The Coveted Moleskine

Right there on the label it says it all: Legendary notebooks.
Ever since MEH (My Engineer Husband) gave it to me for Christmas, it’s been sitting on the kitchen counter next to my to-do list. I kept it wrapped in its lovely shrink-wrapped perfection until yesterday when I finally opened it, stripping away the bright green paper wrap. I put the notebook back down on the counter—still nervous about opening it.

For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted one of these notebooks… surely since the first time I saw one. They’re beautiful. The classic black cover is soft to the touch, the pages smooth. An elastic band keeps the journal closed, a narrow silk bookmark is attached within. On the bottom of the back cover, Moleskine is engraved.

I’ve watched for years as my son filled up Moleskine after Moleskine. (He got another one this Christmas, too.) But me? I have to admit I have trepidations to start even one. You see, I’m a failure as a keeper of journals.

Inside the front cover, on the facing page, is printed In case of loss, please return to, followed by four lines, then As a reward $: A reward? For something I’d written?

Most of my failed journal attempts are on a shelf next to my desk. Nothing as beautiful as the Moleskine graces these: a handful of spiral notebooks of various sizes, a few old lab notebooks, two or three less beautiful bound books—each one abandoned, each one with a painful jagged edge where I tore out the first few pages.

I’m afraid to start the Moleskine, that it will end up with the others. As long as I don’t start writing in it, I can save it from the shelf. But why? Where is this fear coming from? When I was younger—much younger: in middle school, high school, even the first years of college, I kept a journal. But something made me stop. It wasn’t that I stopped writing—I write much more than I ever did in those days. But I wanted to stop writing anything too personal.

Doesn’t that sound crazy as a writer? Somehow writing something so personal that only I would read, see, is slightly terrifying to me. When I wrote nonfiction (particularly technical writing), I never had one bit of myself on the page—never an acknowledgement or even authorship. Just one time, in just one computer guide, I used my name in an example—in the hundreds of thousands of pages of writing I did. That was as personal as it got.

And now, as I write fiction, I hide behind the mantle of my characters. Maggie True, Annie Byrne, Ellen Langton. Those women, each of them also a writer, two write in journals, one even has a Moleskine. They are free to write about their feelings, their innermost fears and dreams.

But me?

No. Right now I don’t know if I’m ready to bare my soul, to live up to the Legendary notebook, the coveted Moleskine. And so for now the Moleskine will remain unopened on the kitchen counter.

What about you? Do you keep a journal? A Moleskine? Are you ever afraid of baring your soul, of getting toopersonal?




  1. Jillian says:

    Julia, I’ve kept journals for years, and I found that if the journal itself is too fancy or fine, I’ll want to write in it less because I have a strange fear of messing up an already outstanding work of art.

    My most recent journal was one I’d tried to set aside for writing poetry. I’d written a title on the cover and anything but only a few poems were ever written in it. I improvised, glued a few things to the cover and decided to turn it into a new, experimental thing.

    For me, the journal is a sort of palette for raw and unperfected thoughts – so it’s messy inside, but I try to find the beauty in that mess. I wish you well with your moleskine!

    • That’s such a good point, Jillian — and I think you’re right. Maybe if it weren’t so fancy or fine, I’d feel less self conscious writing in it! I like your approach having the journal as a palette for raw and unperfected thoughts… it’s definitely a goal for me to reach for! Thank you for understanding and for your comment!

  2. Erika Marks says:

    I love this post, Julia–and your admission about journal-keeping. I went through a stage of keeping journals and blogged about my decision to toss some of them recently (because I frankly was never going to revisit them and worried about my children being confused about the personal nature of some of the entries. Well–ALL of the entries, I suppose–they are journals, after all;))

    Now the one journal I keep is our family bird journal (which is more like a nature journal) and I treasure its pages and love to revisit those entries. 🙂

    • I remember that post! Your comment really rings true about worrying your children might find the journals (does that ever change, maybe not for some of us…) — and it’s a little similar to why I don’t write memoir, I think. I love that you keep a bird journal for your family. It reminds me of the field notebook I had to keep in my college level ornithology class. It brings back wonderful memories!

  3. Julie Luek says:

    I used to be an avid journal keeper, filled with all the angst of my heart and soul. I threw most of those out. I was too afraid someone would find them, read them, and be hurt by them, honestly. I have kept a Ten Year Journal (can find them at Amazon) for five years now– basically on one page it has the listing for say, Jan 07 for ten years. It provides about four lines– enough to jot notes about the day– and then you can see what has happened, on that day, for the last ten years. I like that and keep up with that well enough.

    A great book I read, “The Journal Keeper” by Phyllis Theroux inspired me to try journaling again. She offered her memoir as told in her journals and in in her epilogue also offered tips for writing in a journal, especially as a writer. Her tips encouraged me to journal again, without all the angst and gut-spilling that, yes, may come back to haunt me or others sometime.

    Every year, when the beginning-of-school supplies are out, I stock up obsessively on composition books, although oooo, those moleskin kind are yummy.

    • LIke you and Erika, I know so many writers who have discarded old journals for the same reasons (mine are also long gone). I really like the idea of a ten year journal — that sounds really cool. What a wonderful idea! The journaling book you refer to sounds just like the kind of journal I’d like to keep — as a writer without the ultra personal angst or gut spilling. And believe me, I’m with you on the obsessive stocking up of supplies…. LOVE those trips. We have a beautiful paper products store near us, and it’s dangerous to go in there!

  4. I never manage to stick with journaling because I don’t feel like I have anything interesting to write about. But when I started using my notebooks for fiction, I filled them up. They’re messy and my handwriting is terrible, so no one can read them but me, but they’re useful. I’ve always wanted a Moleskine… maybe this year. Happy writing!

    • That’s another reason I don’t keep it up, Shary! I feel the same way. If I don’t want to write ultra personal stuff, then is there really anything that interesting? I never thought of using it for fiction, maybe I should try that! Great idea!

  5. I completely understand this. I’ve kept journals before (I used to do the Julia Cameron morning pages), but with a couple of exceptions last year, I haven’t committed personal thoughts to paper for awhile. I’ve used Moleskines to write rough drafts of creative works, though.

    I think if you don’t feel ready for journaling, you’re doing the right thing by waiting for the feeling to strike.

    • Ah-ha, I’m onto something… first Shary and now you, using Moleskines for fiction writing. It never occurred to me — but I’m not sure why!? You are so right, Mahesh. If I don’t feel like I’m ready, then I should definitely wait! Thank you for your support and understanding!

  6. Ann says:

    I used to keep a journal and would go in spits and spurts. Moleskins are great, although that wasn’t what I used. I’ve not journaled (except for my food journal) in a decade or more. I say start it! I have my journal and wouldn’t hesitate to pick it up and write again if I was so inclined!

    • A food journal sounds AMAZING! Do you keep a journal of all you cook or just special things or things you eat? I still think there’s a cookbook author in you somewhere, my friend! You and I are paper and pen lovers, I remember that! Here’s to beautiful paper wherever it is!

    • Ann says:

      My food journal is what I made each week (the cookbook and page) and my (oddly enough) grocery list on the other page. Also, if I’m doing a small party, I have the table scape, time table…that sort of thing!

    • I think your food journal sounds very cool — what a great way to keep track of what you’ve cooked, shopped for, served for dinner parties, etc. I keep a similar book for the holidays, and I only get it out once a year: predictably, at the holidays! And I write a journal entry every year. I’ve been doing it for about 25 years, and it’s cool to look back! I wish I’d kept a food journal… maybe I’ll start one!

  7. It’s lovely, Julia. Don’t be afraid of it, just do not let anyone else read it. 😉

    I keep a journal sporadically. I have noticed that I write more in it when I am really angry or when I need to get something off of my chest. If anyone ever gets a peak, he or she is bound to think I am the most unhappy person in Chicagoland!

    • haha, I know exactly what you mean about the “when I am really angry” writing. I think that may account for those jagged torn out pages. And I think that’s what I was driving at here, Karen, that sometimes the intensity of the emotion in that angry writing has really kind of terrified me. I don’t really want that out there — even if I don’t plan to let someone read it, you just never know! If you’re the most unhappy person in Chicagoland, then I’m the most unhappy person in Maine 🙂

  8. I can totally relate to this post, Julia. Writing through our characters feels much safer than writing personal stuff in a journal where someone might someday read it. I have several journals from my younger days, and I’d be mortified if anyone read them. So why still keep them? Well, they remind me of how far I’ve come. It’s fun, sometimes, to read them, and remember that silly girl. But, my daughter has strict orders to burn them if anything happens to me!

    Journaling takes a lot of time. Do you have time for that kind of writing? With all the other writing you do? I think that’s really what keeps me from doing it now. The thought to begin a new journal crossed my mind recently when someone gave me a beautiful one similar to yours, but the time just isn’t there, even if the idea is.

    • Ah-ha! You hit another reason on the head, Cynthia — lack of time. It really does take a lot of time, especially if I do it as more than just a way to get things off my chest. Those feelings really do feel much safer when channeled through a fiction character. You are lucky you have someone to count on to destroy your journals (if/when the time comes). I often think about that with much of my writing…. perhaps that’s another blog! Thank you for understanding, Cynthia!

  9. amber says:

    I kept a journal as a teen.

    And then my mom “found” it. (Ahem. It was hidden under the mattress.)

    From that day forward, I didn’t like the idea of writing anything too personal. If it’s something I wouldn’t want to share with anyone but myself, then it never sees a page.

    But some days I am tempted to start again. Hmmm…you’ve got me thinking 🙂

    • That’s great I’ve given you something to think about, Amber!! Let me know how it goes!I (P.S. My mom did the same thing to me when I was a teen. I think it’s why when both my kids kept/keep journals, I’ve never read one or even been tempted… we talked about it, in fact, and I said I would never think about it unless I was seriously concerned about their well-being.)

      Keep me posted on your journal decision!

  10. Christy says:

    🙂 I have a bunch of half-filled journals too. I finally gave myself permission NOT to be a journal-keeper.

    Now I keep an idea notebook instead. Every year at back-to-school time I pick up a couple of composition notebooks (cute is allowed). I use them to record ideas, write down things I don’t want to forget, write first drafts, draw storyboards, take notes on books I’ve read, plan, and occasionally even share something personal. They make me happy; they are a record of my growth as a writer; they harbor the occasional old idea “nugget” that I’d forgotten about.

    In other words, they work for me. 🙂 In the end I think this writing life is about finding what works for you as a person and an artist. 🙂

    • I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one, Christy! That’s a great idea for an idea notebook — I have my ideas in different notebooks all over the house, so maybe I should consolidate them somewhere (like the Moleskine!). As you say, I need to find what works for me! Thank YOU for giving me the permission! 🙂

  11. I haven’t kept a journal in years, but continue jotting down memories I don’t want to forget. Reading this post makes me want to begin again and makes me ponder if the reason I don’t keep a journal is because I have become too preoccupied for writing for the public instead of just writing for myself…hmmmm. Something to think about, anyway. 🙂

    • That’s another reason that’s been lurking in the back of my mind, Jolina — the feeling that I’ve become too preoccupied and self-aware with my writing…through freelance, fiction, and blogging. It definitely feels weird at times to write “just for myself.” I’m glad you brought that up, and keep me posted on what you decide! Glad I gave you something to think about! 🙂

  12. Barb Riley says:

    I journaled from 8th grade through senior year of h.s. and then again in my early 20’s. I still have all of my spirals, and I can’t bear to part with them, even though much of my writing is angsty-girl-in-and-out-of love. Ugh. That said, I’m glad I kept them b/c my daughter is now a teenager, and just when I get on my high horse and think “I never did/thought THAT”… well… all it takes is a quick re-read, and I realize I wasn’t that much different from her. They keep me humble.

    I also kept a journal for 3 years when I turned 40, mainly for all of my bazillions of questions and struggles with my faith as I read through the Bible. For those I used a 1 inch binder with tab dividers (I know! I’m a little OCD, but you are my people; you understand any reason for office supplies and we writers will use it.) I wrote those journals with my kids in mind, planning that they might one day (as adults) have questions about God too, and so, they can look through my journals and see what my inner conflicts and hopes were.

    As for the moleskine (how do you pronounce that, btw?) … I’ve never used one as a journal but I love the suggestion of using it for fiction!

    • Barb! That is such a good idea to re-read your journals to keep you humble… you’re such a good mom! I also wish I’d kept mine so that I could see what I really felt like when I was 20 and so I could write more accurately (I like to think I can remember but I know I really can’t, especially when I talk to my 21-year-old daughter!). You are not OCD! Just very organized! I love that in a friend 🙂

      As for how to pronounce, Moleskine, I’m so glad you asked that because it made me look it up (believe it or not until I wrote this blog I thought it was spelled MOLE SKIN. Oh dear, what an admission; I almost wrote about that very thing in the post but it wasn’t the direction I went in :). Anyway, there’s a WHOLE MOVIE showing how to pronounce it (apparently it depends on where you live, what language you speak!).

  13. I kept a journal from the time I was 9 through the end of high school (during that period I wrote nearly every day) and less throughout college and beyond, though I do still write in one. I think what changed is that as a child I loved writing and did it as a hobby. By the time I got to college and realized how much I loved it, much of my time was spent on the craft of writing, and less on writing my own personal thoughts. The same goes for after I graduated and started working. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing; it’s just a reflection of how we evolve as people. Maybe as a teenager I felt the need to deal with questions and feelings I had on the page, whereas now I have E’s daily companionship to rely on.

    All that being said, I’m so grateful to have that window to my earlier years. And I do still journal, and sometimes force myself to jot down more personal entries about what I’m feeling and thinking on big days that I know I’ll always want to look back on, like the day my husband proposed. But for the most part, I journal story ideas, images, and scenes that I’m struggling with. And the messier the moleskin, the better! You should try it for a page or two, you might be surprised what comes out!

    • “Maybe as a teenager I felt the need to deal with questions and feelings I had on the page, whereas now I have E’s daily companionship to rely on.” This comment really rang true to me, Natalia — and I’m certain it’s a big part of the reason writing a journal isn’t as important to me anymore. Between having MEH to talk things through with and my writing being a passion but also a job — I’m wondering what’s left to write about…

      Still, as you say you recorded the day your husband proposed, and I do keep track of holiday tradtions in one journal and I also have baby books and memory books and I wish I’d kept my old journals because now I can see the value of being able to look back…

      I may well take your advice and use the moleskine to sketch out story ideas, images and scenes. It’s a great idea that’s emerging from comments!

  14. I’ve never been a good journaler, because I think I still wrote for an audience (hoping — the wishful optimist in me that I would someday be an author? — that someone would read what I had to say and find it had merit). That’s not the POINT of journaling, so I’d say I failed miserably. As others have commented, I have had my on-and-off periods with journals. In fact, I just found and re-read some of them a few months back. I guess in my 20s, I thought I was in love with every man I met ;-). Pretty entertaining to read now.

    Can’t wait to hear what you do with that Moleskine.

    • Thank goodness someone else mentioned failure as a word connected with keeping a journal, Melissa! I think the aspect of “writing for an audience” is even more of an issue for me — the performative aspect of social networking has seeped into everything I do, I’m afraid. And maybe that’s one of my hesitations… if I am too forthcoming, and someone ever reads the journal, then my deepest darkest feelings are revealed.

      Maybe the solution is as others have recommended… that I use the Moleskine as more of an incubation of ideas…

      p.s. your reason for tossing your journals was one of the reasons I disposed of my old journals… I can relate to your description of being in love with every man you met 😉

  15. Lisa Ahn says:

    I bought a journal in Maine this summer, and I use it sporadically, but not in a normal “journal” way. I realized a few years ago that I’d rather spend my limited writing time on fiction and essays, that I get sick of my own too-personal voice quickly, and that I didn’t want my kids to ever read my angsty stuff. I got rid of all the old journals for that reason too.

    The new one is more like an old-fashioned commonplace book, a collection of quotations, ideas, pictures, images. Poets and writers used to use them as “extra memory” (that comes from Swift, though he says it better). I love the freedom of the commonplace book. I’m not writing about myself. I don’t have to write anything in particular. If I really love a quotation, or I come up with a story idea, or I want to practice my ludicrous drawing skills, there are blank pages waiting. It’s a no-rules kind of thing. That’s what I would do with a Moleskin 🙂 Good luck!!

    • I can really relate to everything you say, Lisa! And I hadn’t heard of the old-fashioned commonplace book, but I like it… I can always use “extra memory” or even initial memory 🙂 Thank you for your ideas, I love them! (p.s. I love that you bought your journal in Maine, we’re kind of twinsies that way 🙂

  16. Nina says:

    A thousand times yes to this: “Somehow writing something so personal that only I would read, see, is slightly terrifying to me.” That’s it right there. The truth. For me, too.

    • There’s something about the everyday writing that makes me so self-aware. WIsh it weren’t so, but glad you can relate to the terror… makes me feel better knowing I’m not the only one!

  17. Julia Hones says:

    Yes, I’ve been afraid of getting too personal when writing a journal. However, I started a journal recently with my four-year-old daughter. It is fun! But I do keep a note-pad where I hand-write all the thoughts, ideas and ramblings that find a way in my short stories.

    • I love the idea of keeping a journal with your daughter — my daughter is in college, and I’d love to look back on that together. We recently found some writing that she and her brother did in the car on a long trip and they loved finding it and were in absolute hysterics reading it together. Writing together is such a fun way to remind us of things we’ve done together! Maybe the Moleskine could be like your note-pad!

  18. I’ve stopped journaling too, sometime shortly after or during college. Honestly, the turning point for me was reading one my old journals. It was so embarrassing to me, even though I was the only one to see it. I find that even one year after writing something that personal, I’ve changed so much as a person that I don’t want to relive those feelings – I don’t even want to remember them, sometimes. So the thought of someone else finding them is terrifying. And we have to acknowledge that that’s a risk. If we create something physical, someone else can find it (even if only once we die, etc.). The only reason I haven’t disposed of my old journals is for the vague thought that someday I might *want* to remember those feelings if I have a daughter of my own going through similar things. But I don’t journal anymore, and I don’t really plan to. Thankfully, I don’t really miss it.

    PS- I do use beautiful journals like that as “idea notebooks” for my writing. I use them to brainstorm, plot, work out problems, set goals, etc., and I love doing that.

    • I had the same experience with one of mine, Annie — I’m wondering if it’s something we outgrow like teenage/young adult angst? Unlike you I threw mine away (as I said in another comment I wish I’d kept them…under lock and key, of course…). There’s always the danger of someone finding anything we create or write down, isn’t there? But like you, I may use the Moleskine for brainstorming. Such a good idea that several writers have suggested!

  19. E.J. Wesley says:

    I would love to journal, but like you I’m afraid I’d suck at it. lol I do have a notebook I use to write story ideas, etc. in, and I should probably evolve into something official and give daily journaling a go. I think you might’ve inspired me JMM! 😀

    They do feel lovely, don’t they? I’ve noticed when I go to Barnes & Noble I tend to gravitate to that section and touch them. lol

    • I’m glad I inspired you, EJW 🙂 I’m so surprised… you’ve never kept a daily journal?! I can’t imagine you’d suck at it! Your blog posts are so entertaining and lively! Let me know if you take the plunge and if you go for the Moleskine! As for the idea notebook… it seems to be a popular writer tool. I do keep an individual notebook for each WIP but not an overarching idea notebook. After all the good comments on this post, I am leaning toward using my Moleskine for that and forgoing my piles of post-its I’ve been keeping story ideas on 🙂

  20. It’s funny. I should have known I was a writer because for years I have written in spiral notebooks. Half journal/half prayer/half therapy. Okay. That’s too many halves isn’t it? I bet if you just commit to putting something down each day, even if it is something silly, the emotions would start to flow. I want to read about your childhood travels. Did you journal that? I think it would be a fabulous memoir.

    • I think you’re right, Jamie, that if I commit things to paper (personal things) then it will get easier with time and maybe I’ll start to enjoy it…. I’ll take your advice to heart! I long ago lost or got rid of my journal from my childhood travels — I really wish I’d kept it, no matter how embarrassing I thought it was. Thank you for your vote of confidence and your support!

  21. You know, it’s funny. I do keep a journal but I only write in it when I remember I have it but what I write is more or less stupid. I feel like I’m twelve again as I write a report of my day, more or less. Once in a while, I write some scathing scratch because I’m so pissed I could scream which makes me feel better. I’m usually safe from anyone reading it because it is barely legible.

    One thing I’ve done to get to know my book’s main character better is write a journal from her perspective. It’s pretty fun and amazing what I find out about her. 😉

    Maybe you could use it in the same way and then you might be inspired to write one for you.

    • Oh Hallie, you can always make me laugh… this time with this: “I feel like I’m twelve again as I write a report of my day, more or less. Once in a while, I write some scathing scratch because I’m so pissed I could scream which makes me feel better. I’m usually safe from anyone reading it because it is barely legible.” This is EXACTLY like me! EXCEPT my handwriting is often legible which is what kind of scares me 🙂 I love that you wrote a journal from your MC’s perspective, what a great idea. For my first women’s fiction WIP, there was a discovered journal that I wrote (all at once) from an elderly woman’s POV and my current YA WIP has two journals in it! I never made the connection, believe it or not, and it never occurred to me to write one on a daily basis from a character’s POV… thanks for the great idea AND the laugh 😀

  22. Julie Kibler says:

    I, too, am a failed journal-ist. 🙂 I wrote them as a kid and teen, then something got scary. I find it much more frightening to write just for ME than to write for the world. You’ve described it here perfectly. (By the way, I also have a MEH in my life!)

    • Nice to meet another failed journal-ist, Julie, and another writer with a MEH 🙂 I’m glad this struck a chord with you. Thank you so much for your comment but especially your visit to my blog!

  23. Nancy Kelley says:

    I journal almost daily, with highly personal content. (As in, no one better open those without my permission.) For me, it’s a way to organize my thoughts and emotions without subjecting the world to them. Writing is my preferred method of communication anyway, so it works exceptionally well.

    • I’m so glad to have a true journal writer among commenters, Nancy — and I thank you for your perspective. I know what you mean about needing a (private) way to explore and organize thoughts and emotions, and I wonder if that would work for me? Maybe I need to practice first in a non-Moleskine way…