Journaling with No Journal (Temporarily)

At times, we find ourselves with no journal or notebook but with a thought that must be jotted down. Here are a few ways to keep the thought until you return to your beloved personal book.

Alternatives to the Journal

If you board a plane and have no journal with you, jot notes on your boarding pass (if you have a paper one) or a paper napkin that comes with your beverage.

Yours truly is known for using paper towels from the public restroom to jot down a note or two in an emergency.

Programs at events have often been a go-to note-taking space. I deliberately leave my journal at home for the opera or a play. I don’t want to drag a journal around to such an event. But I do allow myself a pen, and jot notes in the margin to transpose to a journal later.

It is not true that President Lincoln scribbled the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope, but that’s not a terrible alternative in a pinch. How many times has one retrieved mail from the post office, had a thought, and scribbled it on the back of an envelope from Aunt May?

Alternatives to the Pen

  • Sometimes you keep a pouch full of writing implements, but you reach in and the only ones left are bright yellow highlighters. I have jotted down notes with a highlighter and later have drawn over the notes with an ink pen for increased visibility.
  • I would not like to ruin an eyebrow pencil, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make if there are no other writing implements around.
  • Step into a post office or bank to use their pens which are chained to their tables. Librarians are also generous with their pens.
  • Quills were once well used as writing implements, feathers whose tips were hardened through various processes to provide a point with which to guide ink on a page. Let’s say you are in the woods camping with your journal, but no pen. You have found a feather on the ground. It is not processed for writing. Yet, have I dipped such a thing into coffee and tried to write with it? Yes. Is it ideal? No. But if you have to…think of it as water coloring and the frustration subsides a little.
  • Use the voice recorder on your phone for memos to kick-start your memory when you journal later.


  • Consider leaving palm-size spiral-bound notebooks and tiny golf pencils lodged in the spirals in various places – your coat pocket, your car’s console, the guest room at your friend’s house that you frequent, etc.
  • Take a journal with you when you leave the house. I make sure my daily totes are large enough for the task.

Ultimately, finding alternatives to pens or pencils is much harder than finding surfaces on which to write. Invest in lots of writing implements and strew them about in the spaces that you frequent. That’s the biggest takeaway today.



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