Recovering Perfectionist’s Journal Pages

Somewhere in your head is the vision of the perfect journal. Maybe it’s an art journal, with ink-and-watercolor wash pages, which instantly recall a vacation or a romantic getaway.  Or maybe it’s all written in fountain pen, in a lovely Palmer penmanship. It’s a nice thought, but it’s unlikely.

Even Gwen Diehn, who creates breathtaking journals, admits to mistakes.

Life is messy. Your journal will be, too.  In fact, it should be. I teach journaling classes, so I meet people who are shocked when they page through my journals. “This isn’t beautiful!” they will accuse. Or, “I thought you would have only lovely pages!” Whatever gave them that idea? Why would I want only lovely pages? How would I know they were lovely if they aren’t interspersed with unlovely pages for comparison?

Unless you create a neat stack of wonderful pages and then bind them into a book, there are going to be imperfect pages in your journal.

Journals are for experimenting, not documenting perfection. While I love pen-and-ink drawings, I have  lot more then that in my journal–everything from collage to pencil sketches, and ideas for raw art. I’ll admit I’m biased–I don’t like journals that look like they were made from a kit. I like journals that look like real life on real pages—some inspired, some desperate, some with incomplete ideas, drawings, snippets of words. A real journal looks like a real life. And real life, at least mine, isn’t neat or tidy or all wrapped up with an elastic closure.

As a recovering perfectionsist, I’ve come to grips with a journal I use daily. That means pages written on with various pens, idea-generators torn from magazines, ideas that didn’t work out and a few magnificent pages.

It’s a much more realistic approach to journaling. There are people who tell me that they are waiting for their lives to “quiet down” before they start coaching, go back to school, get married, or have a baby. They never get around to any of those things. Life doesn’t settle down.  Coaching,  journaling and marriages takes place in the middle of messes, tears, joy, and confusion, generally of your own making.  That’s how life is.

Occasionally, if I really messed up a page, I’ll cut it out or cover it with gesso, but largely, I leave it in as a reminder that I’m a recovering perfectionist, and today was another day in recovery.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who keeps a messy journal. Several of them, in fact. She is also a life coach and creativity coach.