A friend recently asked me about my journaling practice and how often I do it.  I immediately wondered, “Which one?”  I have several journal practices.  I have hand-written journals—stacks and stacks of them stashed in various places–, and I also keep a monthly “Writing Practice” open in a Word document on my laptop.  And I have an art journal, which is a wire-bound sketch book I picked up at Michaels.   The first two are primarily words—essays, poetry, random lists, and regular old journal entries.  I also sprinkle in generous amounts of ideas as they come to me, quotes and bits of conversation I find inspiring as well as questions that pop into my head and that I don’t necessarily have an answer for.  The art journal is a collection of images and words, both from magazines and my own creation, and range from finished art pieces to hurriedly slapped-down words I’ve ripped from a copy of Yoga Journal and fastened with a piece of Scotch tape.  In other words, it’s a hodge-podge mess of ideas and things I like.  Simple.

This same friend said that she had tried to start a journal several times but became frustrated with it when she didn’t stick to a regular schedule or when it didn’t seem “good enough.”  She said she really wanted to have a regular journal practice but that she didn’t know how.

Much like running, there is no secret.  You just do it. 

Here are some thoughts to ponder if you, like my friend, are interested in a starting a journal (written or art… or BOTH) and don’t know where or how to begin.

  1. Begin.  Buy a journal or composition book or sketch book.  These are cheap and easy to come by at any Wal-Mart or art supply store.  Heck, you don’t even have to buy one.  Snitch one from your kid’s stash of school supplies.  You can pay them back later.  The point is that you don’t have to have specially designed or expensive material to begin.  Take what you have and make it work.  There are awesome tutorials online that even show you how to create your own if you are feeling really inspired.  But if you’re starting out, I recommend the path of least resistance.

2. Let go of perfect.   If you feel like your journal entry has to sound or look a certain way, you have probably already killed it.  Lighten up.  Pinterest is full of inspirational ideas for art journals, but if you look at those and expect yours to look even remotely the same, you are doomed.  Forget it.  Move on.  And THEN, tear out some photos you like from a magazine you’ve been meaning to recycle.  Don’t think about it too much.  Just rip and tear and collect the things that catch your eye.  You can do the same things with words.  They don’t have to “mean” anything.  You might just like the font.  Rip it out and set it aside.  Next, tape of glue them down in your journal.  Play around with how you want to lay them out on the page and then stick them in.  Take a pen and write around, under, or even over top of what you’ve glued down.  Make some doodles in the margins.  Scribble with your favorite crayon—try “cerulean blue” just because it’s called “cerulean blue”.  
There you go.  Your first journal entry. 


3. Don’t think you have to stick to a schedule.  For me, writing is a daily practice.  I write almost daily, though there are those days when life happens, and I don’t get around to it, but most days,  I write either in my hand-written journal or on my laptop.  I write in both several times a week.  The art journal does not happen as regularly.  Sometimes, I’ll work in it for several days in a row.   Or I might not touch it for two weeks.  This is not a cause for alarm or guilt or the idea that you are incapable of keeping a journal.  For most people, journaling is a hobby, a pastime, a form of self-care and reflection and creative expression.  It is therefore not recommended that you turn it into a chore.  This should be fun.  You may choose to journal daily.  Or only a few times a month.  You may choose to have dedicated journal times or let it just happen.  Either way is OK.  Find what works for you.  However, with that said, if journaling is something that you feel calling you, don’t be a martyr and put it off.  Don’t pull the old “when I have more time” excuse, because let’s face it, friend, you won’t ever have more time, so decide.  Make a choice.  Take 15 minutes to work on something that you want to.  Nobody will die and the world will not stop turning if you close the door and work on your journal for 15 minutes while the casserole is in the oven.  Seriously. 


4.  Have a spot that doesn’t require constant clean-up.  One common deterrent is the idea that you have to pull everything out and then put everything back, which leads to the whole “it’s more trouble than it’s worth” excuse.  If it’s a written journal, then all you need is a space on your bedside table or in a desk drawer.  A drawer or basket or box may be all you ne
ed for an art journal as well.  Once you expand your journal and/or the supplies you need or want, you may require a little more than that.  If so, that’s cool.  Find a corner of the dining room table or a section of counter top or a spot in the garage or attic or laundry room where you can leave your stuff mid-project and come back to at your leisure.  Again, nobody will die if crayons or a set of acrylic paints is left on the table. 

5. Look at journal ideas for inspiration, not comparison.  If seeing what other people have to offer makes you want to pull your supplies out and get to work immediately, then by all means, use the resources at the bottom of the page and the countless others you’ll come across in the blogosphere.  If, however, seeing these other journals makes you doubt your ability, ideas or general self-worth, walk away.  Close the computer.  Unsubscribe from newsletters in your inbox.  Ban Pinterest from your life.  Make YOUR stuff—with crayons and Scotch tape and your kids nearly used up glue stick—and have FUN.  What anyone else is doing doesn’t matter.  If it does, then you’re sort of missing the point.

Over the years, journaling, in all its forms, has been a source of comfort, insight, prayer, daydreaming, creative expression, and play.  I will never make a living from my journals.  I will never publish my journals—the thought actually sends shivers down my spine (as if people didn’t think I was crazy already!).  I never have to worry about anyone other than myself seeing my journals.  That’s what makes journaling so much fun—it’s just for me.  And, if on the off chance I decide to share an entry or two, then that decision is entirely up to me.  There’s no pressure.  And you shouldn’t feel any either.  Just begin it.  And let the ideas flow.

Looking for some inspiration?

I highly recommend Shannon Kinney Duh’s e-courses for art journaling.  She is great for beginners and beyond, but I think she has a flair for encouraging and inspiring beginners.

Journal 52 provides weekly inspiration and prompts.