I’ve always thought keeping a journal meant writing long passages of insight about your life and its meaning, a diary a la Anais Nin or The Artist’s Way that someday after you die would reveal who you secretly were. I’ve tried to do this in the past but it never stuck. But after reading Show Your Work, I’ve realized that keeping a journal is the opposite. It can be disjointed, messy, inspired, and mundane. It’s a reflection of the nonlinear mind, of the creative journey. Like a painting of thoughts, ideas, notes, and even drawings, its bits and pieces coalesce to form its beauty.
I think my trouble was always rooted in journaling on a computer. Since I often self-edit as I write, I cross out words and add new ones often. But if you’re not writing brilliance, you don’t need to worry about this. All you need to do is record flares of inspiration. And after I bought a physical journal whose cover reflects me and what I’m about, I fell in love with the process. Here’s why.
It’s not a closed, digital file.
I don’t have to walk over to the laptop, open a piece of cold metal, key through to the right directory, and open the right file. The journal’s already there on the table, on the counter, on the ottoman, reminding me that it’s ready for whatever I feel is worthy of recording for a later time.
It’s a physical object.
We have these things called eyes. They’re for seeing the tangible world. Unlike a white screen that floats words at a distance, my journal sits in real world permanence. It has a cool cover. It’s of a William Morris print, which features plants. I can flip pages. I can read one sentence and jump two pages ahead where a word catches my eye and I discover an interesting sentiment I’d forgotten I’d recorded. I can rip out a page and throw it away or give it to someone as a gift.
It’s visually rich.
If I’m thinking of a story about a plant, I can draw that plant. I can underline a word twice without having to search through boxes for the underline feature. I can combine goals with notes and with quotes, making for a thought jumble I’d never do on a screen. Also, the words are in my handwriting, which is uniquely me. I can decorate it with doodles or photos or stickers.
My history is on paper.
What was on my mind in January is right there on the first page. How it compares to a random moment in February, and whether March slipped in between those months doesn’t matter. It’s different phases of life or different moments of a day. Whether it’s linear and cohesive matters little. The writing is there to inspire, to remind, and to reminisce about. It’s not there to be admired.
I know some readers are thinking, “Yeah, duh, how did you not know?” As a writer and gardener, I’m a completist. If I write something, it has to be comprehensive and of quality. If I design a garden, all factors will be considered. So it’s a leap for me to record things in a way that’s always seemed unfinished. I like finished. But what I’ve finally realized, happily, is a collection of unfinished things then becomes it’s own finished thing.