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The Beginner’s Guide to Digital Journaling 

Bakari Chavanu 20-07-2013

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 4 Awesome Journal Apps To Write About Your Day [iPhone] Journal and diary writing have a long rich history, and now thanks to very crafty software developers, there are digital shelves of seductively rich apps that inspire you to write down your memories and daily... Read More , and about the advantages of journal writing on The Advantages Of Journal Writing On 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... Read More , 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.


I recommend 750 Words for building voice to text dictation skills, with programs like Dragon Dictate Stop Typing: Better Learn To Dictate Text with Dragon Dictate for Mobile Devices [iOS] Nuance's iPhone apps, Dragon and Dragon Search have been available for free download for over a year now. Since then, the company has added a few other similar voice to text apps to its line... Read More . 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 Write 280 Character Micro-Journaling Entries On 280Daily Much of social media is like keeping a journal or diary. We use Facebook and Twitter and personal blog sites to share our thoughts and opinions, daily activities, goals, and observations. But there are many... Read More 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 The Advantages Of Journal Writing On 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... Read More  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 that it’s essential to have an “exit strategy” (PDF export) for your digital journals.


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 Keep a Digital Diary with Day One for Mac OS X and iOS Everyone has a story to tell. It's not always a story in need of an audience, sometimes a story just needs to be told. You may want to continue the journal you started when you... Read More 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

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 4 Awesome Journal Apps To Write About Your Day [iPhone] Journal and diary writing have a long rich history, and now thanks to very crafty software developers, there are digital shelves of seductively rich apps that inspire you to write down your memories and daily... Read More , Diaro Keep A Beautiful, Orderly, and Private Journal Of Your Thoughts and Days With Diaro For Android Keeping a personal journal can often help us make sense of the difficult times in our lives, or better remember the good times. If you're carrying around a smartphone, you already have a powerful and... Read More (screenshot below), and Memories Memoires: The Diary That Helps You Jot Down Your Memories on the Go [Android 1.6+] One of the surest ways to combat writer’s block is to keep something handy when a sudden inspiration strikes you. Earlier it used to be a scrap of paper in the wallet, but lately it... Read More , 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


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

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 Turn Your iPhone Into A Journaling Tool With If you're anything like me, your iPhone never leaves your side. A great app that will come in handy on a daily basis is, which makes it easy to keep a daily journal while... Read More and Loccit Mix Your Diary Or Journal With Your Social Network Activity Using Loccit Let's face it, for many of us, our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram streams are our public diaries or journals. They may not expose much of our dirty laundry, but they represent a lot about who... Read More 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.

Related topics: Journaling, Writing Tips.

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  1. Mike Turner
    December 20, 2017 at 7:45 pm

    Would love to see a sequel to this post. I have often tried to journal digitally, mostly for my own benefit (more like a... *cough*.. man diary), and with the latest in hardware and software, I wonder if there might be updated suggestions?


  2. Anonymous
    September 3, 2015 at 2:04 pm

    This is a great post. I'm still a pen and paper kinda gal. I've briefly tried online and digital journaling and it doesn' work for me. For one, I forget it's there and end up losing the entries. I see there are quite a bit of options nowadays and I'm curious enough to check them out.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      September 3, 2015 at 5:55 pm

      Agree, Petula, that digital journaling isn't for anyone. Traditional pen and paper often feels more personal. But having kept both types of journals, I find accessing my digital journal entries way easier than the written journals. Digital journals like Day One and online journals can actually remind you to write on a daily basis or according to the schedule you set. So yes, I definitely recommend checking them out again, and I appreciate your feedback. Thanks.

      • Gary B
        December 4, 2015 at 1:10 am

        One way to satisfy both IBM (It's Better Manually!) and digital is to use the Livescribe pen. It 'records' audio as you write relevant to the same time you are writing. That means if you want to go back to a handwritten excerpt you can hear what was recorded at that time. There is also handwriting recognition software (costs extra) which can convert your handwriting to digital text. There is also a cloud option as well as podcast capabilities. Another option for voice recording (also to text) would be to use a dicta-phone with voice recognition software built in.

  3. Mike
    January 14, 2015 at 4:53 pm

    Ohlife has shut down completely. Sorry.

  4. Lisa Santika O
    July 23, 2013 at 6:53 pm

    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
      July 23, 2013 at 7:25 pm

      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.

  5. Sam Lytle
    July 20, 2013 at 5:42 pm

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

    • Bakari Chavanu
      July 21, 2013 at 3:26 am

      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.

  6. Salim B
    July 20, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    i use Penzu it's the best jounaling app

    • Bakari Chavanu
      July 21, 2013 at 3:26 am

      Thanks for letting us know, Salim.

  7. Dave
    July 20, 2013 at 11:06 am

    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
      July 20, 2013 at 11:57 am

      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
        July 20, 2013 at 2:19 pm

        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
      July 21, 2013 at 3:23 am

      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.