Like just about everyone else these days, I spend a lot of time online - reading favorite websites and blogs, checking for new posts on message boards and egroups, browsing through photos on Flickr, and falling down virtual rabbit holes. While I thoroughly enjoy my internet habit, I do realize that, just as with my book-reading habit, time spent reading other people's thoughts is time not spent developing and writing down my own. Also, as much as I am fascinated by computers and the internet, ones and zeroes will never replace paper, pens, and coloring implements in my heart. Keeping a notebook is a way to practice deep thinking; a way to slow down and figure out what I really think about everything from politics to dark chocolate; a way to dig past initial thoughts and knee-jerk reactions to form a coherent and articulate opinion or personal philosophy. Daily life can move so quickly and foster such passivity that it does not provide many opportunities to do this, and I often end up mindlessly skimming and consuming disjointed ramblings via the computer screen. To counteract that tendency, I look for ways to make one obsession feed the other - to make exploration of the virtual world aid exploration of my paper-based and inner worlds.
There are numerous websites that specifically provide writing and drawing prompts, but there are also many ways to use your regular online haunts to stimulate and enhance your offline journal practice. Here are a few that I enjoy:
Copy favorite or thought-provoking blog posts and online essays by hand into your notebook. Leave a generous margin on the left so that you can annotate the text with your own comments and thoughts (in a different color of ink).
Modern life offers so few occasions for hand writing that a stationery junkie like myself is always on the lookout for more reasons to use the pens, inks, pencils, and other supplies that accumulate. Copying passages by hand is a time-honored tradition that provides an excuse to use that new super deluxe set of gel pens and a way to practice and improve your penmanship or, for the ambitious, calligraphy. Although computers continue to get smaller and more powerful, being able to write legibly with low-tech tools is still a worthwhile skill to have. Another benefit to consider: the physical act of writing is likely to embed the information more deeply into your mind. Copying by hand forces you to really look at and consider each word and usually prods your brain into some contemplative musing that might not otherwise happen. This is definitely the case for me and is part of the reason why I generally write stuff down.
Copy recipes and instructions by hand instead of printing them.
Again, leave a margin for your own notes, results, and modifications. These handwritten experiments are seamlessly integrated into your notebook and often prompt additional commentary and reflection that might prove to be a valuable resource in the future.
Track and/or review in your notebook the same topics, products, and other categories of items that your favorite bloggers do online.
If you enjoy keeping up with the latest news on certain subjects, why not start a commonplace book and compile your own? As you browse your favorite news sites, jot down the major headlines and/or the ones that catch your eye or compel you to click the link to read more. Supplement this with tidbits from your offline reading, television viewing, and real-world engagement, and you'll end up with a personalized compendium that serves as a nice record of your interests at any given time. If you spend a lot of time reading product reviews and project notes by others who share similar tastes, try keeping a record of your own impressions and preferences. I especially like to do this with items in subscription boxes. I make a few brief notes about each item, add sketches or labels, and create a nice reference for future shopping trips or gift-giving occasions.
Write out your responses to online threads and comment sections in addition to or instead of posting them online.
For online communities in which I am actively involved, I will often take a few minutes to write down my response to a thread topic before posting it. This extra step allows me to compose more thoughtful and clearly-worded contributions to online discussions and provides me with a record of my posts that I wouldn't otherwise have since I seldom print or archive any of my online activity. As with my regular notebook entries, it is sometimes interesting to read back over these comments to see how my outlook and opinions have changed over time.
Use thread topics as writing prompts.
I find message boards and online forums to be an endless source of ideas for topics to write about, and I lurk on many more online communities than I participate in. For me, one of the best things about these communities is the glimpse into other people's lives and ways of living that they directly and indirectly provide. These glimpses can inspire some first-rate personal writing; use them as jumpstarts to explore what you would do in the situations described or how you feel about the opinions expressed. Online discussions provide a good pool of scenarios from which to draw for fictional and creative writing exercises as well. Miscellaneous or off-topic sub-forums are usually filled with fun, unusual, or just plain weird threads that invite the kind of personal input that translates into intriguing or amusing notebook entries. While you might not want the world to know what quirky habits you indulge in when you're at home alone or which children's movies scarred you for life, those lists would make interesting sidebars in your journal.
Copy the best/most useful thread responses into your notebook.
Similar to the commonplace book idea above, this habit provides an excuse to use your pens and results in a treasure trove of information selected specially by and for you.
If you put your mind to it, you can find dozens more ways to make your online diversions enhance your paper-based hobby. Rather than replacing personal journal-keeping, the virtual world can help you uncover more opportunities to play with your writing and art supplies and more ways to experience and document your offline, unmediated life.