I get it. It’s not always possible or prudent to take your Italian leather-bound journal everywhere you go. But even if you’re not sitting down to write long entries, you may actually be spending a lot of time journaling. Those archives of notes on your phone, pictures and screenshots, the e-mails you’ll never delete, scrap paper with your scribbles piling up in a drawer somewhere: all of these things make up a record of your life. For these day-to-day mementos, I recommend a catch-all notebook.
A catch-all notebook is the place to collect quick thoughts, lists, doodles, snapshots of conversation, and anything else you can think of. In fact, the variety of uses for a catch-all journal probably pushes against the boundaries of what you’d normally call journaling. The traditional idea of journaling is of long-winded venting and reflections, but I agree with Stephanie Dowrick, who writes in her book Creative Journal Writing,
“One page, ten pages; a page filled with words; a page listing words; a letter to a friend who died a year ago; slapdash dialogues; delicate haiku; a list of books you are reading; a prayer that inspires you; tickets from the first night of a play and a quick sketch—all of that is journal writing.”
If you want to journal more but find that you don’t have the time for long entries, a catch-all notebook is the best thing you can do for yourself. (This is the first strategy I recommend in How to Stick With Journaling When You’re Bored, Busy, or Otherwise Unenthused.)
My catch-all notebook days began in high school when my mom implored me to stop taking my journal to school. (She was really afraid that I would be the victim of theft or blackmail.) While her advice was prudent, I felt like I needed to journal at school, especially to remember the simple details and conversations that made up my life. Now, I always have two running journals: a big one for long entries and a small one to “catch.” I find myself writing down a lot of quotes, taking notes on books, jotting down aha! moments, and more.
The tone of my catch-all notebooks is completely different from the tone of my long-entry journals. I’ve found that there is a special energy about capturing the day-to-day, something that feels more genuine, the same way that a casual meal with family is more realistic than a special occasion sit-down dinner. These brief entries sometimes feel more like me: casual and playful.
I also find that I write more frequently in my small notebooks than in my larger ones. I’ve always thought that if I sat down to plot out the days that I’ve journaled on a calendar, the small notebooks would nicely fill in the gaps between my bigger journal entries. Despite the informality, my catch-all notebooks have actually sometimes been the platform for really deep, insightful entries.
At the end of the day, the catch-all notebook’s greatest quality is its accessibility. It is there at the exact moment of epiphany, the second the laughter subsides. It is casual, flexible, and genuine, and it fills in the gaps in the record of your life. I recommend keeping one of these journals on you at all times, just to ensure that you don’t miss a moment.