Bullet Journaling And Other Writing Trends That Keep Coming Back

Where are they now?

In an increasingly digital world, it’s interesting to know that there are so many trends around actual physical writing. It’s not something you might have expected during an era where a group of scientists are living and working on an actual satellite. Maybe it speaks to our enduring love for words and treating them well. Maybe it’s all about #aesthetics. Honestly, whatever the case (we’re cool with both), it’s worth celebrating.

We thought it would be a good time to catch up with some classic writing trends that are either making a comeback or totally reinventing themselves into today’s writing habits (like pop stars from the 1980s) … especially when you’re looking for a New Year’s resolution.

Trend: diaries

In the thousands of years before blogs and social media, a diary or journal was the place to record your internal monologue. You’d write down your day-to-day activities and feelings, your thoughts on current events, your thoughts on the people around you, whether you’d eaten a sandwich—all of those important things. While diaries aren’t typically meant for public consumption during their writers’ lifetimes, they have become incredibly valuable resources for historians as they provide firsthand accounts of life during an historical era.

Fun fact: The linguistic qualities that make a person’s writing and speech unique are their idiolect. A diary is a sort of gym for the idiolect.

Even though diaries never completely died out, they aren’t quite as prevalent now as they once were. Nowadays, rather than carrying a book around, you can broadcast your thoughts (or what you ate) using a plethora of different mediums. Alternatively, you can keep those thoughts low key in the notes app on your phone, or a document on your computer (that syncs with your phone), or you can use …

Today: Bullet Journaling

The Bullet Journal system was created around the early 2010s by a Brooklyn, NY-based designer named Ryder Carroll, who is (of all things) a digital product designer. It’s a modular, fully customizable system that basically answers the question, “What if my diary, planner, to-do list, and collection of sticky-note reminders all lived in one cohesive place?”

Designed for efficiency, organization, and productivity, the system is built around (and is named after) a set of bullet points, and it is actually pretty minimalist in its purest form. The beauty really lies in its flexibility: You can stick to Carroll’s original set of bullets or add trackers and layouts and designs to make your personal journal as elaborate and Instagrammable as you want.

These days not everyone has the time or energy to sit down and write about their whole day, yet there’s just something so satisfying in checking off your to-do list or jotting down a few lines of thought.

Trend: letterpress

Everyone loves a good comeback story, and who/what has a more heartwarming comeback story than the letterpress?

Letterpress printing had its start in the 1430s when the movable type printing press was invented by Johannes Gutenberg. It’s weird to think of now, but that was one of the biggest technological innovations of its time. It revolutionized the entire printing/bookmaking process, made literature more widely accessible, and put a lot of monks out of a job (more on that later).

Basically, the way it works is you lay out a page’s worth of individual, reusable letters by hand, lock them down, add ink, and press paper over the whole thing to essentially stamp the letters on. You repeat this for however many copies of that page you want/need, then clean it all up and repeat for the next page.

Now about that comeback …

Today: vintage letterpress

Let’s be honest: Prepping, running, and cleaning a letterpress made printing much faster and more efficient than, say, writing each page by hand, but it was still super time-consuming and labor intensive. The letterpress was gradually phased out as new technology came in to replace it. Eventually, it was primarily small-time artists and hobbyists using the machines to print small batches of work. Plus, the letters themselves are traditionally made with lead, and a lot of companies stopped manufacturing them.

Then, some time in the past 10–20 years, people fell back in love with the look, feel, and quality of handmade things like letterpress prints. Today, the antique machines are in high demand for creating things like wedding invitations, Instagrammable greeting cards, and, of course, small-batch books (like chapbooks) and special prints of documents.

Trend: calligraphy

If the sight of calligraphy gives you flashbacks to the days of elementary-school cursive, that’s fair. Because the traditional focus is on penmanship and regularity, it tends to be taught in the same way (writing drills, practicing one letter at a time over and over, etc.).

Calligraphy has been a thing since ancient times. It can trace its roots back to East Asia and the Middle East, where it started as a way of writing faster and more efficiently, and eventually grew into an art form. The word itself comes from the Greek word kalligraphía, which aptly means “beautiful writing.”

And now back to those monks in the Middle Ages writing books (mostly bibles) by hand? Well, they wrote in standardized lettering styles, and that’s the earliest form of of calligraphy in a European sense.

Once the Industrial Revolution hit the world like a ton of bricks lettering styles changed. But, calligraphy never really went away. It just went niche, and right now it’s coming back in a big way …

Today: modern calligraphy and hand lettering

So again, why would you spend literally hours making an entire page of writing look nice when your home printer can just … do it?

Think of it like painting: In the days before photography it was impressive and necessary to create photorealistic artwork. It mattered that landscapes or people or fruit in paintings looked exactly the way they did in real life. Then along came cameras and people sort of lost interest in photorealism. Because the camera can just … do it. That change gave birth to modern art: where the realistic look didn’t matter anymore, but the feeling did.

Modern calligraphy is much looser, freer, and more personal than traditional calligraphy. Now that you can get standardized-looking text any time with a computer, there’s no reason to bother with rigidly uniform hand-lettering.

Nowadays, calligraphy mainly shows up for special occasions—like wedding invitations or breakup letters to King George III. Or, you know, Instagram.

Trend: letter writing

Letter writing has been around for about as long as writing has been portable. Seriously, there’s surviving correspondence from ancient Egypt, Rome, and beyond. Granted, in the beginning, like all other writing, letter writing was an activity limited to those with the wealth and privilege to learn to write in the first place—or pay someone to do it for them. Then, of course, you’d need to afford the materials, like paper (or clay) and ink (or something to carve clay), which we don’t think of as pricey today, but definitely were once upon a time.

As humanity spread across greater distances and writing/materials became more accessible, letter writing became a useful way to stay in touch with friends, loved ones, and business associates, which gave birth to things like the postal service. Basically, if a society had written language, they had letter writing. But, where did all the letters go?

Today: love letters, and cover letters, and holiday letters, oh my!

Today, it’s not uncommon to hear letter-writing referred to as a “lost art.” And, in the era of electronic communication, social media, and live streaming there’s some truth to that. We just kind of stopped sending hand-written personal correspondence as things like email and texting took off. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just the way things happened.

Letters that were sent in past eras are now some of the most important resources for historians. Like diaries, letters are known as primary sources, meaning they were written about a given era by someone from that given era, providing the most accurate picture of what that era was really like. And sure, cover letters are a necessary evil if you’ve ever looked for a job, or plan to.

While there are fewer letters being written and sent today, they haven’t ever gone away completely. Because of the time and effort needed to sit down and write a letter, they’re now mostly used for special or formal occasions. Think of your aunt’s annual holiday letter, the thank-you notes you’re supposed to send after a birthday/wedding/gift-giving-occasion, or the love confession of your dreams like To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before remind us of. Tangible, heartfelt, personal letters still have the power to do what an email or text message can’t. They make you feel more special because they’re something you can hold and touch.

Trend: illuminated manuscripts

Illuminated manuscripts go as far back as the 600s CE (and possibly earlier, but those have been lost to time). Back then, the Church basically had a monopoly on the ability to read and write, as well as the resources to create written works (like paper, leather, ink, and legions of monks to do the writing). They mostly used those resources to make bibles. Massive, elaborate bibles covered with painstakingly detailed artwork.

To illuminate is “to brighten, or light something up,” and these heavily decorated manuscripts (BTW, manū is “by hand” and scrīptus is “written”) were the church’s way of making their favorite text glow with color, gold, and silver. A little highlighter can go a long way, friends.

So, where are they today?

Today: museum eye fodder

As you’ve probably noticed, illuminated manuscripts aren’t really a thing any more. And, they haven’t really made a comeback in an everyday hobby kind of way (unless you count that bedazzled notebook you carry around). That’s probably because they were so specialized and labor-intensive to make in the first place that nobody has the time or resources to do that today. Can you imagine having to wait literally decades for a single copy of a book to be made?

On top of that, a lot of the materials used to make them were so precious and expensive. Not to mention these texts were typically pretty huge and cumbersome.

So now, these fit in perfectly at museums and university archives. After all this time, illuminated manuscripts have their perfect homes in places where they’re marvelled-at, cared for, protected, and handled like the precious, delicate flowers they are. That’s the environment where they can really shine.

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