How You Can Use Visual Journaling to End Arguments

April 1, 2019
Brush pen warm-up sketch; followed up with text written during a discussion. (Lined notebook not really suitable for visual journaling, but you know me.)


Let me begin this post by stating: this is not an April Fool’s Day prank.

I’m serious about the ability of visual journaling to end arguments.

First you have to keep a visual journal.

Next you and whomever you’re arguing with have to have a good sense of humor and a developed ability to not take themselves very seriously.

How The Method Works

Begin an argument. (Actually it’s probably best if you just let arguments naturally evolve or you’ll look like a bit of an ass if you look back in your journal.)

At any time, while you or the co-arguer are speaking, you as the visual journal keeper need to stop, pick up your journal, and jot things down—preferably next to an already or in-progress illustration about some unrelated topic.

Yes, “arguer” is a real word. It is also not an April Fool’s Day prank. See Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell and others listed anywhere one finds word usage like the Oxford English Dictionary.

If everyone’s sense of humor is working you should immediately notice a shift in the the tenor and tone of the discourse.

Giggling might ensue.

Or one arguer might smile and suggest that something was particularly “well-said” (or “confusingly stated,” or…) and both arguers will pause for a moment and reflect.

Nodding is optional at this stage but recommended.

When giggling subsides, or after a slightly awkward pause, the conversation will resume on a more positive footing.

Drawbacks to This Method

The “I’m-Uncomfortable-Because-This-Is-All-New-Breakdown”

There is a chance that first time practitioners of this use of the visual journal may find that a new argument breaks out at the “giggle” stage.

Remain calm.

Listen intently to the other arguer. I call this phase “Deep Listening” because that sounds trendy.

Maintain a neutral and non-condescending facial expression. 

Record the next outrageous or insightful or incitable statements in the same fashion and repeat.

This will lead to eventual relaxation of anger (disagreement, or petty grievance) through repetition, either because the developed ability to not take yourselves very seriously kicks in, or because one of you will simply tire.

If the latter happens I suggest a short walk outside, regardless of weather conditions. Hold hands.

The “Family-Who-Never-Forgets-Breakdown”

Every family has its own unique psychological make up. There are power struggles. There are alliances. There is intrigue. (“Family Life” is often much like an episode of “Survivor.”)

If you apply this journaling approach, as I have, from an early age within a family structure, be prepared to hear, “Why don’t you just look it up [Your Name Inserted Here]?”

This happens in families that lack sufficient shared sense of humor.

That response is particularly common in families heavily populated with narcissists deeply committed to the concept that there is only one right answer to a question and that life is a scorecard situation.

In essence these individuals are attempting to weaponized the journal, turning it and the practice of keeping a journal, against the artist.

Resist the weaponization of your journal (and protect your soul) by continuing on your path, and remembering to breathe and smile as frequently as possible. 

Remind yourself that this current situation is the best practice possible for dealing with unreasonable clients. All artists should learn this at an early age.

Also stay in school, get good grades, get an academic scholarship, and get out of there as soon as you can.

The “Losing-a-Lover-Because-of-Your-Art-Practice” Breakdown

It would be disingenuous of me to write about this approach to journaling without noting the possibility that a strong sense of humor and an inability to not point out the absurd can erode the state of emotional bliss many couples wish to cocoon within.

Yes my journal has come between me and some past lovers.

In a break up I always picked my journal.

It seemed the only sane thing to do. 

It is vital that you have pre-checked the compatibility of your sense of humor with the arguer before engaging in arguments that use the visual journaling approach.

I actually have found the journal useful for accurately pre-checking compatibility, but then you’d expect that having read this far.

Benefits to This Method

There are many reasons to keep a visual journal. For most visual journal keepers the primary impetus is to record life. But that intention breaks down further into myriad goals, expectations, and whims.

I recommend that you keep your journal for your own benefit. It’s a great tool to help you move through life. Use it to check in with yourself, your ideas, and your goals; and to have fun.

You may find that you never look back in your journal or that you do a monthly review. Bits of your life will find their way into your journal whatever construct you create around your visual journal.

I think it’s important that the journal is not simply an engine of angst, or a Pollyannaesque view of what your days and life have been like.

By helping to celebrate a shared sense of humor, and reminding both parties to keep their egos in check, I think the visual journal ends up creating a unique document of shared lives where the threads of what we think, what we observe, and what we draw, all get bound up together.

    • Debra Moini
    • April 1, 2019

    This is brilliant, Roz! Thank you for sharing it, I’m going to try it. Just for myself of course, for now. Debra

    1. Reply

      So glad you have a sense of humor Debra. We need one to get on in the world.

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