Reclaiming the Victorian Art of Journaling (with a Modern Twist)


One of the many lost arts from the Victorian age is the art of journaling.

I’ve always had a soft spot for this introspective practice; in fact, I started my first journal at six. I wish I could say I had an unbroken record of my perspective on life from then until now. Though I do have a box full of journals from my childhood and teenage years, I’m sad to say most of them are only half-full.

Consistency was hard to cultivate. I never did master it, and as a young adult, I decided I had better things to do than try to keep up the record. Thankfully, the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized that this practice isn’t a “time filler” or a “lifestyle ledger” but a vital exercise for personal growth . . .

If only it didn’t take so much time.


After all, that’s the rub, isn’t it? Our forbearers may have done more manual labor, but overall their lives ran at a slower pace. (At least, I’d like to think so.) Which explains why they had time to write about the progress of their crops, their children’s educational attainments, grandpa’s gout flare-ups and even their own musings on the meaning of life.

I just don’t have this kind of time, and I’m guessing you don’t either. Thankfully, though, I recently had an idea for how to speed up this old-fashioned practice to match the pace of my modern life. And, in the process, scratch my growing itch for artistic expression.

Enter sketchnote journaling.


Sketchnoting is all about simplicity. With just a two-page spread in a blank notebook, I choose a theme (usually a topic I’ve been mulling over). I write a few paragraphs on the topic on one side of the notebook, then draw out a sentence or two that encapsulates my whole perspective, on the other.

The result? A running record of the ideas that catch my interest and the parts of my life that pertain to them. Plus, I get a beautiful little “thought visual” that’s catchy for my brain to remember.

Most of these exercises take no more than ten minutes out of my day. Often, five or less.


I was first exposed to sketchnotes through Mike Rhode, one of the first to turn his half-drawn, half-written doodles into an actual style of capturing information. In the early days, Mike took a Moleskine and a Flair pen to conferences, jotting down the speakers’ most compelling points with images, graphs and other visual aids to tell the story. He sent the resulting pages to the speakers afterward as a thank-you.

Several illustration deals, two Sketchnote how-to books, multiple book tours and a national movement later, Mike is the foremost authority on sketchnoting and an inspiration to an entire community of writer-artists.

He’s even designed commercial typefaces off his own hand-drawn sketchnote letters. If you’ve read books like Re-Work, too, you’ve seen his style on almost every page.


Sketchnoting offers the perfect method for modern journaling, since it’s essentially a “note-taking” form (ie: short thoughts, not long narratives), heavily visual, and focused on a particular topic or idea.

Whereas before I used to dread the “daily recording” of what happened in my life, I now can’t wait to get back to my notebook and capture the ideas I’ve been thinking about. I’ve noticed that my observations about these ideas often say more about where I’m at in life than any traditional journal entry would have.

In years to come, I hope these little doodles will be a fun, insightful, and much more consistent record of my life.

At the very least I’m finally developing some consistency—and truly having fun—with this daily practice.

I’d like to think my Victorian forbearers would be proud.


Your turn!

I challenge you to give this fun journaling method a try for a week or two and see if you don’t fall in love with it. At the very least, I bet you’ll find new things to blog about, new prompts for writing, and maybe even some design inspiration based on the doodles that begin to populate your notebook.

Have you ever tried sketchnoting or other kinds of visual journaling? Please share your own results below!

What do you think?

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