“What should I write in my journal?”

One of the major reasons people quit keeping a journal is fear. “I have to be neat,” they think, or, “I better write profound thoughts.” Not at all. Many of my journal pages are a way of thinking out loud–and often not in words. Sketches, collage, ephemera are vital elements that create journal pages.

jrnl pageOne important act is to date the pages. That way, you will know where your thoughts were on any specific day.

You don’t have to keep one journal in order, either. I have several journals–a small one that I take with me when I travel, a bigger one made of lokta paper,and one with a hard cover, is bound with a big spiral and is filled with heavy watercolor paper. I don’t write in them in order; instead, I use the journal right for the job.

jrnl page 2The three examples shown here show typical journal pages. There are two collages–but not styled or finished ones–simply a “first draft” that does not need to be complete or perfect. It needs to speak to me. I don’t show these collages as artwork, they are meditations in paper.

One has a photograph of my grandfather, a man I never met, but about whom many stories have been passed down. He was a doctor in the last century, and his secret was his curiosity. So there are things on the page that represent not knowing, exploring and discovering.

On the bottom left is an illustration with the saying “Teach thy tongue to say I do not know and thou shalt progress.” There is a quote from Rumi, the Sufi mystic, that says, “Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.” I didn’t write a long essay on the importance of not knowing, but the collage says it all, and reminds me of the value of curiosity.

jrnl page 3Another one is a collection of papers, illustrations and a few words that illustrate, for me, how the whole is made up of many parts, all important. It was the result of my trying to describe my idea of the force of the universe–that all of us are one, and that struggling separately is what causes misery. It’s a study that helped me think through my philosophy, part of my interior journey.

The final piece was a page of doodling. My favorite markers of the moment are two fat gray markers–they have a point on one end and a chisel tip on the other. One is 50 percent gray, the other 20 percent. I was playing around with values and hue. This isn’t a composition, it’s doodling. I noticed I was drawing plants, which are green, but using two shades of gray. Then I thought of ee cummings poem that starts, “I thank you god for most this amazing day,” and wrote down the first verse in the doodling. I found a phrase in a poem that says “Green is a solace,” so I added that, too.

These three pages are just as important and valid as if I had written down elaborate descriptions and carefully formed logical thoughts. As I put down the pictures, or doodled with the pens, my mind was free to roam and think. It was soothing and helped me sort out thoughts. And that’s the reason for keeping a journal.

–You might also enjoy the difference between a diary and a journal.

–Quinn McDonald is an artist and a certified creativity coach. She will be teaching “Wabi-Sabi journaling” starting September 16, 2007. For more information, contact Quinn at QuinnCreative[at]yahoo[dot]com. (c) 2007 All rights reserved.

11 thoughts on ““What should I write in my journal?”

  1. Pingback: Sunday Book Club: Art Journals « woollywotnots

  2. Your description of art journal pages as “meditations in paper” is brilliant! I focus on process not product and you’ve taken that one step further. Thanks!

    • As a writer, my point is always to say something on a journal page–even if I use just a few words.
      The 1000 journal project really got me going on content over style, and I’m thrilled you are into that, too. –Q

  3. Thank you for showing us your journal pages Quinn. You are so right…fear certainly stops me!! Am I doing it right? Actually is is this concept of ”doing it right” that holds me back from doing so much!!! Mmmm…might just take out one of those sketchbooks and just start….

  4. Vi, Mari and Robyn–Visual journaling is SO much fun. While I’m a writer, I often want to disconnect from that way of expressing myself and drift to something a little more intangible and emotional. I found visual journaling to be wonderful. I’m not producing “art,” I’m using various ways to keep my hands busy and my mind connected to my emotions. It’s powerful and can have some really rich results.

    I find the pages to be more personal than even the writing pages, and yet I am the only one they are meaningful to. So it creates a very private journal.

  5. My thanks too, Quinn. I also have several journals (on computer, in purse, in notebooks) but they are all “just words”. I have wanted before to start one that I can paint and draw and collage in but haven’t so here’s my inspiration to start.

  6. Thank you, Quinn, for this post. I have on a number of occasions started a journal, but for one reason or another it fell off my daily agenda. Time perhaps is the culprit, at least that is my excuse. Your post has set me to thinking again about jotting down a few thoughts on a daioly basis.

  7. I am finding the idea of journaling with collage and drawings to be quite fascinating. I guess I never considered as a way of journaling before. I really like this idea. I may have to try it.

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