Students tell me all the time, “I can’t write in my journal, I don’t have anything profound to say.” Or they worry, “I don’t want to write on my pages because my handwriting is so bad.” Or they fret that, “What I’m thinking about right now and want to write about doesn’t have anything to do with the image on my verso page, and I want to work on consecutive pages. I don’t want to leave blank pages.”
Where did all these ideas come from? Who set up these RULES for these journal keepers to follow?
Somewhere along the line they saw someone’s pages and felt everything was organized and related and logical. They took a class or read a book where someone pushed the virtues of art always illustrating text. Or they simply looked on line into other journals and decided everyone else made it look so simple there must be rules that they haven’t heard or understood yet.
Nope. Here’s the most important thing you can do in your journal—give in to your OWN PREFERENCES. Go with your own flow. Use the pages in any fashion that appeals to you.
If you do develop rules for yourself make them relate to something productive.
In my journals I have a rule that I never tear out pages or cross out “failed” sketches. I have tons of messy pages and illustrated pages where the images don’t look like anything I had in my mind. But I keep those pages because over time, when I do choose to go back into my journals looking for an outline I wrote for a class I want to develop, the sizes to cut paper and board for a particular binding project I want to do, or notes from a meeting I need to follow up on, I get to see those “failures” and see who much I’m improving, realize that the drawing wasn’t that bad and was an essential step in my progress, and sometimes even realize that it points in a direction I need to explore more fully! (Also I need to add I don’t use the word “failure” but instead think in terms of things working or not working, and focus on what works in each sketch.)
That’s the example of a rule that relates to something productive. It keeps my journal and my progress whole so that I can look back on my progress with my healthy editing eye, and discover new directions for myself.
Another “rule” I have for myself is that I like to work chronologically in my journals, page by page. So I do like to work on consecutive pages of course. This practice makes my life easier. As I near the end of a journal I don’t have to go back through the journal and find all the blanks I’ve left. I simply keep working, finish the book, and move on.
Additionally, I like to prepaint journal pages weeks, even months before I get to a page spread. I like to work on them when I flip the page over and find the next page is prepainted.
Having the “rule” to work chronologically ensures that if I’m having a tough day and don’t feel like sketching, I’ll get out the paints anyway (because I don’t like to skip pages). It also ensures that I don’t get precious about textures I’ve painted that “are too beautiful to use.” I never fall into the worry of “I’ll ruin that texture.”
Why is that important? If we look at our textures, or any of our raw materials, as “precious” we open ourselves to scarcity—”If I use this and it doesn’t work, I’ve wasted it, there won’t be another.”
A belief in scarcity stops creativity. It robs us of our momentum.
And scarcity simply isn’t true. Not where creativity is concerned. Creativity is limitless.
If you made one texture, you can easily make another on another day. Chances are it will be even better than the one you used today because you have continued developing your color sense and visual aesthetic.
This is an example of having a “rule” that keeps us going forward.
“Journaling Superstitions” has been one of my most popular post series. If you would like to read more of these “myth-busting” posts simply use the category list at the top of the page to find “Superstitions” or use those keywords in this blog’s search engine.
How Can We Move Away From Rules That Aren’t Healthy?
Think of rules as guidelines. Just because you have approaches that help you work faster, or work in ways that are predictably better, doesn’t mean that each approach is going to be universally good in all situations.
Allow yourself the opportunity to look at each new situation and set rules aside if a new approach is something you’re keyed up to try or it just seems better. You can always return to any methods that have worked consistently for you.
By allowing yourself the freedom to try new things, or to do things differently if not in a totally new way, you are letting your creativity stretch.
Guidelines get you sitting down to work, get you working on days when you have low energy, help you find time to work when your life explodes, but they are just that—guidelines.
Trust in yourself that you can try new ways when they present themselves. The more creative risks you take in your journal and the more frequently you take those risks, the better off your journaling practice is. You are flexing your creative muscles and making them stronger.
Don’t worry that you’ll be left without parameters within which to work. Your guidelines and best practices are only a page turn away.
Remember Who Your Audience Is?
There is something else that we can all do to keep our journaling habit healthy—remember who our primary audience is. It’s YOU.
You may believe that you are keeping a journal for your kids, or your grandchildren, or that you’ll be a famous writer or artist one day and everyone will want to read your journals and see how your beautiful mind works.
Let’s be realistic. Your grandchildren (or future grandchildren) might love and adore you, but they’re being raised in a generation of Twitter and Facebook. Everything happens quickly and dissolves. They might be fascinated with your journal volumes (and I’m thrilled for you if they are), but aren’t they going to be MORE fascinated with your journals if you didn’t “pre-edit” and tailor everything thing your wrote and drew to meet the audience you imagined to perfection?
Think of the journals you love to read and peek into yourself. You love seeing the scrawled notes of spontaneous realization; you love the unedited descriptions and savorings on the page that tell you how that person spent his or her day. You can sense he is finding his way and developing an understanding of his world. You come away with insights into that journal keeper’s life and art or writing.
I’ve helped at one breakdown of a 60-year-old household (most of the belongs were tossed) and I’ve completed another breakdown of a 66-year-old household by myself (most of the belongs were tossed). It didn’t matter that both families had children and grandchildren. There simply wasn’t space in any descendant’s home for someone else’s clutter. Yes family photos were passed along and a couple letters were kept, but that was it. Scrapbooks and notebooks all went to recycling.
Here’s the thing. That’s not even sad. If the people keeping those notebooks and scrapbooks got joy out of them that’s all that matters. None of us can know what someone else will find joy in. We all have to practice letting go.
But we also have to practice being in the present moment. And one way to do that is to keep a journal which functions as a workbook for creative and personal life. And for that workbook to really work each of us has to be our own primary audience.
You, right now, in the moment—what are you thinking? What are you observing? What do you feel compelled to sketch? That’s what matters.
If at some later point your journals have some secondary audience, if a grandchild decides to take up one of your artistic passions because she saw you so committed in your journals, that’s fantastic. But we cannot count on that. We can only live in the present moment and squeeze everything we can out of it.
To do that we need to keep guidelines that maintain our momentum and feed our creativity.
Everything else, even if it works for someone else, is simply a superstition.
You’re here NOW trying to find a way to work productively and creatively.
By all means listen to advice—you’re reading this blog post right now which is full of advice.
But be wary of someone who can’t explain why she has a “rule” about something. Or worse, explains the rule in a way that makes it obvious it isn’t a rule that came from her own organic practice.
Why does this matter? What you are looking for is a way to relate to your journal as only you can relate to it, so it has the most value it can have in your life.
I’ve been journaling and sketching my entire life. You don’t keep doing something that long without having fun. I have fun because I have observed my process and learned over the years the things I need to do to keep myself working, and the things to avoid because they take me away from my practice. And through all that my friends tell me I’m still fun to be around.
I want you to have the potential for as much fun.
Start today by looking at some of the rules you live by. Start by turning them into guidelines. Continue by examining how each impacts your work. Set aside any that are crimping your style. Embrace those that allow you momentum and breath.
So if you have an illustration on your page and a lot of space you would like to fill don’t worry that your handwriting is bad.
Your handwriting is what it is. If you don’t like it, take a class to change it. You can do that you know. If you don’t do that, stop whining to yourself about it, because frankly I can tell you all you’re doing is boring your creative soul who really doesn’t care what your handwriting looks like. (If your creative soul really does care about your handwriting you need to be taking steps to change your handwriting—you see this is really a do it or shut up situation.)
And if you think your writing doesn’t go with the drawing already on your page (or vice versa) don’t worry, all you’re trying to do is get stuff down on paper so it isn’t clogging your brain. You’re just keeping the flow going.
And if you don’t want to write on the page because you don’t have anything profound to say…?
Take a breath. Be in the moment. Write what you’re thinking down even if you don’t think it’s profound. Let time sort out profundity. You simply need to create.