Journal Your Way into 2011

Happy New Year! Which custom are you bringing in the New Year with? Black-Eyed Peas? Entering the house on the right foot? Starting  a squeaky new journal?

For the last several years, it’s been very trendy to create journals with no writing–just lots and lots of thick, layered, colorful pages. I’m a fan of thick pages, but I must admit that a journal with no words is, well, empty for me. I understand their value as art pieces, but I’m a writer, so I want those meaning-making words. It doesn’t have to be page after manuscript page, but words are art, and my journals need words to be complete.

Top: pamphlet journal, Coptic journal (flowered cover), Rescued book journal, everyday journal (open), Japanese stab-bind journal (dark blue cover)

Putting my blog post where my heart is, here are some ways to keep your journal working for you this year:

1. Filling that empty first page. Don’t let it scare you. Here’s are five ideas for filling that first page. While I put those two arrows going in different directions on my first page, I also enjoy creasing the page in random places without tearing out the page, using washi tape to make a random design, or cutting a hole in the first page to peek through to the second page.

2. What should you write in your journal? Don’t feel you have to write every day. Write when you have something to say–but don’t be shy about what you have to say. Keep lists to get you started. Sure, you can keep a list of books you’ve read or movies you’ve seen, but it might be far more interesting to keep a list of what people do to annoy you, the most outrageous outfit you see each day,  (where is the fashion police when you need them?), types of people you really don’t like, things you stopped to look at and loved, people you’ve kissed or hugged. Add a list of food you’d like to eat and one of food you actually eat. You might discover that you are an interesting landscape worth exploring.

3. What kind of journal? You have a lot of choices–explore them. Journals that look like books, journals in loose-leaf binders or spiral-bound composition books. Accordion-fold journals, open-spine journals that lie flat, like coptic journals. Fold-up journals that look like maps. Maybe they are maps. Make your own journal. It doesn’t have to be hard or complicated. Design your journal to fit what you are going to put in it. Saving menus, movie tickets (what day did you see Tron? (The 1982 original.) You might need an envelope journal. Which brings up (but doesn’t beg) another question:

4. One journal or many? It doesn’t have to be either/or. I have one journal for ideas, notes, comments. It’s messy and not at all “pretty.” But it’s useful and used. From that I make other journals with more limited uses. For example, this year I want to keep a nature journal–an odd thing in Arizona, right? Not at all. We have four distinct seasons in Arizona, even on the desert floor, but they don’t look at all like the seasons in Connecticut or Washington, D.C. I want to know if the figs are early this year, and if what I remember about last year is true.

I live in one of the most beautiful states in the country–the vacation destination of many, but I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon. I’d like to do short trips this year, the kind loved by those who own their business. Not gone too long, but enough to relax. So I’ll keep a map journal. I love maps, all kinds of maps, and I want more of them. You can keep an index card journal and take it with you.

You can keep journals of what you wore to all the weddings or baby showers you went to, what you were wearing when you heard good (or bad) news, what you were wearing on everyone’s birthday. You can keep journals just for yoga, just for hiking, just for keeping track of your music and what you listen to when you are in a certain mood. You can keep a journal of food you love to eat and food you hate, how many miles you put on your car and where you went, how long it takes to wear out a pair of sneakers and how you did it. There is no shortage of how you spend your time. In fact, that’s another journal. And don’t forget a journal about your favorite words. Or a one-sentence journal. That’s a start. You can keep going from there.

5. The point of journaling is to explore. You can do it everywhere and any time. The only thing holding you back is not doing it. Enjoy 2011 and take notes so you can remember the good parts.

–Quinn McDonald is a raw-art journaler who makes and keeps journals, teaches other people the joys of journaling and wrote a book about it. Raw Art Journaling, Making Meaning, Making Art comes out in July.