And the Secret Word Is…

Posted by RichD | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 29-06-2009


I am in the process of rethinking the posting schedule for Practical Journal Keeping.  I am gonna add more stuff.  More posts during the week and more information coming at all times.  Unfortunately all the planning for the new stuff  ate up my weekend for getting the regular stuff ready for the post today. (By the way, if the Google spiders are looking for the word “stuff” I should hit the number one spot, right?)
The tentative plan starting next week is a normal, informative journal technique or hack on Mondays, then a book or journal review on Wednesdays, and finally a link fest on Fridays (where I will spotlight some of the other great journal related sites on the web.

Now for something at least a bit informative and journal related:

The Pig Pen Cipher, Masonic Cipher, or Templars Code.  A classic.

The Pig Pen Cipher, Masonic Cipher, or Templars Code. A classic.

Care to guess what these people have in common?

Beatrix Potter, writer of children’s stories
Charles Wesley, founder of the Methodist church
William Byrd II, colonial writer, patriarch, planter, and leader
Leonardo Da Vinci, inventor/artist
Samuel Pepys, 17th century man-about-town

Well, yes, the easy answer is that they all kept journals.  More to the point of this post, however, they were all famous for keeping their respective journals in code.  Many of them weren’t deciphered until long years after they died.

Does this sound familiar?  “I can’t keep a journal, what if someone finds it”? So…put the juicy bits in code.

I’ve found that keeping your entire journal in code can be a bit cumbersome.  I am all about keeping your journaling as practical and useful as possible. Sometimes, however, you just can’t risk it.  It’s just as effective to encode a name or a place or (certainly) a Christmas list.

I became interested in codes and secret writing at a very early age.  At one time I had an entire journal dedicated to collecting secret writing systems.  If I found a coded message in a mystery novel I would jot the key down in the book.  I had codes from The Shadow and the Dancing Men from Sherlock Holmes.  I transcribed the fictional alphabets of Tolkien, and Krypton, and the Disney movie, Atlantis.  I copied the rune systems of the Celts, the Vikings and the Dwarves of Middle earth. I was well suited to keep any secret I needed to.

Codes need not be so very complicated.  Leonardo simply wrote backwards. A very useful code, that is easy to remember and yet will foil the casual observer might go something like this:

an ythin gyo umigh td ot ofoo lth eey ecoul dthro wof f acasua lsnoo p.

I’ll leave it up to you to decode this message.

I had my trusty book of collected codes to draw from at any time.  You don’t need one.  You can, of course, use a bit of personal creativity to hide your secrets, or, if you are like me and interested in the methods of the rest of the world, there are many websites dedicated to codes and ciphers.

The site I check out constantly is basically an online version of my old codebook.  It’s called is a fantastic collection of writing systems from around the world, throughout history and literature and even from the imaginations of people out there today.  Admittedly some of the writing systems are a bit complex (one I’ve seen recently actually has animated, spinning letters), but there are plenty that can serve as a code for your journal or at least as a jumping off point for creating your own.

Picking a Journaling Tool For You

Posted by RichD | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 22-06-2009


You have got to admit.  We live in a pretty amazing time.  In the past, if you wanted to keep a journal you were pretty much stuck using a book and a pen.  I am the first to jump to the defense of such a classic style of journaling, but today there are SO MANY OPTIONS!  Yes, there will always be a place for the book and pen.  There is nothing as fool-proof, accessible, tactile, and just plain cool as a favorite paper based journal.  But check out this article on Lifehacker.

I love all of the mentioned options and techniques.  I use, or have at least tried most of them. As a guy that’s easily distracted by the next guys journaling tools I have come up with a couple of guide lines for keeping the journal practical while playing around with different tools.

Firstly:  One journal to rule them all! pick one technique and use it consistently.  For me its my book and pen. Its always with me.  I jot in it all the time.  If I want to use the computer to write up an essay on a subject, that’s cool.  If I want to use a voice recorder or Jott or start a new blog, that’s all well in good.  I think of all the new and exciting techniques as supplemental to the paper journal.  Your number one journal may not be your book and pen, but what ever it is, don’t abandon it for another technique.

And the second guideline:  Reference, reference, reference! If you were to flip through one of my journals you will see innumerable URLs, file locations, and qv.’s of all sorts.  This is so that I can locate information that may be stored in another format.  I am constantly referencing my Evernote account.  Evernote is a great way to get notes, quotes and photos on the fly, or to even store entire Internet articles.  Instead of reproducing it for the paper journal I will just give a brief description of the content and then put the letters EN in a circle.  That tells me to look for the info in my Evernote file.

Using Your Journal to Access Your Genius.

Posted by RichD | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 15-06-2009


One of the most productive uses for a journal is to just sit down to figure things out.  When things stick in your mind or there is a decision to make or a problem to solve, your journal can be the perfect place to get it all sorted out before you make a move.  Using your journal for something as simple as a sounding board for you ideas can take you a long way toward refining them.

I discovered a book a few years ago that addresses this very subject.  Its called Accidental GENIUS; Revolutionize Your Thinking Through Private Writing (Mark Levy).  It’s a short but powerful book that takes you through several techniques of uncovering your own genius, creativity and problem solving skills.  These techniques include fast, nonstop timed freewriting, having conversations with the page and finding (or not finding) evidence to support ideas.

The book is short and to the point.  Reading it is a small investment in time that can lead to BIG changes in the way you approach your thought processes.

I find it usefull to use some of these techniques with a two-page-spread that I’ve discussed earlier.

Kids Reading and Keeping Diaries

Posted by RichD | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 08-06-2009


When I was young I didn’t keep a journal, I was a spy!  I read Harriet the Spy and was instantly copying her notebook antics.  She kept a notebook, I kept a notebook.


Recently there have been more books written in the diary form and my niece is all over them.  She is 9-years old, and though I haven’t been able to persuade her to start a journal of her own, she LOVES reading other peoples diaries.  More precisely she likes to read novels written in a diary format.

Here are three of her favorites:

Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw

All diaries with accompanying cartoons.

Dear Dumb Diary (the entire series) by Jim Benton
The Diaries of Jamie Kelly in Mackerel Middle School.  She starts her diary  because her class is doing a unit on journal-writing.  I guess she like is because I am counting at least eight books in the series

The Diary of Melanie Martin: or How I Survived Matt the Brat, Michelangelo, and the Leaning Tower of Pizza

A couple of amazing journal/novels we are reading are:


The fantastic thing about these books (and others in the series’) is that they are totally interactive.  All the phone numbers work and the web addresses actually have clues and information in the story useful for solving the mysteries.

Unfortunately she is not interested in any of the non fictional diaries yet.  No Anne Frank or Zlata, and strangely she is not at all interested in the Princess Diaries.

And I have to say there is an impressive number of diaries out there for your young ones to actually write in.  A lot of them come with prompts on the pages and a fill-in-the-blank motif but some are the traditional blank books with tiny locks with popular characters on them.  Here are a couple of the more creative diaries I’ve seen.

The Two-Page Spread.

Posted by RichD | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 01-06-2009


I have to admit I get interested in a lot of things.  Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason to what I am suddenly interested in.  I might start out the day with a slight interest in soap carving and suddenly around lunchtime I am introduced and obsessed with the Tung shing (Chinese almanacs).  I am only partly responsible for this.  Yeah I am easily distracted but the Internet is MADE to take me from one subject to another.  What’s a guy to do?

Well I take a page (figuratively and literally) from Barbara Sher’s book, Refuse to Choose.  Barbra identifies with so many of us that go through a half a dozen interests a day.  She has coined the term “scanner” for us.  She realizes that for most of these ideas and interests we don’t necessarily want to get a Ph.D. in the subject but feel the need to at least explore it for an indefinite amount of time.  She suggests the use of a journal that she calls a daybook to record these ideas for later and to explore them for as long as we feel compelled to.

The main tool I’ve adopted from this concept is her use of a two-page spread in the daybook.  Basically what it amounts to is opening your journal (this works great with larger format books) and using two facing pages to record everything regarding the subject you are pursuing.  Anytime you are researching this subject, you turn back to this spread and just add to it.  Soon you have a spread that is very dense with lists, names, websites, drawings, mind maps and thoughts.  It’s all neatly contained on the two-page spread for later reference if needed so you don’t have to cull the information from various pages scattered throughout the book.  If you need more than a two page spread, make another.  I generally use the next spreads to explore a detail from the first spread.

A quick 2-page spread planning a hiking trip to Moab this year.

A quick 2-page spread planning a hiking trip to Moab this year.

Uses I’ve found for a two-page spread:

Taking a trip to a new city?  Do some research on what you might like to do there.

Buying a camera? List your pros and cons, wish lists and price lists and even glue in some pictures from the web.

A day at the beach? Sketch some shells and then later you can identify them.

Reading a good book?  Keep notes on the mystery or info from the biography.

Joined a new club?  List new friends names, meeting times, buzzwords etc.