Daydreaming on Paper
August 2005
Seven Myths About Keeping a Journal

It has been well over a year since I last updated this page.

There were several reasons for this hiatus - the primary one being that there seemed to be nothing else to say about keeping a diary or journal. I felt as if I had already given you all of the tools at my disposal and that I had said everything that needed to be said.

In the time between that last monthly update and this one, numerous websites, e-groups, magazines, and other resources have sprung up - all designed to provide techniques, prompts, and inspiration for keeping a journal. In general, I would say that this explosion of resources is a Good Thing (TM Martha Stewart). It did, however, reinforce the idea in my head that my input was no longer needed. Every month, I would struggle to come up with a topic for this page, and before I could get it sketched out, the topic would appear on some message board or in somebody's zine. And so, each month, I would abandon my notes and go back to scribbling in my own notebooks.

Somewhere along the way, I began to notice a shift. All of a sudden, it seemed as if journal-keeping had gotten Way Too Complicated. This perception was validated by the e-mails that I would get from people who had stumbled across this site. The same types of questions and concerns kept surfacing over and over again:

  • How do I make myself write every day?
  • I can never seem to finish a journal. Do you have any tips?
  • I can't draw/I'm just not creative like you.
  • I don't know what to write about/Where can I find some good prompts?

And then there is the current popularity of the Art Journal or Visual Journal. I love the fact that more and more people are getting in touch with their creative side. After all, that is the very reason why I set up this website in the first place. I enjoy looking at examples of beautifully executed journal pages full of lush layers, watercolors, sketches, and elegant lettering. However, it seems that one downside to the art journal movement is that some people are beginning to feel that they have to turn out beautiful journal pages all of the time. In fact, it seems that the more resources there are about creativity and keeping journals, the more people tend to box themselves in with self-imposed rules about what a journal should or should not be and how it should be kept.

This month, I want to kick off the return of the monthly articles by deconstructing a few of those rules. There are seven myths in particular that seem to linger in the minds of diarists no matter how many articles are written to the contrary:

Journal Myth #1: A journal must be written in every day.
This is the most persistent journal myth of them all. The habit of keeping a journal or diary should be a pleasant experience - this is not a homework assignment! Give yourself permission to write as often or as infrequently as you feel like writing, whether this turns out to be once a day, several times a day, or a couple of times per year. If you are concerned about having gaps in continuity, you have two choices:

  • Fill in the blanks.
    • Write a lengthy entry that brings everything up to speed.
    • Make a list of everything that has happened in your life since your last entry.
    • Jot things down on your calendar as they happen and let that be it.

  • Let it go.
    Will it really be the End of the World if you don't chronicle every single day of your life? Sometimes, it is the gaps between entries that make a diary interesting. They add a touch of mystery and intrigue; who couldn't use a little more of that?

Just as daily writing has become ingrained in our collective journal-keeping psyches, there is also the persistent notion that...

Journal Myth #2: Journal entries should be written at the end of the day and...

Journal Myth #3: A journal entry is a detailed, written account of the entire day.
Time is an issue for many people. The idea of finding even ten minutes in a day to devote to the journal can be daunting, especially when there are preconceived notions about the best time to write. After a long day at work and dealing with various life chores and issues, many of us just do not have the energy or the inclination to sit down and write a lengthy anecdote about the day - no matter how sincere we may be in our desire to keep a diary or journal. This is why it is so important to break free of these two particular myths. While you may not have much time at the end of the day for writing, odds are good that there are several blocks of down time throughout the day that can be used for feeding the journal habit. When you do sit down to write, focus on the one moment, event, or topic that is most prominent in your mind right then. Concentrate on the one experience that you would most want to remember about the day up to that point. As you write, avoid falling into the trap of thinking that...

Journal Myth #4: All journal entries should be brilliant, witty, and/or deeply profound.
It is interesting that something so inherently private can be such a source of anxiety for so many of us. We sit down to write, and if bon mots and philosophical insights don't flow freely from the pen, we feel as if our entries are not good enough. The irony, of course, is that in the vast majority of cases, no one else is ever going to see what we have written - at least not in that raw, original form. Let go of your inner critic. Relax, take a deep breath, and just write. Don't worry about misspellings, cross outs, perfect grammar, or style; learn to embrace the imperfections.

Journal Myth #5: A journal is a written account of your life, goes hand in hand with...

Journal Myth #6: A journal must be kept in some type of bound book with lined pages.
Feeling stifled by the traditional blank page? Think outside of the book! Index cards, postcards, and blank or recycled business cards provide convenient, inexpensive, and portable formats for diaries and journals. At a loss for words? No problem! Combine your hobbies and try using sketches, photos, or rubbings to capture the main point of each day. Technophiles can keep sound journals or create elaborate multi-media journal files, intranets, and private blogs. Try out new scripts and codes while creating a digital record of your life. It's 2005; the sky's the limit!

Once you start to get creative with your journal, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the number of possibilities. This leads us to...

Journal Myth #7: It takes a wide variety of expensive materials to keep a journal that is visually interesting.
At the most basic level, all you really need in order to keep a journal is something to write with and something to write on. A whole lot of great art has been created with much, much less. One Purple Ink member even posted about an artist who created paintings with only soot and saliva! Now, with that in mind, take another look at that stubby pencil and dog-eared notebook and see what you can come up with. Draw doodles in the margins; experiment with your lettering; use shading to create intricate border patterns; write your entries in rebus form. And that's just the beginning! Flex your imagination and uncover new ways to turn your journal into a unique work of art without spending a dime. Sure, you will probably still splurge on stamps, stickers, and the occasional box of Cray-Pas, but these will be mere enhancements for your original compositions.

Most of us spend our days either playing by, rebelling against, or otherwise reacting to a seemingly infinite number of rules imposed on us by other people. Think of your journal as one place in which you call the shots. Take should out of your journal vocabulary. Break free of the myths and let your imagination soar!


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