The Beginner’s Guide to Digital Journaling 

Maintaining a private journal is a great way to build your writing skills, spill out your thoughts, desires, worries, and reflections on paper. The very act of writing itself can often help you think through problems and arrive at solutions.

As someone who started keeping a daily paper journal back in my college days, when the word “digital” was hardly a regularly-used word, I can attest to the greater benefits of keeping a digital journal. Today I will pass along some tips for getting started with digital journaling and what to consider when keeping an online, mobile, or desktop journal.

I have written before about useful journal apps, and about the advantages of journal writing on Penzu.com, but having experimented with a lot of software I will also explain which tools I have found most useful and why.

Building Writing Fluency

If journal keeping and writing are a challenge for you, I highly recommend starting off with the website, 750 Words. Improving your writing skills, like improving anything, takes daily practice. 750 Words allows you to do that. It’s not about publicly posting your writing online for feedback, and it’s not about even writing with perfect grammar or spelling. It’s about pushing yourself and building your writing fluency by churning out 750 words per day.

750words   The Beginners Guide to Digital Journaling 

I recommend 750 Words for building voice to text dictation skills, with programs like Dragon Dictate. I spent an entire month voice dictating 750 words, and it really helped me to get accustomed to the process, and learn the program. I didn’t worry about checking grammar or spelling, but instead focused on how to dictate my thoughts.

Online Journal Keeping

While 750 Words is great for daily writing online, I do not recommend it as a dedicated journal writing tool. It’s not the best space for accessing, organizing, and searching your past entries. For online journaling, I recommend the micro blogging site 280Daily.com or OhLife. Both of these sites can email you a daily reminder to post a journal entry, and you can also write and post those entries via email.

OhLife is useful for including a past entry in its emails so that you can actually review your thoughts and experiences. Far too often we write journal entries but never go back and read them. OhLife solves that problem.

280Daily is set for you to write on average 280 words per entry. A paid premium account allows for an unlimited amount of words. Also, the site only allows you to write one entry per day. If you think you will want to write more than one entry per day, I recommend OhLife over 280Daily.

I’ve also recommended Penzu.com in the past, which is both an online and mobile app service. A free account comes with significant limitations and only a paid account allows for multiple journals. Remember that if you don’t maintain your premium subscription, you will lose access to your journal entries.

Export to PDF

Each of the above online journal services has it pluses and minuses, but one significant advantage of 280Daily is that it allows you to export your entries to PDF. I’m in total agreement with Samuel L. Lytle of EasyJournaling.com that it’s essential to have an “exit strategy” (PDF export) for your digital journals.

export   The Beginners Guide to Digital Journaling 

If you’re seriously maintaining a digital journal, you should start backing them up on a regular basis in the event that the online service closes down, or the software deletes your journal entries, or the developer stops updating it, or all of the above.

Day One for Mac and iOS

As a Mac user, I have settled on the application Day One for most of my journal keeping. With the application’s most recent update, Day One now includes PDF export, and it performs automatic backups of your data on the Mac. All three versions of the application sync via iCloud or Dropbox, and include features for markdown, tagging, and a built-in search function. Day One also includes a privacy lock feature which is very important to any digital journal.

mac 1 7 days   The Beginners Guide to Digital Journaling 

There are of course drawbacks to Day One, one being that it doesn’t allow you to keep multiple journals. There’s no online access, but the app still remains a beautifully developed piece of software for both OS X and iOS.

Mobile Journal Apps

There are dozens of mobile journal apps for iOS and Android, including My Wonderful Days and iDoneThis, Diaro (screenshot below), and Memories, but I have misgivings about using mobile apps as standalone digital journals. Aside from Day One, most mobile apps don’t allow you to export as PDF, and there’s no automatic backing-up of data. I think it’s important that you also be able to access your journal entries from more than one platform.

diaro 03 viewing entry   The Beginners Guide to Digital Journaling 

Mobile apps, though, are great as travel journals, and if you just want to jot your thoughts and daily experiences on the go then you might want to give one of the above applications a go.

Adding Photos and Other Data

One of the biggest advantages of digital journaling is the ability to add photos to your entries. Each of the above online services and software allows you to add photos along with your words.

loccit 17   The Beginners Guide to Digital Journaling 

About a year ago, I also started copying and pasting pertinent online forum comments and email messages as part of my journal entries. This type of content is part of daily life, and it’s a useful way to maintain your journal keeping. Apps like Everyday.me and Loccit allow you to mix your personal journal entries with your social network content.

Explore Your Options

The best way to discover the digital journal service or application that’s right for you is to try several of them, or maintain more than one for different purposes. Are any of the above recommendations helpful? Which are your favourite services and apps for journal keeping? Add your tips and thoughts to comments, below.

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10 Comments -

Dave

I use a secondary gmail account. I can just shoot emails to it. The search and size is unbeatable plus if you want to get silly with it you cab create filters galore for easy organization.

Steve

I agree. Email accounts with journal in the title are surprisingly available. Works better than any journaling app I’ve found. The other option is Evernote. There’s a journaling addon for ios that works really well. Keeps things simple if you’re already using it anyway.

Terbpa

I agree with the Evernote suggestion. While not made specifically for journaling, being able to categorize and tag your thoughts makes if trivial to keep organized. And even more so with mobile apps like WriteNote Pro, where you can set up the conditions that your journal entries get put into Evernote. (Which notebook, what tags, time/date stamps, etc.) You can even email your entries into Evernote.

Bakari Chavanu

This is a good idea, but I can’t stand opening mail accounts anymore. If I put my journal entries in there, I might become too distracted by other stuff. But thanks, Dave, for sharing your idea. Posting journals in your mail account could mean one less application to open up.

Salim B

i use Penzu it’s the best jounaling app

Bakari Chavanu

Thanks for letting us know, Salim.

Sam Lytle

It is an honor to be featured again, Bakari! I’ve also recently created a free online tool http://www.bestjournalapp.com that will give you a personalized digital journal recommendation based on your preferences. Check it out!

Bakari Chavanu

Hey Sam, thanks for that adding that tip. I took your digital journal survey, and I’m happy to report that I’m at a Level 4. Hmm, I wonder if writing an article around you survey may be a good idea. I don’t want to steal it, but I would like to figure out how I can create an article about it. Anyway, keep me posted on your new developments. I think I’m on your newsletter list.

Lisa Santika O

I think my biggest problem is the one you addressed above. I can’t process my thoughts into words in neat, orderly, logical way (ironically, I do just alright if I’m writing fiction). That hinders me from keeping any sort of journal because I’d just make messy outlines of my thinking which may or may not be comprehensible the next day. That seems like a neat solution.
I considered OhLife before, but it didn’t have PDF exports at the time. Will check it again.

Bakari Chavanu

Thanks for your feedback, Lisa. Yeah, I would suggest freeform writing for your journals. Freeform writing works well because no one else is reading what your journals. The idea is just get thoughts out of your head and further build your fluency.