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How to Make a Journal Index

Like any printed volume worth its salt, your journal deserves an index. Here are some ideas for making a fun and creative table of contents for your journal to help you keep track of entries or just to add some visual interest to a text-heavy notebook.

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Why Index your Journal?

From satisfying OCD to getting your hands dirty, there’s many reasons to create an index for your journals. See if any of these speak to you:

Stretch your creative muscles

A journal index provides space to be creative and visual, just like embellishing the cover and spine.

If you favor journal writing over art journaling, your notebooks may look a lot like mine: text-heavy and filled with block lettered black ink.

Sometimes you want to be more creative or visual in your journaling, but the giant face of a blank page is just overwhelming. The index is a controlled space in which to experiment with more visual elements, color, creativity. You may find that working on your index inspires you to add more visual and creative elements elsewhere in your journal, whether it’s by decorating the cover and spine or breaking out the colored pencils within the regular pages of our day to day writing.

My journals are almost 100% text, but the indexes are often visual and filled with drawings and the scraps of daily life. They are the most lively parts of my journals.

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Shape your narrative

Journaling creates of narrative of your life. Your joyful, messy, important life. Creating an index of each volume emphasizes this narrative, clarifies it. Just like any valuable non-fiction book, it needs a table of contents.

Keep track of relevant posts

Creating an index allows you to find relevant posts later on. If your index includes useful queues to the information within, you can use it to locate that particular entry you’re looking for.

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Provide a sense of completion

Finishing a journal is a big accomplishment. Try making a ritual of wrapping up the volume by finalizing the index.

I usually make entries in the index as I go, but I don’t complete it with tabs and page numbers until I’ve filled the entire journal.

Once I’m done with the index, I create the tabs and affix them to the pages represented in the index. It provides a sense of completion. This little ritual has become one of my favorite parts of journaling and it allows me to pay homage to the book that has kept me company every day for many weeks.

Collect your favorite quotes and phrases

You can use your index to capture particularly stunning bits of writing. Occasionally in the midst of my daily writing, I pull out a colorful phrase that I don’t want to lose to the depths of my journal and I think, “THAT’S going in the index!” I’ll pause in my prose and scribble it in the next blank section of the index. It makes for spectacular reading later on.

I took my most recent journal index in a new direction by capturing overhead and overseen phrases that struck my fancy. It reminds me of the running list of fake band names I used to maintain, filled with turns of phrase I came across in my daily reading and conversations.

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How to Structure Your Journal Index

The Blueline Notebook I use come with a ready-made index with a space for page number and description. I usually end up using the “page number” space for words or pictures.

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Numbering your pages may provide you with a sense of order and calm. Or you might feel it’s a complete waste of time. Page tabs or dividers can remove the need for numbered pages. Do whatever works for you!

I rarely number my pages. Of my 127 completed notebooks, exactly three have numbered pages. I tried, I really did. Discipline has never been my strong suit. I’ve also discovered throughout the years is that the bottom corners of the pages get curled, torn, or wet and smeared anyway, rendering many of the numbers illegible or invisible.

Here are some indexes I’ve made throughout the years to give you an example of one way to do it.

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This is one of my rare journals that makes use of page numbers:

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(My Flickr Journal Index Photo Set has lots more examples and photos for you to check out if you’re interested.)

Some possible ways to index:

  • Date – straightforward enough – just choose an interval and go with it
    Event – if you’re an active person involved in lots of engagements, breaking your journal out by event might work well.
  • Week #— I recently learned that some Europeans view the entire year in terms of weeks, which can be particularly handy for archiving. So instead of relying on that sloppy system of months with varying lengths and dates that start on inconvenient days of the week, you can use week #26, week #37 etc.
  • Epiphany – whenever you find yourself writing an entry with a particularly useful revelation, note it in your index for safe keeping. This is the method I tend to rely on most.

When to Make Your Journal Index

There’s basically two choices in building your index – writing it as you go, or doing it when the notebook is complete. (Unless you’re psychic, and then you can complete your index ahead of time.)

I’ve found a combination of the two to be useful. I fill out the main parts as I’m writing, and then add in the markers and tabs when it’s done. Sometimes I don’t get around to making the tabs, and that’s okay, too.

You can certainly make a fun project of returning to old journals and creating an index for them now.

Here’s what my current journal looks like — it’s in progress so I haven’t completed the index or fleshed it out yet.

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What to Include in Your Journal Index

Dreaming up the contents of your index is the fun part!

You could include an actual sentence from the section you’re indexing, the date and location, synopsis of an event, or why the entry is relevant.

Include found objects from your travels in your index. Turn it into an adventure, and keep an eye out for bits as you go about your day. Newspaper headlines, parking meter receipts, stubs, anything with the day or date on it can be used in your index.

Magazine covers are a goldmine for this sort of excavation. They often reference the date or time of year in fun and clever ways.

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I feel like I’ve struck gold when I can find ones that reference both time and place:

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Carry a retractable craft knife with you in case you come across a stellar piece of print for your index. Like while reading those woefully out of date magazines in the doctor’s waiting room. The Olfa Touch Knife is my favorite for travel and I never leave home without it. It’s less than two bucks and fits in your purse or bag quite easily. Based on my last trip, you can even get through airport security with it! A glue stick makes a perfect travel-friendly adhesive.

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The essential old stand-by, the interminable X-Acto Knife is a close runner up but doesn’t travel as well because the cap tends to fall off and then you can spear yourself if you’re not careful. Definitely keep a few of these in your desk, though. You can tear out print during your daily travels and trim it down later.

You’re not limited to print media — you can find inspiration anywhere. I recently carved the label off a Listerine bottle because it encompassed exactly where I was at the moment.

It’s all up to you. You can even make your index largely visual, and just create shapes or illustrations as the dividing points. I have a few journals with indexes that rely almost solely on symbols and shapes. I don’t find them very helpful to revisit, but it was fun at the time.

Helpful Materials for Making Your Journal Index

Notebooks are a very personal choice based on how, where, why and when you journal. But I highly recommend giving the Blueline Notebook a shot for many reasons, not the least of which is the built-in index it comes with and the self-adhesive tabbed dividers for sticking on pages.

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You can easily create an index in any notebook however. Just save a blank page or two at the beginning of the notebook and pick up some adhesive tabs at the office supply store. You can also get these fun and fancy adhesive tabs on Amazon.

Here’s an index I made in a standard composition notebook:

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In addition to the Olfa Touch Knife I mentioned earlier, I also recommend rubber cement and glue sticks. Glue sticks travel much better than a jar of rubber cement, and they even come in repositionable formula now. Rubber cement is my favorite medium for paper adhesion, but it’s best stored upright on your desk.

I put together a little Journaling Saves Amazon store to capture all my favorite journaling items that I recommend – there’s a special category called Index & Embellish. Check it out!

Do you index? Do you have any ideas for us to try while making our journal indexes? Please share in the comments!

If you make an index you’d like to share, add it to the Journaling Saves Photo Pool on Flickr so we can all ooh and ahh. I’ve uploaded several more examples of my own journal indexes in my Journal Index set.

11 comments

  1. I leave pages at the start of every journal/sketch book or whatever to index – it doesn’t mean I have. 😉 The intent is there.

    Glue sticks for on the go stuff, but depeding on what it is & which book it’s being added to I either use double sided tape, rubber cement, E6000, or regular elmers.

    Loved this post.

  2. Oooh. I’m loving your TOCs and handwriting!
    How do you create creative titles for your entries when you feel like every day feels like the same things happen over and over?

  3. Love this idea and I’m actually doing an index after a jounal is filled after your weiting about this earlier! And I DO page numbers, then date & name the event I might look up later. Great finishing idea!! So glad you’re back to writing here again!

  4. I’m so glad you’re back. I’ve missed your posts 🙂

  5. What an awesome post! Over 150 journals and I still don’t think I’ve actually indexed any of them; I’ll have to give that a shot. I do title my journals, though, which is both helpful and fun. Do you plan to update your podcast?

  6. I actually make an index in my journals these days, after reading about this idea on your site way back when… Love it! I include page number, date and then a title for the event I might want to check back on later. So glad you’re back to writing and posting!

  7. I loved this post! I am definitely going to try this out.

  8. You’re back! Please post more, I love reading them!

  9. My journals are a total mess with various subjects all squashed on the same page so, as much as I love this idea, I think it would drive me mental

  10. This is such an excellent article. I’ve been journaling for years and creating an index for my journals isn’t something that ever, not even once crossed my mind. I was reading your article and was thinking- “yeah that’s great but what if you don’t use these Blueline notebooks?!” and kept reading and was ecstatic to see you had a section dedicated to that as well. You’ve covered all the bases and I really appreciate it.

    One thing though, your link to the fun and fancy tabs on Amazon is a broken link, and I can’t click to see what you were referring to. They sound wonderful though.

    I carry with me on a daily basis my notebook, small scissors, a handful of colorful pens and a glue stick- and to anyone reading this, I have had a lot of bad luck with generic brand glue sticks. Pay the extra $.50 and get yourself a brand name glue stick.

    I’ve been reading your blog for ages and I have commented a handful of times before, and I just wanted to add this bit at the end of my comment that pertains to your entire blog and not just this post: thank you. Thank you for this blog and all of your journaling tips and advice. I keep reading for inspiration and clever new ideas to make my journal even more “me” than it already is.

  11. Awesome! How do I subscribe to your blog? I’d love to get email notifications of new posts, but I searched high and low and couldn’t find a “Subscribe” button anywhere! Please let me know!

    Thanks for the inspiration! ~©©

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