Answer #4 (Part IV) Questionnaire for Long-Time Diarists: Barry


For years I have bought cheap blank books anywhere from 5 to 15 dollars. They are both lined and unlined. It doesn’t matter to me.

I have to admit that I require some sense of affinity with the book I take in hand. Either  because of its simplicity or occasionally for a nature theme on the cover or something embossed.

I have kept very long journals of three hundred or more pages but I like to fill a book with 150-200 pages and then put it on the shelf. I do this for two reasons. I like to see my writing on a shelf at home, and two, I get bored after a hundred pages and it begins to feel like homework. So when I can finish a diary and put it away I have a sense of accomplishment and time well spent. I have a number of pocket-sized notebooks like reporters used to carry. The ones with the brown covers. I mainly scribble poetry in them and field  notes or notes from the city, and then I put them away and never notice what I have written. My ideal journal is book sized rather than fat and squat. Nothing with locks or clasps please.


My wife has purchased a couple of expensive Italian leather diaries and I have bought myself very good journals in Nth Ireland and in Spain. But sadly an expensive journal doesn’t improve my writing a bit. I write just as well in a cheapo and feel closer to my own roots in doing so. My background is blue collar working class. I’m a common person with no elegance at all. My handwriting isn’t beautiful or artistic. I wish it were. One of the problems I have today is that many of the cheaper journals are now printed in China and the paper is too thin to handle the gel inks I usually write with. I don’t like ball points. The ink never seems to come out of them and I end up feeling as if I have chiseled my words in stone. I have to confess that most of my pages look sloppy. This isn’t on purpose but it is a result of trying to get things on page before I lose my trend of thought. I can be absent minded when I write and leave out some things I intend to say.


Actually pens are important to me. I have bought expensive ones that were worthless and cheap ones that were great. My wife buys me one of the beautiful Levenger pens every year and they sometimes confer dignity on my work when I don’t feel it in my life. So I write with them, but I also go to Walmart and buy a pack of gels just for a change. If you write a lot you know how easy it is to go through a pen in thirty pages of hard writing.


My early journals are all handwritten, but in the last ten years I have printed because my handwriting is awful and I couldn’t even read what I wrote. Print slows me down a bit but also makes me more deliberate in my writing. Do I print so that someone else may one day read me? Well, when you keep a diary that is always in the back of your mind. You want some ideal reader somewhere to pick it up and say, MY this guy was an interesting person or an honest person or intelligent or whatever. Yet I don’t put much faith in my journals outliving me. So print is a way of making clear to myself what I have to say. It irritates me when I can’t read words in a passage.


If possible I like to write in the morning when I wake up, but that isn’t often the case. I can write in school when my kids write or when I have a free period. This leads to many distractions both from teaching and writing, but I have to take the time where I find it. I hate writing at noon to 3. I don’t know why. I do enjoy writing after supper but that is only in the summer when I’m not teaching and my  mind is gentled and refreshed.


I write at a desk in my room or any flat surface I can find. I set up a table outside on the lawn and write there. I don’t write on my lap or on a train. This has proved to be a disaster. I like the room to be silent but I have written on a whim with a classroom filled with boys talking and laughing. I grew up in a big family and learned to filter out noise right in my midst.











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4 Responses to “Answer #4 (Part IV) Questionnaire for Long-Time Diarists: Barry”

  1. Preston Adams Says:

    Hi, I came across your blog today via google search. I’m a fellow journal-writer, and I’ve been writing daily since 2006. I’ve got 9 or 10 journals.

    I’ve got a question regarding this entry. You said you moved to “print” as opposed to handwriting. Do you mean you are typing now? Or are you printing as opposed to cursive?

    Also, I’m running into issues of where to store/preserve my leather journals. They are getting too large in quantity to squeeze into my fireproof safe, and I’d hate to lose them in a fire. I’m considering moving to composition books as they are thinner and can be stacked more easily. Of course, they look less artsy, but I know I’m quickly running into a space issue.

    I’m also running into a traceability issue. I read another one of your blog entries about titling each entry and keeping a card catalog or table of contents. I think that’s a good idea and I will probably incorporate that change in my next journal, which I’ll start in the next couple of months.

    I’m glad I came across your blog because I love journaling, and I felt I was the only person in the world who took did it as a serious hobby.

    I’ve handcrafted two leatherbound journals, and the rest are all store bought. I went with a gargantuan hard leather embossed $50 dollar beast back in 2012, and it took me two years to finish. Most store-bought leather bound journals take me 6-9 months to finish. Like you, I learned that the big ones are somewhat discouraging. Chapters of our lives seem to come in 6-12 month cycles. Two year cycles is too long, and they need to be divided.

    This has been a lot of rambling on my part, so I’ll summarize my questions for you:

    1.) Print. Are you printing or typing? If you are typing, how are you ending up with a physical journal?

    2.) How do you store your journals? Have you run into a logistics issue?

    3.) Would you recommend using composition notebooks?


    • Cynthia Manuel Says:

      This blog was written by a guest columnist – Barry Wallace. I am the author of most of the blogs on this site. I will answer your questions and then see if Barry might respond as well. I have now kept a journal for 50 years. I agree, buying expensive journal books doesn’t work well when you fill one up every 3-8 months. At the beginning, when I had no idea I would be continuing for so long, I bought small, cheap blank books. Now I prefer large books, with pages at least the size of typing paper. My handwriting is not so tiny anymore nor my thoughts so narrow as to be able to squeeze what I want to say in a small book. Small books are annoyingly difficult to open flat. Many art supply stores carry journals or sketch books which cost less than $15. I love writing a “book,” being able to see a finished and bound book on the shelves, but today I have switched to three ring binder notebooks, available at garage sales and thrift stores for 50 cents to a dollar each. I buy the highest quality paper I can find. I like the smoothness. Now I can add to my journal with a handwritten page, or a typed page printed off my computer. Best of all, I can easily add photos, clippings, or copy articles off the internet that I find interesting. I have given up the ego satisfaction of a finished-looking book for a multi-purpose notebook. An added benefit is that I can end each journal where I want to and move on to another. Also, I don’t have to carry the book with me. I can write a page elsewhere and bring it home.

      I would highly recommend the notebooks made by the company clairefontaine. (They are online.) Their paper is satin-smooth and even the paper-covered books are sewn in. Never buy anything “glued in” as the glue disintegrates with age and the whole thing comes apart. I do have composition books that are 44 years old and in great shape.

      I used to keep my journals in plastic storage boxes. Had six or seven boxes. At least that would protect them from water, bugs, dust. Recently I removed my journals from these boxes and placed them on the shelves in a room I am calling the National Diary Archive. To my astonishment I discovered they take up just three short shelves. The High Park Fire in the mountains near my home in Fort Collins, Colorado led me to understand that fire is a serious danger to an archive of any size. How many fire-proof safes can one have? I don’t know what to tell you there. When I saw the flames of that fire over the foothills I wondered if I could save my pets AND my journals.

      Archival materials can be found online. Just start searching. You must decide how much preservation is enough.

      Have I answered your questions?
      Cynthia Manuel


  2. Cynthia Manuel Says:

    Sorry, I have been unable to reach Barry Wallace. My email bounced back.


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