A good friend is trying to expand her journaling but doesn’t know where to start. People keep telling her “do whatever you want” but that isn’t concrete enough. I’ve been journaling since ‘99 so I put together a little presentation of all the stuff I’ve done. To begin with, when I say “journal” as a noun what I mean is a blank book that a person fills over time with personal information. A diary is a journal that’s either mostly or all words, a verbal personal narrative. A sketchbook is a journal that’s either mostly or all art, a nonverbal personal narrative. A journal is a blend of these.
My first journal was purely diary. Lined paper with words written in either pen or pencil. This was the book that lasted me the longest, 4 years while the rest last 3-9 months. I was a very angry teenager and while most of the entries are about mundane events, like visiting my dad or something my school bullies said, it’s almost all just emotional ranting. Intentionally bad spelling, swearing as I was oh-so-rebellious in these pages, violent ideation.
If there was a fire or something and I could save only one journal, it would probably be this one - the one when I started polyamory is a close second though since I so obviously began opening up and being honest with myself. But when I think about being the adult that Child Me needed, Child Me lives in this diary.
The first few years of journaling, I tried to have several different journals for different purposes. Part 1 of this series was my diary for writing events and feelings. There were also a dream diary, a Book of Shadows, and a poetry book - none of which i still have, sadly. The barely-used dream diary and Book of Shadows became regular journals, I just never got into the habit of writing in those for their original purposes. In high school I had a sketchbook:
I had this idea that my drawings would someday be framed into gallery-quality art, so I was very stingy with the paper. This is by far the biggest book out of all my journals, and yet it has the most empty space. Out of my 35(!!!) completed journals, I have very few regrets and not filling pages is probably my #1.
Throughout late high school and college I gradually combined diary + sketchbook + dream diary + Book of Shadows into just one book at a time. Having several different kinds of journals going concurrently just doesn’t work for me.
I was still using small novelty notebooks, some lined some not, and they’re very word-centric - my art usually ended up being used for classwork, and I wasn’t about to hand in my personal writing. Most of what I wrote about was relationships, my poopy high school boyfriend and then my girlfriends. Part of me wishes that I had written more about other things, but these are evidence of how brainwashed I’d been that longterm monogamous relationships = success.
Finally I got into my journaling stride. Unlined art notebooks, words mixed with art mixed with collage. Lots of STUFF and every page is full. When I think of “journal” this is what comes to mind.
I finally began writing about a great variety of things: relationships, travel, nostalgia, emotions, shadow work, goals, spirituality, books, dreams, frustrations, museums, etc. These journals are much more whole and they reveal ongoing patterns to do with as I wish.
Forgive the syrupy metaphor, but I think it’s a good representation of my journaling experience. The base is crummy, but I’m using it to grow and heal. And the fact that I’m starting this unusual journal while looking over my past ones makes me more self-aware as I write/paint/collage. The entries that stand out most in my memory, without even needing to go back over them, are the ones written with the awareness that Future Me will look back on them.I’ve never had much interest in writing prompts as I was already so comfortable with my journaling habits. But since this book already has me outside of my comfort zone, I might start doing some? Whoa I’m kinda blowing my own mind right now
Starting last summer, I got into a different kind of book art. While my journals/diaries/sketchbooks feel like an ongoing process over time, these feel like book books. They sit on shelves with other books (though my journals might soon move onto shelves just because cardboard boxes aren’t working anymore) and I want other people to look at them.
First is Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko, which I painted and collaged last summer. This is one of my favorite books and having it on plain paper just didn’t seem right.