I have been a dedicated yet deeply inconsistent journaller for my entire life. From about the age of 9, I have harboured a romantic vision of becoming a writer and have spent many hours in my bedroom filling notebooks of pre-teen angst and thoughts. I have not shaken this habit, and over the past (ahem) several decades, I have continued to write regularly. Currently, there are dozens of journals covering 30 years tucked away in my ‘hope chest’ in my childhood bedroom, snuggled up with personal memorabilia, like my Emily and Elizabeth bunnies, trophies displaying my public speaking prowess, and photo albums bursting with embarrassing records of my high school style.
I love the idea of being able to revisit the experiences and emotions that are captured in these journals, but I also know that much of what is recorded is banal and routine notes from my day (particularly during the phases where I have done stream-of-consciousness morning pages). It is not the physical books that hold the value for me, but rather the thoughts that are contained therein. Maybe I will make my 9 year old self proud and pen a memoir someday. I think these notes, even in their helter-skelter form, provide a unique glimpse into what was going on in my life at specific moments. That said, I am not the most consistent memoirist, and often when the truly transformative and emotionally resonant events are happening, I don’t take the time to record the details in my journal, because I am too busy living through them. This means journals tend to take on a naval-gazing quality, but don’t accurately chronical the big moments of my life. Even with inconsistent writing, notebooks tend to accumulate alarmingly quickly. This is a stack of notebooks covering 2017-2021:
Organised by year, you can see that there was very little of note in 2020 (in fact, the bottom noteboook is still mostly empty and will cover much of 2021 at this pace):
While I cannot bear the idea of tossing out decades of musings, I keep dragging boxes of notebooks around as I move countries, cities, and houses and the sheer number of notebooks has become crippling! I have decided to begin the tedious process of digitising the journals.
I first tested some handwriting-to-text apps, with very limited success. The poor penmanship and proliferation of abbrvs in my writing has rendered these apps mostly useless. Here is a page out of one of my journals (photo 1) – lightly censored to protect my academic modesty so as not to reveal one of my academic crushes! When I put it through a handwriting-to-text app, the results are horrendous (photo 2). Acknowledging this was not a good option for preserving the entries, I embarked on one of the most cringey experiences of my life: reading my journal aloud and having Otter.ai turn my speech into text. This is much more accurate than the handwriting recognition and definitely faster than manually typing all of the entries.
These transcripts are not perfect so I have added them to files containing scanned photos of the pages. I tested Evernote and OneNote and found that OneNote’s document scanning function is a little bit better than Evernote’s for automatically detecting the page without cutting off any writing. When document scanning, OneNote recognises the page dimensions and straightens the page and increases the page brightness and contrast to enhance the readability.
I have completed the first notebook, but still have not quite been able to throw it out. Perhaps some ceremonial burning will be scheduled in the coming weeks? Particularly the parts that read like a burn book…
So while lockdown 3 drags on and I am not creating any new and notable memories, I can be found taking a long jaunt down memory lane.
I would love to hear from you? What do you do with your old journals? Keep, toss, preserve, burn?