Making River Song’s Journal

The new iteration of Doctor Who is by turns silly, clunky, brilliant, heart-breaking, and delightful. I watch every episode. I like the essential hopefulness and joyfulness of it. There are piece of the stories which stay with me even after I walk away from the screen, like the story between the Doctor and River Song. They both travel in time and have met each other many times, but always in a random order. This makes reminiscing difficult because they don’t want to accidentally give away the future of the other person. To solve the problem the Doctor gives River Song a journal. It looks like this:

I love the idea of this journal. It’s tattered condition implies hundreds of adventures that River and the Doctor have together. Through it they are able to find where they are in relation to each other and then proceed to have yet another adventure. Possibly my interest in the journal is due to the fact that I love journals. I always have. I wondered if it were possible for me to buy a journal with a cover made to look like River Song’s. I googled and discovered that the BBC has released a printable PDF which one can use to cover a journal, but that there is no officially sanctioned journal for purchase. There are several etsy shops which sell handmade ones, but the prices were daunting when I’m trying to cut back on frivolous spending. I sighed and gave up. Or so I thought.

The next day I kept bumping into supplies. My on my craft desk was some dark blue tissue paper and Modge Podge (a decoupage glue) which I’d been using to re-decorate some little metal boxes. Sorting through a pile under my desk I found an unused journal which I bought some time in the past six months. I knew I had card stock, scissors, and an exacto knife. I had everything I needed. So without exactly deciding to, I began making a River Song journal.

I began with this black journal. Having it be black was important so that the dark could show through the tissue paper and make the shadows which can be seen in the recessed portions of the journal cover. I colored over the red line with a sharpie marker.

Next I printed out a copy of the PDF and sized it so that it would fit the cover of the book I had. Then I cut out the pieces as a pattern. I arranged the patterns on the book to make sure the proportions were correct before I proceeded.

I traced the pattern onto white card stock. Once I had it all traced, I glued a second piece of card stock to the back to give it the thickness I wanted.

I used a knife and scissors to cut out the pattern pieces. I deliberately made everything not quite square to resemble the PDF better. Once the pieces were cut out, I arranged them on the book. Then I glued them down using Modge Podge.

I waited for that to dry thoroughly before proceeding. Fortunately this particular glue dries quickly. Next I cut a piece of the blue tissue paper so that it was larger than the book. I applied glue to the cover in sections and carefully pressed the tissue paper down so that it got into the recessed places as well as the top of the card stock. On the binding side, the tissue lined up with the edge of the cover cardboard. Glue does not bend well and I wanted my book to be able to open. I had to be gentle and careful so that I did not tear the tissue paper. I used two layers of tissue, letting the glue dry completely between layers.

I clipped the corners of the tissue paper and then propped the book open so that I could wrap the tissue around to the inside of the book. I glued it down, making sure to slather a layer of glue across the top of the tissue so that it was protected. I also put a layer of glue all across the top of the cover, both front and back.

All that was left was the spine. I cut some pieces of card stock to fit and repeated the process of laying down tissue paper. Again I was careful not to glue anything to the binding crease so that the book would open easily.

And here is the journal completed:

It is not perfect. Intentionally so in some places. I do wish I’d figured out how to give it a more leather-like texture. The Modge Podge is smooth and shiny. You can also see the strokes of the brush I used to lay down the glue. I’m pleased with the result even though it definitely has a home made look. Perhaps as I carry it around, and use it, the shine will wear off a bit. I’m far from the only one who has committed this particular act of geekery. A little googling will find similar journals in leather, paint, knitting, fridge magnets, key chains, and all sorts of other forms.

The question I began asking myself almost as soon as I began construction was what I planned to do with the thing once it was made. I already have a journal. Several. It seemed foolish to spend so much work to make another one. Then I realized that what I loved about the idea of River Song’s journal is that it was full of amazing things all out of order. I wanted a book like that. One where my usual self-imposed writing rules don’t apply. I wanted to see what deliberately changing the structures of my creativity would cause to fall out of my brain. Once I knew that, I also knew what my rules for filling the journal needed to be.

1. Don’t write it in order. When I have something to write, pick a page at random and begin.
2. Date every entry.
3. Write only things that matter to me. Nothing boring. That said, sometimes small and insignificant can also be fascinating.
4. Leave the first two pages blank. Write them last.
5. Draw as many pictures as I wish. They don’t have to be good.
6. I can update, change, or alter anything that I have already put in the book. I just need to note the date of the change.
7. Writing sideways or upside down is fine.
8. Find things to clip and tape into the pages.
9. Neatness is not required.
10. I can make stuff up, write stories, or pretend to be someone else.
11. I can invite others to contribute to the pages.
12. I am the maker of all these rules. I can break them if I wish.

And so my River Journal adventure begins. I wonder where I will travel.

39 thoughts on “Making River Song’s Journal”

    1. I know I answered on Twitter, but putting the answer here is a probably a good idea too. (Sorry you get to read it twice.)

      I already have more jobs than I can keep up with, so crafting for money is not something I want to add. Also, I need to keep something in my hobby space. The minute I accept money it moves into the job space and my hobby space gets lonely again.

  1. That reminds me of a book my husband had to read for his elementary ed major (I read it as well). It’s geared towards kids, so it’s an easy read. It’s called A Writer’s Notebook by Ralph Fletcher. Basically, he talks about how writers keep notebooks and they include anything and everything, which may or may not one day lead to writing a story, poem, essay, whatever.

    The ideas on what to write include things you wonder about, seed ideas for stories, mind pictures (describing a scene), snatches of dialog, lists (favorite foods, pet peeves, favorite things ever, etc.), memories, quotes that inspire you, etc. He even suggests taping/gluing stuff into the notebook such as news stories that inspire you, pictures (whether drawn or photographs), etc.

    What you wrote about what you’re going to do with the journal reminded me of this. I think it’s perfect for you :). Sounds like a lot of fun.

    1. Cool. I’ve kept notebooks for years. I still have stacks of them 3/4 full. I used them to help me keep track of things. This is the first time I’ll be deliberately making it difficult to reference what I’ve written. Every time I go looking for something I’ll have to flip through lots of random things. Like subconsciousness made manifest. I’m curious to see what will happen.

  2. You guys were already cool, but the love of Doctor Who has kicked it up a notch. It’s one of our family’s favorite shows. It’s amazing how one single episode can be all those characteristics you mentioned: “silly, clunky, brilliant, heart-breaking, and delightful”.

    I love the idea for your journal rules. I have notebooks where I’ve written things, but never an intention to have such lack of structure. Awesome.

  3. I love this idea! I do papercrafts, and have several models for the TARDIS that I haven’t yet made, which I plan to put on my desk at work. Maybe a mini River Song journal would be a nice compliment. (I like miniatures, as they’re unexpected and portable)

    1. I love paper crafts. I need to spend more time on them. One of the things that has been absent in my life are hobby projects. This fall they are coming back with a vengeance.

  4. I love how you jumped right into this almost as easy as breathing. Obviously you are nearly as clever as the Doctor himself.

    Looks like I’ll be putting together a shopping list…

    Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Thank you. I suspect that I did what the Doctor does, which is draw upon a hidden knowledge base and apply that knowledge to the project at hand. Good luck with yours!

  5. I wonder if you used a crackling medium (4.50 at WalMart in the craft section) and then did thin layers of dark blue over it (thick layers will cause large cracks, which you don’t want) if you could get the aged, leathery look you want.

    1. Interesting… I’ll have to experiment on some spare cardboard. I’ve never used a crackling medium before and I’d want to check the result before applying it to something I care about.

  6. It’s awesome, and gives me ideas for gifts to make. Thank you. Have you considered using embossing stamps to give texture to the tissuepaper/modge-podge?

    *sigh* makes me wish I still had BBC America.

  7. I love this soo much! I’ve been looking forever for some way to make a Tardis cover for my Nook because I found an old book to make into a cover and didn’t like the look of the actual book. I think this is perfect! Now I just need an exacto knife and some blue tissue paper! Do you need a certain computer program to be able to size the PDF to the correct measurements?

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  9. Hey,I’ve been looking around for a guide to make one of these and yours seems to be the most helpful.
    I was just wondering how big the book you used was? And how you knew how much bigger/smaller you had to resize the template to fit your book.

    Thanks so much.

    1. The book I picked was a fairly standard 6×9 journal. I re-sized using trial and error. I just used my scanner as a copy machine to enlarge or reduce by various percentages. Then I held up the copies against the book to see what would work. Sorry I can’t be more specific. Good luck!

  10. This is so incredible! I saw this online this morning, and spent the rest of the day making one of my own. Your directions were so easy to follow, and my notebook turned out so much cooler than I thought it ever could have. I cannot say thank you enough!

  11. Hi, I just wanted to say 2 things. 1) Thanks for the tutorial!! and 2) My local hobby lobby has matte mod-podge that may help with the shininess if you decide to make another sometime. Crinkling your tissue and then flattening it back out may help with the worn leather look too.
    Thanks again!

    PS. This may help other readers with the design

  12. I tried this with the “Antique Matte” Mod Podge, and it wasn’t shiny at all! If you ever make another one, the matter glue really makes it look more leathery and real.

  13. I love the rules! I’d never of thought of them myself, and as I’m only 14, hopefully my journal we be interesting to my older self- full of things I’d forgotten with some random doodles and sketches thrown in! Thank you so much! 🙂

  14. I was literally just sitting here, thinking of a way to turn an old sketchbook of mine into River’s journal and I happened to stumble on this site. This is an awesome idea! I am so going to do it. Thank you!

  15. Hello,
    i’d like to ask you for a whovian favour. Me and a couple of friends are starting a website dedicated to Doctor Who (this tv show is mostly unknown in our country, Spain, and we want to spread it and meet fellow whovians) and we thought about starting a project: Each person does his own time traveler journal, and fullfills it. Then we do some meetings in diferent cities and exchange journals so we can share “our adventures”. It may sound silly but we are really excited about it.
    The question is, could we translate this guide and use it on our site? Obviously we’ll give you all the credit and we’ll link your web. I used your guide last xmas and my journal is SO beautiful I could not resist to share this with my web coleagues and our whovian followers.
    I hope you say yes. For further information (even though there’s no much more to say) contact us on

    PS. Sorry for my grammar mistakes, this is my second lenguage,

    Thanks a lot,

    Cupcake girl.

    1. That sounds like a wonderful project. Please feel free to translate the instructions and use the pictures so long as you link back here as well.
      Best of luck to you!

  16. Thanks so much for the tutorial, I just made one for my girlfriend’s birthday. I’m sure she’ll love it!

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  18. This is so cool – I really need to make one before the 50th Anniversary. Because I want to write events that happen in my life in a journal so I can look back in later years. Doctor Who and the 50th anniversary is a big part of my life 🙂

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