Posted on Apr 10, 2013 | 7 comments

Photo Credit - Paul Simpson

Photo Credit – Paul Simpson

Are you a level 5 digital journaler? Find out for free now!

Let me be clear, this post isn’t necessarily for regular Easy Journaling readers. You understand the basics and many of you are consistently leveling up what you do with your digital journaling abilities.

No, I’m talking to everyone else. Not just everyone who comes to this site but everyone who has downloaded a journal or diary app.

Scratch that.

This is a letter to the entire world of anyone who has even thought about downloading a journal or diary app for their smartphone or tablet.


As fast as the EJ community and movement is growing, it is still just a drop in the bucket in comparison to this world I am describing. Thousands and thousands of people download these apps every day and millions and millions have used one. This is a huge group and one that frustrates me consistently.

Alright, so how are so many people using simple apps so wrong? First of all, keeping a personal journal can be a life changing event and simply diving into it without furthering your education isn’t the best path to success. Especially with digital journaling where for every benefit there is a risk and potential heartache.

The second sin that nearly everyone commits is that they give their complete and utter trust to a developer that they know nothing about. These individuals or companies do not have a vested interest in your journaling data! You made a one time purchase for a few dollars (or less). The only thing they care about is making your happy enough to either leave a positive review or not leave a negative review.

That’s it!

Alright, to be fair, there are some fantastic developers. I’ve personally met several of them and they do sincerely care about the users of their app. But not only are they the exception to the rule but there is no saying that they won’t move on to something else someday and leave their journal app project behind.

Let’s summarize.

Keeping a journal is a big deal, regardless of the reason that you personally want to do it. Educating yourself on the best practices of using a journal app will go a long way in changing it from a cute past time to a deep, personal and consistent practice that can change your life.

You must take control of your data. Don’t download an app that doesn’t have the ability to export in some sort of format (.pdf is my personal favorite but .txt, .html or .rft can work as well). Want to know what apps will export your entries? Well, we have built from scratch a tool that will do exactly that and more (for free) and pulls the suggestions from over 70 journal and diary apps from scratch.

If you have been journaling in an app that you think may be the wrong fit, that’s okay.


The good news is that you can change now and start journaling in a better app today. I highly encourage it!

The bad news is that you may have to individually copy and paste every entry of your old journal into your new one. I’ve been there before (ahem, more than once) and it was a pain in the fingertips. I’ve learned from those experiences, however, and won’t be going down that road again.

Help me share the word my friends. There are too many frustrated journalers out there and they need to hear this message.


  • John McDevitt

    Hi Sam,

    Plain text is a better choice than exporting as a pdf file. Pdf files are great for preserving / printing / reading but not for importing into new software. When you use plain text you simply open it in your editor of choice.

    I use org-mode (major Emacs mode) for my journal and most of my writing. Powerful outlining combined with a powerful plain text editor is a wonderful combination. I don’t use mobile devices but org-mobile syncs with the org on the desktop and works on apple and android devices.

    One of the beauties of org-mode is that with the press of a few keys I can generate a beautiful pdf document so I have the best of both worlds.

    I learned my “don’t store precious information in a proprietary format” many years ago in the late 1980s when I wrote my grandmother’s cookbook using WordStar on DOS. The files were stored on 5 1/4 inch floppies, a double whammy.

    I translated the files to MS Word Doc format but that was a temporary stopgap because the Word format is proprietary and subject to the whims of MS. So I made a plain text file for each chapter in the book and saved the files to the hard drive on the computer I had at the time. Then each time I bought a new computer, I made certain that I transferred those precious plain text files.

    Two years ago and more than 20 years after I published my grandmother’s cookbook, I was able to take those text files that were born on a DOS computer, transferred to multiple windows systems to produce a second, expanded edition of the book on a Linux system. All because I had the info in plain text. The final copy of the book is a pdf file.

    • Sam


      I will agree with your assessment of plain text export being better than pdf export with one rule: only as long as you know what you are doing. Journalers at your level will take control of their data regardless of what application I am using. I encourage pdf export for those just starting out.

      Plain text writing is an entirely different level of journaling that essentially has its own community. I hope to have more posts on this style of writing in the near future.

      • Trails

        Could you possibly elaborate on how “plain text writing” is entirely different? It seems to me that writingjournaling is a habit and skill developed over time and whether you use emacs, LDS, or any number of other tools, they are just that, tools. The tools you choose to use really has nothing to do with the actual skill or habit of journaling or the level of journaling anyone is at. I like this site because the tools we use are important and it saves precious time to get input without having to test them all ourself, however its important to remember that the practice itself is what is important. The GTD community turned off many people because for a time after it got big it started to become more about tools and nuances of technology rather than what made it important to begin with, actually getting things done and the peace of mind that comes with that. That all being said, it seems like John has elegantly laid out a workflow that accomplishes everything all of us, including you, value in our journaling system. Your response is confusing at best (why is pdf more preferable than text files to those just starting out?) and seems like a polite pat on the head, as if this toolset isn’t appropriate for your readers.

        • Sam

          Good points and good questions, Trails. When I used plain text writing in that context I was referring to how plain text is used by the hacker/programmer community. This gives a good overview of this

          There are a few other issues with plain text exporting. The first is that very few journals actually offer the ability to export .txt files. The other is that if you can manage to export via .txt then you will lose all of your pictures.

          This is why I recommend .pdf export over anything else. That said, if you know how to correctly use .txt and you either don’t care about pictures or set up your own picture export process, plain text can be a great exit strategy for your journal.

          • John McDevitt

            Hi Sam,

            I post a lot of photos on my blog. I use org-mode to write the post which includes a photo or photos. Each entry includes a link to the photo as stored on my computer, i.e. org-mode (actually emacs here) lets you link any kind of file including graphics to the plain text file where you are working. A click on that link opens a new window that shows the photo.

            The plain text file doesn’t contain the image but links to that image as stored on your computer. You won’t lose your pictures with plain text, the pictures are still on your Hard Drive.

            I like org-mode for it’s outlining and organizing features. I wrote a short story last year. There are 8 or 9 drafts of that story and all of them are included in the same org-mode file. Each draft got a new heading. Whenever I wanted to print out one of the drafts I could exclude all the headings but the one I was interested in.

            I also like org-mode because of the plain text argument. I can open any of my org-mode files in one of my text editors if I want because they can all read plain text. Saving your hard work in a proprietary format (like MS doc files — shudder — that change on MS whims and you never know when) is a real crap shoot. Even rtf files are a MS format. Using a database can be even worse. What do you do when the vendor goes out of business and you’re left with an orphan?

            I even use plain text for taking notes. The program I use in Windows is ResophNotes. You can either have RN save your notes in a single database or each note as a separate plain text file. I chose the latter approach.

            Just in case I want to do notes on Linux (I have a Windows 7 machine and a Linux desktop) I fire up deft in emacs. Since deft uses plain text I set it up to use the same directory as RN so I can use either program because they use the same plain text storage. And they both use the first line of the file as the file name (user preference). And you don’t need a dedicated database. Both of these programs have robust and fast search capability using plain text.

            I’m starting to ramble here. Using plain text puts you in charge. I love pdf and export to pdf all the time so I have another record and nicely formatted for reading on my computer, or in the case of shorted documents, printing out on paper. But — pdf files aren’t suitable for editing and it’s a real pain to copy and paste. It’s so much simpler to have all your important writing stored as plain text.

          • Andrea45

            I like this site because the tools we use are important and it saves precious time to get input without having to test them all ourself, however its important to remember that the practice itself is what is important and thanks for sharing your thoughts

          • Maria

            Well thanks for sharing some kind of idea guys ;)