Journal Writing – Picking the Right Notebook For You

If you haven’t heard, July is journal writing month. Keeping a journal is a great way to be mindful and reflect on our busy lives. There are many different styles of journaling. Some popular recent trend includes bullet journaling, or using journaling prompts. Personally, I’ve found journaling a great resource for processing through emotions. I love to write out my thoughts by hand. I love the feel of the pen moving on paper. While some people journal digitally, I still prefer the old fashioned way of handwriting. There’s something about the process that’s quite satisfying.

closeup photo of journal book and pencils

Photo by Jess Watters on

When we write with our hands, the physical movement engages our left brain, and allows the thoughts in our right brain, the creative and intuitive center, to come forward. The hand writing process also slows us down, and makes it easier for us to explore our complex inner thoughts. Here’s my blog detailing how I sort out my emotions through journal writing.

Journaling is one of the easiest projects to try. Simply pick up any pen and paper at hand and start jotting down whatever’s on your mind. Voila, you’re journaling! There are also many beautiful journal books out on the market for people to try. Some worked better for me than others. In honor of journal writing month, I’ve summarized my experiences below. I hope it will help you find your perfect journal.

Types of Paper and Binding

There are 4 types of papers that are usually found inside a journal book: lined, dotted, squared, or blank. Lined papers are most common since most school notebooks have lined pages. The size of the lines, or line width, makes a difference. Pick a line size that fits your most comfortable handwriting. If you tend to write bigger, choose a wide-ruled paper. If you write small, try a college-ruled, or a Japanese made journal which tends to have thinner lines. If the lines are too narrow, the writings can be hard to read, and it also cause hand cramps during the writing experience. Personally, I prefer dotted pages because dots don’t look too intrusive on the page, and I can still keep my writing in a straight line. If you like to doodle or draw, I’d recommend notebooks with blank pages to accommodate both writing, drawing, or lettering.

Another important factor is the paper quality. There are 2 things worth noting about the paper quality: the smoothness of the surface and the thickness of the pages. If you’re shopping online, it’s hard to feel what the paper is like. But, if you have the journal in front of you, run your (hopefully clean) fingers over the pages inside. How does the paper feel? Does it feel smooth or rough? How does it compare to other notebooks available? Smooth surface is more suited for fountain pens and ink pens. If you prefer writing in pencil, then paper with more texture may be better for you. The thickness of the paper also makes a difference. I prefer to write with fountain pens or colorful gel pens. The problem is that ink often leaks through the page and makes it difficult to write on the back. Usually, thicker paper solves that problem. Fabriano Ecoqua notebooks have thin paper, but is also leak-proof. I will write more about this notebook later.

How the journals are put together or bound can also affect the writing experience. Notebooks can be glued, sewn or wire bound together. Glued bindings are most common. The important thing when buying a glue bound notebook is to make sure the pages won’t fall out when you spread open the notebook to write. Wire bound notebooks are perfect for laying flat during writing. However, the wire can feel bulky and easily gets bent out of shape. Once the wire is bent, flipping pages becomes difficult. Also, I don’t like how it feels when the wire presses against my wrist when I write. It creates extra pressure on my wrist. However, some of my friends swear by their wire bound notebooks. This just shows that everyone have different preferences. Feel free to try the different styles and find out what your preferences are.

Recommended materials for journal writing

Printer/copy paper – For a quick draft or just jotting down thoughts, I often use a sheet of plain copy paper. Since it’s blank, I can write in long lines, short lines, or even in circles. Whatever I feel like. From Crayola markers to fountain pens. Plain copy paper is a great way to play and get started without being hung up about the tools. If you like it, keep it. If you don’t, simply recycle! No one will ever know.

Generic classroom composition notebooks– A great starter! During the “back-to-school” season, you can stock up on these anywhere they sell school supplies. You can get one to try for only a few dollars. They come in college ruled, wide ruled or squared, and have sewn binding – which means the pages stay securely bound. This is great as a starter journal! It’s sturdy to carry around. Since it’s cheap, feel free to express any and every thought you have. I used one of these notebooks for a daily journal exercise for 30 days, and I only used up ¾ of the book. It will fit a lot of writing. Pages can be thin, so use a pencil or ballpoint pen with these.

Strathmore 400 Series Toned Tan Sketch paper pad This notebook has tan (instead of white) pages that are blank and is wire bound. It lays flat, and is good for both sketching and journaling! (dry medium only) Pages are thicker than copy paper which means it’s leak proof. Toned pages are perfect for gel pens or other coloring mediums. The pages have no lines and surface is textured, so it may not be a good fit for fountain pens, but it’s a perfect fit for those that likes to sketch and write. These are readily available in a variety of sizes at your local craft stores like Michaels or Hobby Lobby. With a 40% coupon, you can try this for the price of a blended drink!

Fabriano EcoQua notebooks* – These are made in Italy, so it may be a more convenient find for those in Europe. The pages are thin, but they are leak-proof! They offer dotted or lined pages. Smooth pages make this notebook a great and economical choice if you like to write with fountain pens. It comes with both glued or wired bindings and both lays flat. A word of caution, a few pages fell out of my EcoQua with glued binding. Overall, I still love these notebooks though.
* I’ve linked to Paper & Ink Arts’s EcoQua product page. They carry the EcoQua notebooks and ship worldwide. I am not affiliated with Paper & Ink Arts. Please visit the linked site at your discretion.

Leuchtturm1917, Moleskine notebooks – These are the more popular brands amongst the notebook enthusiasts. They are more expensive, costing about $15-20 USD each. I have also tried them. Honestly, more expensive doesn’t necessarily translate to a better writing experience. These notebooks offer a variety of formats, are well bound, and come with thick protective covers. However, I’ve found no difference in my experience between writing in a $20 Moleskine notebook and a $5 EcoQua. In fact, I’m more hesitant to write in my expensive notebooks. I feel like I need to write something “substantial” to justify using such an expensive notebook. Unfortunately, these kind of thoughts actually hinder my writing process.

If you’re ever curious about journal writing, I encourage you to start with whatever you have at hand and jump right in! As you write, you will see what enhances your experience and what doesn’t. I often write with gel pens with various colors. It just makes my experience more fun. I also prefer a lay-flat binding. I hate having to stretch out the inside edge of the notebook as I write. I’ve become quite picky about my notebooks. Even so, there are still so many affordable options out there! Writing journals have become a great spiritual exercise and creativity tool for me. I hope you will give it a try too. July is journal writing month after all.

2 thoughts on “Journal Writing – Picking the Right Notebook For You

  1. Some great tips! I just try to use my intuition and pick out whatever speaks to me when looking for a journal, but I do wish more journals were spiral bound, because I like being able to open them flat.

    • Thank you! I love writing in lay flat journals too. Spiral bindings are definitely perfect for that. You’re right, I havn’t seen that many spiral bindings lately! I hope they bring those back soon.

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