider in keeping a journal.
Because journal writing is often for your most private thoughts, Penzu provides password protection (for both your journal and individual entries) that you might not get with paper journals or some blog sites. In order to really let loose and write in journal, you should make most of what you write private so you can really say what’s on your mind.
However, in the age of the Internet there will be times when you want to share what you’ve written. With Penzu you can selectively share entries from your online journal via email or public link. You also get the option to share anonymously, and any edits you make to your entry will appear in the public version. You can also go back and click “Make Private” and the link will be deleted.
Because Penzu is an online writing application, entries can be written anywhere you have an online connection. This means you don’t have to worry about keeping a paper journal with you everywhere you go.
Writing can also be done in the Penzu iPhone, iPad, and Android apps, though the writing features of the mobile program are limited compared to the online version. And you must have a Penzu pro account to sync entries between the mobile app and your online account.
Writing online or the mobile app in the long run can be so much better than pen and paper because it offers great opportunities for editing, revising, and exporting writing into different formats.
Even though Penzu provides instant backup of your journal entries, it wouldn’t hurt to export and backup your journal entries in say PDF format for safe keeping in an online locker and/or an external drive.
Journal Writing Tips
Whether your journal takes the form of a daily dairy, a collection of your deepest and most intimate thoughts, or a travel, food, spiritual or idea journal, Penzu includes some features that will come in handy for making better use of your written entries.
In her book, Leaving a Trace: On Journal Entries, Alexandra Johnson talks about the importance of revisiting the entries you write, to gain insight from your past entries, to see what themes emerge, or what topics you seem to keep coming back to.
Penzu includes what it calls a Look Glass feature which if you turn it on will email you snippets of the entries you have written. Penzu says Looking Glass is “an algorithm that chooses an entry from the past…Depending on how often you write (or have been writing), you could be receiving emails of past entries every day or a few times a month. For entries that are locked or in locked journals, we only send a link to the entry so your private writing isn’t exposed.”
Johnson also suggests in her book that journal entries be indexed as you write—keeping a list of topics, names of people, places, dreams, illnesses, stories, etc with corresponding page numbers. Well, with Penzu you can use the tagging feature which will be a lot more efficient than an index list.
In Penzu you can filter entries by tags as yet another way to go back and read and reflect on various topics and themes. It’s even useful to write new entries based on what you wrote in the past.
In addition, Penzu has an Add Comment feature that can be used like post-it notes for later coming back and making observational notes on selected entries. It would be great if Penzu included a bookmarking or flagging feature which might be useful for revisiting important entries.
The free version of Penzu includes unlimited entries, the ability to embed images from your computer and Flickr, autosaving, printing and sharing via email and public link, commenting on shared entries, searching, and Looking Glass. The free features should be sufficient to get started, and may be all you need for keeping a basic journal.
Penzu’s pro level ($20 per year) features include rich text formatting, custom avatar, customized paper styles and writing backgrounds, multiple journals, the ability to export journals to PDF, XML, and TXT files, and lots more. The price of a pro account is a little heavy and I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re keeping a journal for the first time. If you get into a serious journal writing habit and you see that you need the extra features, then consider the upgrade.
Let us know what you think of Penzu and what other features you would like to see added to the service.