A Primer on Journaling

BlogHer Original Post

Occasionally on Own Your Beauty, I've mentioned pulling out your journal to do some of the prompts, which may have led you to believe that I am an avid journaler. You would be correct. However! Despite appearances, I only started journaling in earnest for about a year and half now. Before that, I would not have been caught dead journaling. You see, originally, I assumed journaling was about writing very lofty thoughts in beautifully bound journals every single day, for the purposes of baring one's darkest and most emotionally-wrenching secrets from the depths of one's soul for all posterity. You know, like Anne Frank, except more profound.

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You can see why perhaps I found the thought of journaling a little daunting.

And while, obviously, there's nothing wrong with journaling in that way, a conversation with my friend Jen Lee a year and a half ago made me realize that there really is no right or wrong way to journal at all; and in fact, it might possibly be far more rewarding, and freeing even, to look at journaling as merely a way to capture the ephemera of your life. By journaling this way -- just capturing your messy, imperfect life, with no thought about how you want the final product to look or read -- the result, of course, is that you'll have an accidentally beautiful record of your life and times. Since that conversation, I've journaled almost every day. And honestly? It has changed my life. My journals have kept me very organized with respect to my daily schedule and life but have also provided me lots of inspiration for my work as well -- things I'd like to photograph or write, or projects I'd like to tackle, or even future goals to whch to aspire.

Over the months, my journals has evolved from very simple books to something quite a bit more complex, but each time I've added something new, it's just been about whatever I've felt like putting in the pages, as opposed to What Is Supposed To Be Recorded In A Journal. And so, today, I thought I'd share with you the various sections in my journal, from the very basic to the more elaborate. If you don't journal, as we begin the new year, I'd strongly encourage you to give it a go, and just see what comes of it. You can do as many of these levels that you want, or just stick with Level 1 -- it's entirely up to you. And you never know: just starting a practice of handwriting things down might help you discover and more deeply appreciate your Beautiful Different.

 

The Rules and the Tools of a Journal

As I mentioned above, journaling should be completely freeform and generally rule-free; that said, the only rule for myself (and I would suggest, for anyone just starting out), is that you are not allowed to rip out any pages. In other words, if you make a mistake, or you try doodling something you don't like, or you don't think it's neat enough, or heck, of someone rests their coffee cup on the open page leaving a ring stain, it stays in the book. I know this might feel very frustrating at first, but just trust me on this. Years from now, after you've forgotten about it, you'll come across the scribble, or the coffee stain, and might actually be charmed by this.

So, since this is my rule, I never buy spiral-bound journals, since the temptation to rip out a page is too strong. Instead, I buy tightly-bound journals -- Moleskines are great (hard to rip out pages), and I started using those, but then I found a more eco-friendly version and have been using those instead. And I always get the unlined versions, so that I can write as big or small as I want, but it doesn't matter, really. And also, since you're going to want to have it on you as much as possible (you'll see why, below), be sure to get a size that's big enough to write in, but portable enough to throw into your handbag or backpack.

In addition to the journals, I have a favorite pen that I always use. Make sure to pick your favorite -- you'll want use it a lot.

Okay, so that's all you'll need. Here we go:

Level 1: The Most Basic Journal -- the To-Do List and Scratch Pad

. Every day, whether I write or include anything else in my journal, the one thing I do make sure to do is to write down my to-do list for the day. There is something just so satisfying about scratching through the items I have to do as I get them done; in addition, having all of my to-do lists in one place is convenient: I can go back and remember when I did something, or if I fail to do something one day, I simply move it to the following day.

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Then -- and this is the part that might be unlike how you've ever heard journaling be done -- I keep my journal with me for the rest of the day and use the pages following my to-do list like a scratch pad. Someone calls and leaves a message for my husband? I write it down there. Need to make a grocery list? I write it down in my journal. Planning a trip? The packing list goes in the pages.

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Ideas for blog posts, names of bottles of wine I want to remember, even brainstorming book ideas while I sit in the car pool line, waiting for my daughter to come out of school -- anything that I would scratch on a piece of paper or even a napkin happens in my journal.

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The beauty of this is that because your journal is chronological, you'll be able to go find things -- your notes, ideas, etc. -- easily. It's been a great way to organize my life, and an easy way to start "journaling" without feeling too exposed or weird about it.

Level 2: "Morning Pages"

-- In addition to the to-do lists, above; and, in fact, before I even write down my to-do lists, I write two "morning pages." The idea is actually espoused in Julia Cameron's book The Artist's Way, and the concept is this: First thing in the morning, before you even turn on your computer, you write at least two pages (The Artist's Way actually suggests three pages) of whatever comes to your head -- completely stream-of-consciousness, without any particular attention to spelling or grammar, simply spilling all the thoughts that are cluttering your mind every morning.

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To be honest with you, I rarely go back and read these pages -- but what I've found is that just doing this clears my head for the day, and gets rid of the superfluous thoughts so that I can focus on what's important to me for the day. It's just a nice little clearing exercise.

One tip that my friend Jen gave me that I try to maintain: Try to do the to-do list and the morning pages (if you do them) before you turn on your computer. In this way, you can be sure to focus what's important to you for the day before your email inbox decided to rule your world. Your email should supplement what you want to accomplish for the day, not take it over.

Level 3: For the Purpose of Capturing the Ephemera of Your Life, Use Your Journal as a Scrapbook and a Photo Album

 

I don't know about you, but (a) I do not scrapbook in the way that "scrapbook" has come to mean, and (b) I am horrible about putting photographs into albums. (Yes, I am a photographer. Yes, I know this is pathetic). But since I do journal every day, I've found a couple of ways to make sure that I manage to capture memories in a way that doesn't seem like a chore or even a huge chunk of my time:

 

First, whenever I come across a piece of paper that I love -- someone sends me a pretty card, for example, or I get a fortune from a fortune cookie that I like, or my daughter draws me a pretty picture that I want to save, I just glue it right into the pages of my journal:

 

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Again, I just glue these down in the next available blank page I have, regardless of when I received or found the card, or when Alex did her original piece of art for me. Sometimes I caption them, sometimes I don't. And if I happen to be somewhere where I don't have glue, no worries -- the journals that I use have little pockets in the back, so I just save them there until I can get to them. When the pocket in the back of the journal gets too fat, I know it's time to start gluing.

 

Similarly, I discovered these awesome adhesive pockets that you can get in any office supply store that conveniently hold 4"x6" photos. So every now and then I print my favorite images, or if I'm cleaning out a closet and stumble on some old snapshots, I grab one of these pockets, stick the photo inside, and slap these babies in my journal:

 

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and bam! instant photo album. The pockets are really great for anything you don't want to glue down:

 

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Now gluing and inserting pockets admittedly can make your completed journal sort of fat, but trust me, that's part of its charm.

Level 4: Color, Doodle, Add Art, Collage, Write Favorite Quotes, Etc.


-- Over months, I've become really taken with the concept of art journaling -- not just writing down thoughts, but simply expressing them through art. I've never considered myself much of an artist in the traditional sense of the word; however, since a journal is ostensibly very private, I found that my journal is where I can play around with art and color without risk of anyone judging my work. I love color, and when I first began, I would just paint a page with water colors, just to have something different from a plain white page to write on (see the seventh image, above). But since then, I've started also just playing with the pages. Sometimes I collage:

 

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And sometimes I just doodle, using big fat colored pens to write down favorite quotes I come across, and just generally mess around doodling.

 

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I admit that this might seem the most risky thing to do in a journal, but remember: no one has to see this but you.  This is just for playing purposes, and in fact, I most often do this sitting in front of our television, watching a movie on the weekend, just playing around. It's something to do rather than surf the web, you know? Just for play.

 

So that's it! Again, to make a journal a journal, you don't have to do all of these things -- you might just do some of them. Or none of them, and come up with some ideas all of your own. But I think the practice of just hand writing things on paper is meditative. It certainly helps me organize my life. And again, the result -- even the pages with the coffee/tea rings on them -- make for a really beautiful record of my messy life.

 

So if, for the year to come, you'd like to start spending more time doing something just for you, consider picking up a plain journal and a few pens, and start playing, without any preconceived expectations or judgments. You'll thank yourself.


For art journal inspiration, here are a couple of sources that I've found really helpful:

The 1,000 Journals Project -- This is an awesome project in which 1,000 journals were sent out into the world, and people added their own art/thoughts to a page, and then passed it on. It is a great source for seeing the different ways people journal, and I guarantee you, it's very freeing: Some of the pages are mindblowingly intricate; however, some are refreshingly simple, and will make you believe, "Hey, I can do that," even if you've never done a moment of art in your life. You can see a sampling of the pages here; in addition, I own the book, which is wonderful to go back to again and again.

The Diary of Frida Kahlo -- This is a book composed of the pages of the diary of the famous Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. The reason I love this book so much is because here's this great artist, one of the most famous of modern times, and in her diary there are scribbles, stains, ink bleeding through to the other side of the page, misspellings. And nonetheless, her diary is absolutely, breathtakingly beautiful. It's a great lesson in remember that perfect isn't always desired, and what's beautiful about a personal piece of work is our own humanity that we can leave in it. It makes "art" accessible, particularly when it comes to journaling.

Teesha Moore's blog -- Okay, before you click on that link, let me warn you that Teesha Moore is a mindblowingly astounding art journalist. Her work is astonishing. But she's also incredibly generous with her methods (and she even tells you how she does it in a series of YouTube videos, and I've found it really fun to just try to copy a small piece of her work in my journal. Really inspiring stuff.

Zentangle -- If you'd like to try making hand-drawn art but are a bit concerned about your drawing skills, consider straight-up doodling. These intricate doodles, called zentangles, are all about creating your own art by just making a series of repetitive strokes. Give it a whirl.

Charis Brown Malloy -- And finally, in response to my call to make vision boards last week, Charis shared her Vision Books -- she actually does her vision collage work in a journal. I love this. Take a look at what she does -- an ability to draw is not required, and the result is stunning.

And with that, Happy New Year, everyone, and happy journaling!

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Own Your Beauty is a groundbreaking, year-long movement bringing women together to change the conversation about what beauty means. Our mission: to encourage and remind grown women that it is never too late to learn to love one's self and influence the lives of those around us - our mothers, friends, children, neighbors. We can shift our minds and hearts and change the path we follow in the pursuit of authentic beauty.

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Karen Walrond is a writer and photographer in Houston, Texas, and the author of The Beauty of Different, a book that will prove to you that you are uncommonly beautiful.  You can read/see more of her life at Chookooloonks.

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