This past weekend I was going through the mounds of my journals from over the years and it made me realize I never wrote in-depth about the art of hidden journaling here at Artjournalist!
What is Hidden Journaling?
Hidden journaling is a powerful technique to write anything you need to write – without others being able to read it later. By concealing or dramatically changing your journaled words, you can feel more confident and comfortable to use your journal as a safe space to explore your thoughts and feelings.
If you have fears about journaling or maybe just want to keep your thoughts private, the hidden journaling techniques I share in this post should help you a lot!
Overcoming The Fear of Someone Reading Your Journal
When people are new to writing in a journal, especially as a way to work out thoughts and emotions, it can be kind of scary – here you are dumping your heart out on a page – what if someone reads it?
For a lot of people, this fear actually stems in childhood – maybe you had a journal as a kid, but your parents or your teachers would try to read it, whether they were snooping around in your room or just peering over your shoulder during class because you were supposed to be paying attention.
Some teachers would even do a horrific and traumatizing thing which is read it in front of the whole class – is there anything worse than that?
As a parent who takes journaling seriously, I can thankfully say I’ve never read my kids journals and notebooks – not on purpose anyways! If I do pick up a journal mistakingly thinking it’s mine, I always quickly shut it – it’s very important to me for my kids to know that whatever they put in their journal – even if it’s “My mom sucks” – that’s a private thought and feeling they are working out and I respect the need for that privacy.
I think another reason this is kind of on my mind today is because it’s the anniversary of my grandma’s death this week – she died when I was in 8th grade, so that was a VERY long time ago, but something that really stuck in my mind after she died was my Dad taking all of her old journals and destroying them – she had written some not-so-nice things in the past and he didn’t want my grandpa to read it in his grief.
While it makes me sad that perhaps we lost some inner glimpse of my grandma’s personal private thoughts, at the same time I really do believe that my Dad did the right thing.
My grandma never wrote that stuff for other people to read and it just really re-emphasized to me that journaling is a safe place to work out feelings – you should be able to write whatever you need to without the fear of judgement, ridicule, or people interpreting it the wrong way – even if, and maybe even especially if – you’re not here to explain it later.
We are very lucky in my family that there is so much respect for private journaling here, but I know that’s not the case everywhere.
Some people are just curious and can’t resist the temptation, others might be trying to understand you better, and in some unfortunate cases, some people might read it to use it maliciously as a way to use it against you.
Overcoming this fear is a critical step for journaling to be helpful for you – so my hope is these techniques for hidden journaling give you a good place to start!
1. Scribble Journaling
Scribble journaling is probably my go-to method for hidden journaling. In this kind of journaling, you just keep writing over everything you’ve already written.
It definitely looks very scribbly!
This can be used as a background for art – or you can even adopt the philosophy of one of my friends which is if she does manage to cover the entire page in black ink, she’ll just switch to white ink!
I use this kind of journaling a lot when I’m super frustrated and I’m writing fast – and also a lot of times when I’m sharing videos of journaling on our YouTube channel – I don’t like to write too many deep personal thoughts on camera so this technique helps with getting over that concern!
Here’s another example of a page with LOTS of hidden journaling!
In looking at some of my old art journals, I’ve also noticed that if you make some words VERY big that call for all the attention, one can’t even notice that you have hidden journaling all over the place.
Can you even read what I wrote in this page of journal besides the big words?
While this is one of my favorite methods – there are many others, so let’s get into that!
2. Erasable Journaling
Another very easy way to conceal something you’ve written is to use pencil – it is completely erasable! It also very easily smudges and smears and also VERY easy to cover up later, whether you just write over it with a pen, marker or even incorporate into your art as a collage layer.
You could even write in watercolor pencils and then just add water to dissolve all the things you written!
Even if you don’t erase it – pencil naturally smears quite easily. Here’s a couple of example where scribble journaling was done in pencil.
If you like to write with pens over a pencil, no worries there – you can also use Pilot Frixion pens and these are super great because the ink will disappear not just from the friction of an eraser, but also from any source of heat – so you could even iron your words right off the page or just leave it in a hot car!
A lot of times I will also mix in some of the scribble journaling in pencil with art – here’s an example where you probably can’t even tell there is journaling hidden in her hair:
3. Cryptic Journaling: Write in a Secret Code
Cryptic journaling is a method of using a secret code to write out what you’re feeling. You can find inspiration from some of the 10 most mysterious cryptic languages or you can use symbolism or even something else.
Crytograms are also great examples of this – and I have a whole book of them because they were always something I enjoyed solving in the newspaper when I was a kid.
Another option, if you know a different language (or have always wanted a good excuse to learn another language!) – is to write it in a different language that most people around you don’t know.
Duolingo is also a great way to learn almost any language completely for free – you could learn Latin, which has no native speakers and is really no longer taught in too many places or even endangered languages since there are very few people who would be able to translate them!
4. Write A Poem
As a teenager I liked to write in what I call “The Cryptic Poetry Code™” – which is when you use a lot of symbolism and metaphors to write a poem about something that on the surface isn’t completely obvious. I still do it today – writing a lot of poems about things that aren’t about what they are about!
One of my poems is called The Wizard, and on the surface the poem is about a wizard and his vanishing potion – that’s not what the poem is about at all. It’s a good way to write something + still get all the benefits of writing without actually saying what you feel.
Poems are great because they can totally be nonsensical – and really, most people don’t read them anyways. The point of journaling is not to produce some award-winning great literary masterpiece, it’s to explore your thoughts and feelings – so bad poetry is perfect for this!
5. Use Symbolism
In poetry we can use all kinds of metaphors and symbols, but we can also use these even in regular journaling and writing.
My dream symbolism dictionary is a great place to explore some different symbols and metaphors to use in your writing if you have a hard time writing about things symbolically. An alligator as a symbol for example can be about confronting fears – and even dealing with concealment and secrets!
There are also tons of different ways to use color symbolism for example – maybe red represents anger or yellow represents feeling afraid or nervous about something.
You could very easily write in red ink and then cover that up with red paint later if you’re angry about something!
6. Write a Fictional Story
This is another technique I’ve used a lot, especially in art journals – is to write a story that is 100% fiction that on the surface just seems like a fairy tale kind of story.
On these pages, I wrote a story about a princess named Mariposa.
The story was about a girl who was the princess of an underwater world and flowers bloomed everywhere she goes –
On the surface there sure isn’t much there for the unknowing person to think about. A lot of times these stories you could write not even on purpose as journaling and still realize later they have a lot of meaning in them!
If you want to write to be able to read about it later, this is a nice technique that is 100% fiction but also gives you a window to look back in a couple of years and say, aha, yes – I wrote that story while I was feeling _____ and dealing with _____.
Writing fiction is also a great way to work out those feelings you might have but don’t really know what to say about them. Coming up with a story is especially great for the more difficult subjects to talk about – every good story needs some conflict anyways!
7. Journal Like You’re Writing a TV Series Recap or Movie Where Actual Names + Places Have Been Changed
One very easy way to write about things is to write about something and change the name/places in things so it’s not obvious what it’s about. You can take that a step further and even guise it under a recap of a TV show or a movie you watched.
Maybe you start your journal entry as “Yesterday I was watching TV and it was very interesting! Marcy, the main character…”
They say truth is stranger than fiction, so you change the names and events and just stick in your journal as a recap on what happened on your very own soap opera or reality show of your own life.
If your life has been like mine at all, I’m sure you’ve known a few villains and crazy makers to star in your show!
It’s kind of like “asking for advice for a friend” – when you know that friend is you!
8. Just Taking Some Notes
Another thing you can do is use an existing book and turn it into a true “notebook”, where perhaps you write some notes in the margins or highlight and underline certain words.
I actually collect books like these, because I think they are so fascinating – and I’ve come across them often, especially in thrift stores and when my husband and I used to clean out estates.
At first glance, they just look like notes about the text – which is probably why and how they ended up in the discard pile – but many times they have a LOT more hidden in the meaning in the margins.
Try journaling this way and you might just be surprised how much it can tell you about yourself!
9. Found Poetry
This is another journaling technique I absolutely love, which is very similar to taking notes, is to use an old book to create found poetry for journaling.
I have an entire post on how to use Found Poetry in your journals – maybe you underline certain words or take notes in the margin of something or highlight it that way.
You can also take things out of context – maybe you have some words from magazines or old books and you arrange them in a way to make a poem.
Some may argue this isn’t true journaling so much, but it is still a way to get those thoughts + feelings out without worrying someone is going to think anything of it!
And, as I already said – from my experience writing poetry, I can assure you – most people expect poetry to be garbled up nonsense no one wants to read – so you really have no need to fear people reading it!
10. Write in a Way So You Can Cut it Out + Save Parts of It Later
Many years ago I met a friend who only wrote on the right hand page of a journal or notebook, never on the back of the pages. Part of this was because she just didn’t like to write on the back because it might bleed through, but another part was because she could easily cut things out later or even glue pages together if she wanted.
I thought that was rather genius, so in most of my everyday writing journals I do exactly just this – only writing on one side of the page. And now, the advantage to that is I can cut out and save various things I’ve written to use in other journals or just keep a note of without having to keep the whole journal and all the other stuff it might contain (which isn’t always happy or pretty stuff!)
As I went through my old notebooks this weekend, I found a lot of little things I felt were worth saving from a personal development perspective – little thoughts of insight, some sayings or even a specific word.
So, you know what I did? I cut the things I wanted to keep out of the journals! Just like I would cut words out of a magazine or a book, I cut and ripped things out of the journals.
Here’s an example where I wrote something about bubbles and while I’m not really sure where I was going with this, I thought hey, this is actually pretty good or interesting to think about – what’s it doing here mixed in with a bunch of crap about my life?
Having it on single sided sheets made it easy for me to just rip it right out + throw into my box of thoughts to explore later.
The “good stuff” was saved + the rest can all be turned into a gluebook now!
This technique is a nice one to do because I do think our journals are a place to explore our own personal and spiritual development and it’s good every so once in awhile to look back so you can see how you’ve grown and developed as a person over the years.
BUT – you probably don’t really want to keep all the pages of written stuff that was needed to get to that deep and profound thought that is actually worth saving.
Or, maybe you wrote something really just terrible or awful + want to keep the rest – this makes it easy to cut that part out too!
So, if you’re worried about someone reading the whole journal (and maybe even some specific things) – you can always cut it apart to save the “good stuff” and get rid of the rest.
It’s also nice knowing that words when taken out of context don’t have the same meaning, and so while you might know what that context of a certain word was – most other people will not. And eventually, that context might not even be so important later, especially if you’ve gone through the healing process of journaling about it!
11. Write in Song Lyrics
This another kind of cryptic way to journal without actually really journaling – but still achieves the same benefits and result – which is to use song lyrics or names of songs to explain how you feel.
I do this in my journals ALL THE TIME – here’s an art journal page I did with hidden journaling, scribble journaling and the title of a popular Phil Collins song.
Side note: My deepest apologies if you now have Phil Collins stuck in your head! Which reminds me, there’s actually a great song about reading journals and diaries called Diary by the band Bread, so if you have Phil Collins in your head and don’t want it to be, go listen to that one instead!
12. Hide Your Words Under The Covers
It’s true that most people judge a book by the cover, and of course a journal is not different from any other book. If your journal is in a very boring book that no one wants to read – chances are they are not going to read your journal!
So, another way to feel a bit safer in keeping your journal private is to hide it in the covers of a book no one wants to read.
Find the most boring book in your house that NO ONE is going to read (in my case, it’d be a book about security investments lol – not only is it completely outdated, it’s a terribly boring topic!) – and put your notes in there or write it that way.
We also had another book about parrots that I know no one in my house is going to read I could easily write in – and some of the words in these books could even make for great prompts.
On the other hand, most people, if they saw a book that said “My Diary” on the cover, or the cover looks interesting, or it just looks like a journal, it’s more likely that maybe someone else would want to read it.
If you’re really worried about someone reading your book of security investments, you could also keep a book that OBVIOUSLY looks like a diary, that you keep in plain view, and just write nothing that matters in it. Maybe a few lines of mundane activities to throw off the people who you are worried about reading it.
12. Hidden Pockets and Tuck Spots
Another way to write hidden journaling is to make a journal with hidden pockets and tuck spots. One of my favorite things about junk journaling is making a lot of different pockets and using envelopes and so this is a great way to conceal a lot of your journaling without others being able to easily find or read it later.
For example, you could glue two pieces of paper together around the edges and leave a spot in between where they aren’t glued where you can tuck in a note that most people won’t discover unless they know to look for it!
I’ve also seen crafts where people have even carved out secret compartments in books and that sort of thing and while that level of skill is way beyond my own ability I definitely like that idea too!
13. Cover it Up Paint or Glue Over it
Another thing we can do with our writing in our journals is to cover them up with paint and collage over them. My old notebooks that I’ve written down everything in the past year will be turned into glue books and art journals for next year as part of our end of year stashbusting challenge.
By painting or gluing over our old journals (or even painting and gluing over what you write as you go through and start a new journal) – we can not only get those thoughts + feelings out safely, we can also do it for the sake of conserving paper, reducing waste, and saving money!
When I was making my trifold junk mail journals, I used black paint and scraped it on with an old credit card to quickly cover up a lot of pages that had sensitive information like addresses and account numbers! I also used my trusty gigantic Uni-Posca to cover up just certain areas with account info.
I like to use black ink and black paint to cover up my journal writing, because it does the best job. Even gesso can’t always cover up writing completely. You can paint them pretty quickly with a very thin layer of paint in no time! A giant black Uni-Posca paint marker also does the trick very nicely! (Get this variety pack – I promise you won’t regret it!!!!)
14. Type It Out
If you like to journal digitally and typed something on your computer – don’t save it after you’re done writing, just delete the whole thing – simple as that! This way you get ALL the benefits of writing something out – and truly never have to worry about anyone ever reading it again.
My generation grew up in a time where it was VERY easy to lose your entire term paper or thesis or journaling if you didn’t save your work – and in some ways, maybe that was a blessing!
Another option you can try if you like journaling digitally is to keep your journaling in a document on your hard drive or even an SD card or USB stick in a way where it’s completely hidden in some weird folder and has a weird name.
Being a web developer, I think I could write almost anything and just wrap it in just plain ole html or php tags + most average people wouldn’t be able to read it, except for my other developer friends of course.
If you want to get really dorky + hide your words, you can always run it through an MD5 hash generator – no one will ever be able to read that again!
If you ever see something like “f5d74e85d9ea926041aabc4445e2e934” written in one of my journals, that’s probably what happened lol.
Back in the 1990’s, I also learned a super cool trick to make invisible folders on my Mac Performa – which was a life saver when I had to share that computer with everyone in my family. For an extra layer of “security”, I even make the text all white and turned on the options to show the formatting + code so if someone opened up the document they would think they are looking at a blank document that broke.
Obviously, it’s not encrypted security – but unless your friends and family specialize in computer forensics or are REALLY snoopy and determined, it’s also unlikely they will ever find it and even if they did they probably wouldn’t realize its your journaling.
If you do want to have whatever you’ve typed out for later, you can always print it out and then rip it up to use it in your art journals for collage. Most people will never know it’s not just text from an old book, especially if you’re already in the habit of cutting up books for the sake of art! (This is also a great way to get words + journaling for your art + collage without worrying about any copyright concerns!)
15. Destroy + Release Everything You’ve Written
Lastly, another way to very easily feel free to write anything is remember it’s super easy to destroy whatever you’ve written. Paper is called ephemera for a reason! It doesn’t last forever – and it’s not meant to last forever!
There are lots of ways to destroy your work – you can always shred paper and recycle it. Paper shredders are an awesome way to quickly not only make something impossible to read later, but you can even use those shreds to make your own new paper if you wanted.
Paper is also so very versatile for reusing it – you can use it to protect table surfaces, line the litterbox – maybe even use as a placemat and tablecloth for a three year old eating spaghetti or a mound of pancakes covered in maple syrup. No worries about them being able to read it or anyone after that, right?
You can also always burn it, which in that regard makes it a bit of a release ceremony to really let go of all those thoughts you’ve had and transform them and clear yourself of it.
In many ways, it can be very healing to destroy your writing – you don’t need to necessarily burn it of course, but it’s a great way to physically and symbolically say to yourself, “I have processed and acknowledged my feelings, and now I’m ready to release them and move on.”
That’s pretty powerful stuff right there!
The Good News: Most People Don’t Care What You Write
I have been journaling like the hypergraphic writing addict that I am since I was nine years old. I’ve probably filled thousands of notebooks and easily have several GB of writing on my computer and in the cloud – that nobody will ever read or even wants to read!
The sad reality is most people don’t like to read or don’t care – and even people who do care probably just don’t have the time!
It’s important to remember that most other people are tied up with their own responsibilities + thoughts + feelings, they probably don’t really have time or even the mental energy to give yours much attention! It’s hard enough for most of us to find the time to even give our own thoughts + feelings some attention!
I can also say as someone who has been blogging for over 15+ years – people aren’t just going to randomly discover your writing online. I’ve created plenty of things online with the actual intention of “everybody being able to read it” – and it gets crickets, no one reads or watches any of it.
While the sheer volume of how much that I’ve written over the years surely plays a factor in no one I personally know wanting to read my work, I also think it’s safe to say that unless you have terrible toxic and abusive people in your life, you probably don’t have to worry about what other people think or too many people reading it.
That all being said, I do know sometimes it’s important that whatever you write about isn’t available for someone else to read – and having that ability to know that you can write ANYTHING in a journal, even the not-so-good stuff is important.
Writing about painful or even controversial topics fit into this category – we need a safe space to explore these things – and if you can’t write what you’re feeling or thinking, you can’t understand those feelings and bottling it up is just going to cause more issues later on. Every time I hear about how crazy the world’s gotten, I can’t help but think, man, these people need to learn how to journal!
Hidden journaling isn’t anything new by any means (it dates back for centuries!), but I did want to write about it today because I never really have written about it in depth other than casually mentioning it in my post about what to do if you hate your handwriting – which is another good post you should read, especially if you’ve ever felt intimidated by all the journals you see with pretty handwriting and lettering in them.
Above all, don’t be afraid to write anything you need to write. You can always tear it up + use it for collage or even use it to line the litterbox or recycle it or even type it all out and then delete it. There is no reason to keep things bottled up inside and journaling is so beneficial for our mental health and personal development – so have a go with these hidden journaling techniques + have fun with it!
And also – of course, clearing out these old notebooks is part of our 2022 End of Year Stashbusting Challenge as we make way for new projects to start next year – so if you’ve not joined us yet for that please do!
Later this week I will share a flip through of my 2021-2022 gluebook and what I’m doing to take my old journals to prepare it for an all new 2023 gluebook – so make sure you also subscribe to our YouTube channel if you haven’t already!
Have any questions about hidden journaling? Any ideas for ways to hide your writing that I might have missed? I always love hearing from you in the comments below + am here to help answer any questions you have every step of the way in your journaling journey!