How Do I... Scrapbooking Basics

How Do I… Improving Handwritten Journaling

Written by Tamara

This post is for the perfectionist club out there… you know who you are.  Did you know there are a whole slew of people out in the world who refuse to write their journaling because they don’t like their handwriting??  What’s that?  You’re one of them?  How did I know that you ask?

Because it’s a very, very large group.

The Layout

There are a lot of different theories about journaling in scrapbooking.  It’s not as cut and dry as it used to be.  First, you have to decide if you want the layout to have journaling?  Is anything necessary beyond a title and date?  For some layouts, maybe not.  However, for the sake of prosperity, we assume that some day down the road someone will be leafing through your scrapbooks and wondering who the heck those people are.  For that circumstance, you probably want to include at least some journaling.  However, if you steadfastly refuse to journal and include only the bare minimum of information on your layouts, this is not your post.

Now, there are a small group of people who are perfectly OK with a laissez-faire journaling style.  You scribble on your layouts with abandon, somewhere between and ink drop and cluster of artfully disarranged embellishments.  You use single words to portray entire concepts.  You might start with small letters that get big, or big letters that get small.  You might even… gasp… allow mistakes on your layout to stay exactly the way they are.  This is not your post.


There are another group of wistful individuals who love to write, but refuse to include their own handwriting on their layouts because they hate, hate, hate their handwriting and are sure that it will ruin the layout.  Often they will resort to computer journaling, or leave big blank journaling blocks on their pages to be completed “someday”.  This is your post.

Handwriting is like everything else worth doing… it takes practice.  Specific practice, in a specific way.  A few years ago (and by a few I mean eight) I was fortunate enough to attend a Creating Keepsakes University.  I don’t know if you’ll remember these, but they were essentially giant scrapbook conventions built around a series of classes that participants could sign up for.  Shopping and cropping were huge.  They don’t really do this style of convention in as big a way anymore, but I mention it because during this convention I signed up for a 12×12 album class that focused on journaling.  I learned a lot in the class, and I wanted to share it with you.  However, as time has had it’s way with me, I can no longer remember the name of the woman who taught the class; I feel like it’s Carrie something or other, but I honestly can’t be sure.  In any case, these ideas are based on what I learned in her class, so if she should come across this post and want credit, I will happily credit her for her ideas.

The concept of the album was pretty much your life, as it is in the current moment, defined by ABC’s.  So, the pages all had the same block design, which was essentially a few small pictures and color blocks around a giant journaling block.  Gulp.  Yes, the whole center of every layout (26 of them!) was a giant journaling block.  Here’s a sample:

Layout with journaling focus

Layout with journaling focus

OK, I bet you’re totally freaking out right now.  I mean, seriously, that’s a lot of writing, right?  My handwriting is far from perfect, although overall it doesn’t look to bad here.  That’s because of some of the tricks I learned in the class.  These are little things everyone can do that can improve the basic look of your journaling, and that’s what we want to focus on here.

To begin, she had us create a journaling template.  This was handmade – just lines on a piece of white cardstock.

Journaling template

Journaling template

To make one, use a ruler to create alternating lines 1/8″ and 1/4″. Your writing is going to fall in the 1/4″ spaces, and the 1/8″ spaces keep your lines evenly spaced.  The best part about this step is that you can keep this and use it again and again… and you can create smaller ones for little journaling blocks if you like.  Create your lines with black ink so they will be visible underneath your journaling cardstock.

For a project this big, it was necessary to write out my thoughts before ever attempting to put them on a journaling block.  I mean, I had to come up with three things for each letter of the alphabet that somehow described by life; not exactly an impromptu exercise.  Most of our journaling isn’t this involved, but if you are working on a special story you want to share, or something with strong emotional punch I would recommend writing your thoughts out first in a notebook so you have an idea how much space you’re going to need.  Here’s mine:

My pre-journaling thoughts

My pre-journaling thoughts

Next, you cover your template with your journaling cardstock and make sure you can see through the journaling block to the lines on the template.  If not, use a light board to shine through the two layers of cardstock and allow you to see what you’re doing.

The next step is to write out your journaling in pencil.  This allows you to make erasures and adjustments and get exactly what you want to say on your journaling block before anything permanent happens.  I don’t have pictures of this step, but I do have some close ups of journaling blocks that you can still see my original pencil marks on:

Journal block over the template, pencil marks visible

Journal block over the template, pencil marks visible

In case you’ve figured it out, I took this class eight years ago and still haven’t completed the project.  Oops.  In my own defense, there’s been a heck of a lot going on in my life over the past eight years!  Anyway, I have a new commitment to myself to complete this album this year 🙂  We’ll see what happens.

Obviously, the next thing you’re going to do is find an awesome white artist quality eraser (Don’t worry – Michelle has them… just ask her for a rubber!  Let’s see how much British she’s still got in there…)

Take a close look at that picture – you can definitely see that my handwriting is NOT perfect… some of my letters are crooked, bigger than they should be, and just generally off kilter.  The thing to remember is, when you look overall at the writing, because it is properly spaced between lines and because it doesn’t taper down to little bitty letters at the end as I try to cram my final thoughts into space that isn’t big enough for them, it actually looks OK.

Not to shabby...

Not to shabby…

See, the whole thing together looks pretty good.  And, I’ll say it again, the more you do it, the more practice you get, the better your results.  You may not ever have that beautiful John Hancock signature writing, but you can definitely hone your handwriting skills into something legible with a little work and patience.  In the end, I think it’s worth it.  I always imagine my kids and grandkids flipping through my albums someday.  How much more special is it that the albums contain my own handwriting?  Priceless.

1 Comment

  • Somewhere in my travels, classes or reading… I learned that your writing shows something about you that family members will want to keep. Your handwriting itself can be something special for family members to see and share. For example, I have a favorite recipe of my moms. It is written in her hand, it is one of the few things that I have that is actually handwritten by her, and I cherish it.

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