A journal is not just for writers. A journal does not have to be just writing. It is not just a Dear Diary thing filled with secrets or a repository of gripes -- although it can be that, but it can, and should, be also more than that.
I have always kept some form of a journal since I was in high school. My practice had always been spotty. Surges of intense filling out of pages and then long periods of nothing. I accumulated quite a lot of unfinished notebooks, empty pages yellowed with time. My life had often felt uneventful, sometimes even unworthy.
I started with rules I picked up from no one in particular - that writing was the only option. That every entry must take up more than one page or else it was not a "valid" entry. That it had to be neat. That it had to be secret, in fact, because somehow it would contain things that one was not supposed to think or feel, like love and anger and hate and fear. When I read them I would feel shame and embarrassment, and even more awkward with myself. Or I would feel bored, and horrified with the smallness and meaninglessness of my life.
In 2012 I read The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron and was introduced to Morning Pages. It did not take me long to modify it and turn it into what I called Daily Pages. The way I wrote journals changed in many significant and dramatic ways since then. The journal became an aid and an ally to both my daily life and my creative life. It became a refuge and an anchor in the midst of every kind of storm I had to weather through. It took me to places I never knew existed within me, and it was also a safe place where I can examine my own life and discover its own gifts, powers, and meanings, and thus taught me, eventually, to become the person I love and trust (I have also learned to accept and forgive my old, often foolish selves, and I have grown to love them too).
How Daily Pages/ Journal-Keeping Works For Me
Daily Pages can be done at any time of day, as long as it is done at least once a day. It can be a short or long entry. It can be more than once a day. It can be written, drawn, sketched, painted, calligraphed, collaged, photographed, or any combination of these.
It has to have its proper space -- meaning I have to have a dedicated notebook or sketchbook for it. And it has to be something I can imagine being found when I am dead and gone and people would marvel -- not just because it looked pretty or interesting but because it would undeniably be a work of art on the self. It is the record of a life that has been examined and explored and given meaning. It is the witness of a life that dared to live by design instead of by default. I have to give it its rightful power -- to inform and to inspire, to set an example, perhaps. I have to treat it with respect -- meaning its purpose and authenticity. When I write on the pages it is not for show, but to show, to express, to share. Lessons and wisdom. Experiences and epiphanies. Not out of righteousness, but out of love for a certain way of living, out of joy, out of generosity.
It is a place that I shape with my hands - with words and images. It is a world in itself. It is a portal. It is safety. It is a refuge. It is a mirror. It is both kind and harsh. It is a time-traveling machine. It is where I create myself, among other things and pieces of art. It is a map. It holds and will hold all the X's that mark all the spots you will ever need to find.
I used to work a lot with "borrowed" images and words. This meant cutting out photos and magazine pages, and copying quotes. These were very useful for providing way-signs, inspiration, and guidelines. But a point came when I knew it was time for me to give back and to figure out my own and to express my own. Alongside the borrowed pieces I now have my personal contributions -- my own drawings and words, my own sketches. This has translated well into my paintings too because I am now able to construct and translate the images in my head whereas before I could only approximate with cut-outs and poorly-modified imitations of already existing works. I realised I want to have my own unique voice and style. It had frustrated me for quite a while. It was a very long process and when I was employed I rarely had time to really get into it.
I have only ever achieved this "identity" with my poetry but my daily pages helped me expand this creative self into other mediums. Soon it led me to the realisation that I want my poetry illustrated. And then it led me to that mad dare to myself to write a fantasy novel. And then to try watercolours. And to resurrect a fascination for calligraphy and lettering.
It may seem like a short time, since 2012, to have suddenly achieved many realisations and to have acted upon them. But I was unemployed (by choice). And for a while I had a bit of money to allow me to spend days figuring things out (and then there was no more money and I had to figure out how to juggle a dayjob with a creative life). But do not think it was easy. In many ways, grappling with my selves on the pages caused me frustration, despair, depression, rage. The patterns of my life terrified me, pushed me to the brink of wanting to escape in various permanent ways. I ached, I was in pain, I wept, I cursed.
But because I persisted, and I did not give up on it, the pages started to heal and help me. It started showing me ways through. It started giving me clues to solutions. Within that painful process I was also being taught to See, and to Know, and to Discern. If you do this you have to Stick To It Until The Sh*t Clears.
Now when I read my journals I feel a sense of safety and reassurance. The patterns in my life now make up a map by which I could navigate my days, with better awareness of my strengths and weaknesses. Writing my Daily Pages has become so ingrained in my routine that I feel untethered when I don't do it. And it is easy to do now because I have my rules impossible to break -- even a single sentence can be a Daily Page, a single word if that is what it takes for me to write something down. And usually, in the end, I actually manage a decent amount of writing done because I give myself every chance possible and no excuses.
What I Actually Write About
Anything, really. But that is no help if you want a specific point to start with. So --
- a "report" of what happened in the day and how I felt and thought about it
- an outline of what I intend to do for the day or the next day or the next week, and how I feel and think about them
- threshing out a problem or a puzzle that I need to resolve, including decisions I need to make; this often takes more than one entry and spans more than a single day; the act of writing it down helps clarify elements of the situation and lets me see possible solutions
- ranting; and this often leads me to a realisation that I cannot keep doing it without doing something about it
- an account of my dreams during the night; these often become creative seeds for poems, stories, and paintings
- an account of real-life dreams and how I think I could achieve them; these are often repeated exercises as circumstances and opportunities change
- at-the-moment thoughts and feelings that I sense to be significant or connects to a previous matter tackled on the pages
- ideas for creative projects and how I think I can do them, the materials I need
- fears and doubts, mostly about where the money will come from for the next month
- prayers addressed to the Universe or whichever divine being felt close at the moment
- a mind sweep, during which I pour on paper every single thing that I need/want/must do in order to de-clutter my head; then I often sort through them and realise what's really urgent and what's just white noise
- thoughts and feelings on specific subjects that called my attention for that day -- very varied, from books to people to philosophical statements, to memories of things past, to random observations
My Current "Web" of Daily Pages
Since I have been an avid practitioner of journal-writing, I evolved it in ways that would make it nearly impossible for me not to write. I now work with a "web" of writing/note-taking/event-capturing platforms that I collate and put together in hard copy (essential for review, reference, and record-keeping) -- so in my tiny studio I have a collection of notebooks plus binder folders with printed hard copies of writing I do by computer, phone, or tablet.
- Journal Notebook (Recommended : Leuchtturm1917, Copelle Grid, Alunsina Handbound, Traveler's Notebook a la Midori)
- Planner Notebook (Recommended : Leuchtturm1917, Moleskine)
- Manual Typewriter (output trimmed to paste into journal notebooks, or filed as is into the binder folder)
- Twitter (for the sudden, short, snippets, output linked to collect in Evernote)
- Evernote (which collects posts from other social via IFTTT, and also serves as a writing platform)
- iAWriter (distraction-less writing app, output copied into Evernote)
- OmmWriter (distraction-less writing app with nice ambient music, output copied into Evernote)
- Hanx Typewriter (distraction-less typewriter app in iPad, output copied into Evernote)
- Instagram (output linked to collect in Evernote)
- Blog (sometimes blog posts stand in for the day's entry especially if I feel strongly about it, each post copied into Evernote)
So this is what is working very well for me now. Let me know how you do yours.