Is One Journal Enough?

Is One Journal Enough?

Gwynn Scheltema

Like a lot of teenage girls, I kept a diary for several years. Entries are a hodgepodge of the trivial: (we didn’t have the geography test today), funny: (my blue dress seems to have shrunk and Daddy is not amused!), and, on occasion, surprising: (I found myself sleepwalking last night).sad-woman-1055092_640

I wrote strictly about my life, what happened and how I felt about it. The diaries were hard-cover, date-at-the-top-of-the-page books, and fifty years later, I still have them. I’m glad I have them. But I know I likely wouldn’t if they had been soft-cover spiral-bound notebooks.

And now?

Yet these days, I do journal in spiral-bound notebooks—and tiny pocket notepads, on the computer and in large books with unlined paper. So why the difference?

What prompted me to think about my different journals, was a comment from Heidi Croot on my post To Edit or Not to Edit, where she mentioned the Steinbeck style of journaling (a guest post by by Kendra Levin on Brian Kelms blog) where Steinbeck had a “companion journal” chronicling his progress on his novel. I don’t have a Steinbeck companion journal (yet), but I do have a variety of journals that serve different purposes and their physical form does seem to influence their use.

female-865110_640Sadly, I have several beautiful journals—handmade paper, illustrated, filled with wise sayings, beautifully bound—and I will likely never write in them. I’m afraid I’ll “spoil” them, like everything I write in them needs to be perfect. Silly, maybe, but that’s me. Many writers are inspired by beautiful paper or pens, or illustrations and bindings. Just not me.

So here’s what I use and why:

Journal for Morning Pages

After the teenage years, I didn’t journal for decades. What got me back into it was Julia Cameron’s creative self-discovery book The Artists Way, where I discovered morning pages—three pages of uncensored writing done first thing in the morning. No rules, don’t overthink, just write three pages of something. When I first started, a lot of it was ranting or wishing and even to-do lists. But now, it’s a mix of personal and creative. Most of my poetry starts in mornings pages, and I use it to “talk out” fiction problems too, and start fiction scenes.

leather-refillable-journalI tried various sizes, lined and unlined, and finally settled on a 6 x 9 lined. It fits easily on my bedside table and filling 3 pages doesn’t intimidate me. The reality is, I often fill far more. They fill up quickly, so I invested in a leather refillable version that closes with a tab and has a pen holder. Refill notebooks are cheap and easily found at the dollar store, because it is a standard size. I’m not forced to buy refills from the original manufacturer.  As I finish each one, I label it with the dates it covers and store them on a shelf in my writing room.

B.I.C. File

Morning pages are done by hand on paper before I get out of bed. If I wrote everything by hand, however, I would waste a lot of time typing it up. So I have a computer journal too.notebook-405755_640

I house it in Scrivener, and the project name is BIC (bum in chair). I write here with the same uncensored writing attitude as morning pages: sometimes timed freefall sessions, sometimes writing prompts, all in an attempt to stay ahead of the internal critic. It works. Many blogs and fiction scenes have been birthed here. When I create something I think is useful, it’s easy to copy and paste it to the relevant writing file and keep going.

Journal for Anytime – Anywhere

This notebook has to fit in my purse, so it’s much smaller, about 3 x4, dollar store quality. In it, I record odd thoughts or observations that come to me when I’m out and about. It has no organizing method, and I make sure it doesn’t have too many pages, because if it stays rattling around too long in my purse, it tends to fall apart. This forces me to take the contents and do something with them: type them up in appropriate computer files (blog ideas; scenes for the novel; poetry ideas etc.), add them to projects, or discard them.

Visual Journal

maple-leaf-638022_640A good friend of mine keeps her journal in a large blank-paged artist’s sketch book. She writes in it, draws in it, sticks photos and leaves and feathers in it too. It’s like a giant scrapbook, and she says she likes the freedom of not having lines. I’m not so good with things that don’t have boundaries—safety edges—but I do keep a version of this. I have one for my novel, with newspaper clippings, photos, magazine cut-outs, maps of towns or plans of houses. Visual stuff. Electronically, I use Pinterest (a board for each novel) and Scrivener has great research capabilities for keeping visuals and web links.

Teeny-tiny sentence-a-day journal

flowerets-577081_640Quite by chance, I was given a pocket journal, about the size of a credit card. I wondered what on earth I could possible use it for. I decided I would force myself to observe through all the senses and each day write just a single line to describe something in a different way. The sentence-a-day part didn’t work out, but those single lines have inspired poetry and been a great exercise for my creative mind.

Whether you want to keep the personal separate from your fiction, or hate margins, or need space to draw, it’s all your choice. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong form for a journal. What’s important is that it suits your way of creating.

What journals do you keep and why?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

8 thoughts on “Is One Journal Enough?

  1. I have several too, one for writing ideas and poem snippets, another for my poetry group, a third for working on self, and at least 4 blank ones that are, as you say, too beautiful to write in. Or too difficult— as a left-hander often even the way it’s constructed may determine whether it gets used or not. But perhaps the beauty of these journals is not complete until they are written in by the writer?

    1. Hmmm.. Never thought about the left-handed aspect. I guess you have to choose ones that lie flat, like the coil bound ones. I like the idea of a journal for “working on self”.

  2. Well, you asked. I keep more than a dozen journals for various purposes: my mainstay, a Blueline, for my life, book reviews, learning…and to which I have recently introduced the glue pot (inspired by Sue Reynolds). A coil for epiphanies related to the book I’m writing. A sweat record (exercise). Menus so I don’t repeat meals served to guests. Bedside. Purse (X 2, one for lists, one for ideas). A book in robin’s egg blue dedicated to writing workshops and WCDR breakfasts. A fat coil to contain my burgeoning to-do list. Vacations (bubblegum pink Moleskin!). Telephone conversations with ma mere (online). Freelance business writing records (online). Daily freefalls (online). And I know I’m missing some. They all rock. They make me feel as if I’m in a cradle. I love your idea of keeping one for your novel. Brilliant.

    1. Thanks for sharing. here are a couple more from Diane Taylor’s book, “A Gift of Memoir”: a gratitude journal and a journal for “quotes from the world’s poets, songwriters, global spiritual leaders” as long as they are “a hundred percent in alignment with my heart”

  3. I haven’t kept a journal for a long time now. Yet, as I read your blog, I remembered how much I enjoyed it when I did. So, thank you Gwynn for the benefits of this personal pleasure.

    1. You’re welcome. I have had ‘dry” patches in my journalling too over the years, and have the same sense of “why did I stop?’ when I get back to it. I guess it’s like most things in life: there is a season for everything, and we’ll find it when we need it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *