Many Journals, One Author

A skeletonized prickly pear pad. They can dry out and crumble and they can be pressed and preserved.

Last Saturday, when I joined a group of other artists I’d never met, we brought items for show and tell. There was an art quilt pillow, and a banner, and jewelry made of polymer clay and cactus webbing. I brought two of my journals–an experimental one and a sketchbook and passed them around. One of the women asked if I kept more than one journal at a time.

“Yes,” I said, “I do different things in different journals.”

“Isn’t that confusing?” she asked.

I’ve heard this question before, and I know it is difficult for someone to look at the linear idea of a journal–one page a day, perhaps, and see the effort scattered over a number of journals.

From the sketch journal: ink, sparkling H2)s on Arches Text Wove.

It’s hard for me to grasp the idea that everything fits in one book. I have a nature journal so I can check when the figs were ready last year, when the oranges bloomed, when the migrating birds first arrived in my yard.

Then there is the writing journal, the morning pages journal. Private and focused, it’s for my stream-of-consciousness thoughts, and long descriptions of ideas, dreams, and working through the problems that return and need to be processed and re-preprocessed. It’s one I’d never pass around.

There used to be a dream journal, but it burned in the roof-fire and collapse of 2003. There is a sketch journal and an experimental journal with mistakes and triumphs in it. Mostly mistakes. It’s important for me to remember not only the mistakes, but how I fixed them, or what the idea grew into.

Then there is my daily notebook, in which I keep business call notes, to0do lists and addresses so I can remember where I taught, what I taught and when. And names of people I meet in class, people who stay or fade, and may eventually work their way into the phone list.

None of them really belong to others, the contents seem to be happier separate. There was a time when all the information was in one book, with dividers, color coded. I gave it up when I let go trying to control my life. It worked well, both the separate journals and control.

Do you keep separate journals, ideas books? Do you keep different projects separate? Do you work in more than one medium? At the same time?

Quinn McDonald keeps many journals for many reasons. She’s writing a book to keep her inner critic out of the rest of her life.

25 thoughts on “Many Journals, One Author

  1. Glad to know I’m not alone in keeping multiple journals! Aside from my personal journal, I have an inspiration journal filled with quotes, ideas and bucket list (highlighted and dated as I do them), I have a scrapbook -loosely described, where I may glue a picture of my kids eating at our favorite Chinese restaurant and a funny fortune we got in our cookie. And, I’ve recently started experimenting with an art journal! That is so much fun. I’ve used paint, markers, colored pencils, collage, etc. The only limits are the ones you set yourself (that’s from my inspiration journal!)

  2. I have loads – journals, sketchbooks and visual diaries and I have never actually got to the end of one yet. Size is a big deal for me – sometimes I need the big huge 10×16 inch one, other times I dig out the little 4×4 inch one. Only one has a real purpose – the “extreme self care” book which is about my body and health. The rest are all mixed up and can span years chronologically. They are not linear inside either – I write on whatever page I feel like at the time. I guess I distinguish by function a bit – a sketchbook has better quality paper so I can draw, paint and doodle more; my visual diaries are more about curating images and journals are where anything goes and where I do my writing.

    When I’m travelling, I take whichever of my smaller ones has the most prepped pages. I also have a brilliant little Moleskine accordian file that I use when travelling to collect receipts, business cards and ephemera.


    • I’ve never seen the Moleskine accordion file, but I felt my heart skip a beat when I saw that sentence. I do like their accordion page journals for writing, because I can get the pages the size I want. I keep forgetting that people prep page backgrounds ahead of time, which baffles me, but I do understand the process. I’m just fussier about creating a page at a time from the place my heart and mind are at that moment. My new method of loose-leaf pages is essentially the same idea–I then bind them into any order I want. The idea of spanning years in a journal is such a good one, as it shows a glimpse into a life, rather than a chronological recording. And extreme self-care–now that’s a topic I would love you to do a guest post about–what a great idea!

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  4. I keep things separate. Each project has a discrete notebook, its own filesystem hierarchy, and “project” (a software entity). Within a project, if it’s code, each individual function exists in its own file (the “project” is what keeps track of these). If it’s a design project, each use case has its own object. There’s a hierarchy inside projects as well; it serves to keep all the pieces organized.

    All of this is set up to play to the strengths and weaknesses of human cognition and attention; the things I need to concentrate on are limited in size and scope, and once they’re okay I start combining them to make things that are (in one sense) bigger, but really “stay the same size” because now they’re simpler; put together out of building blocks I made. And what I’m doing at that stage is making bigger building blocks that will be put together into even bigger ones, until the whole thing comes together. (Or, um, doesn’t…)

    I learned this when working on the first “big” computer program I ever wrote, where “keeping track of which part of the program did what” started to be more work than actually programming. It works very much like what Indiana Jones’ father said: “I wrote that down so I wouldn’t have to remember it.”

  5. Keeping separate journals makes sense. I felt that I was wasting good journals by skipping back and forth between different books. I now feel that I have permission to set specific journals aside for special projects or ideas that need fleshing out. Hoping to start making my own journals so that the entire book is a reflection of me. Oh, that is a scary thought! I can do this and I will end up with some fun pieces to look over and to share with friends if I feel they will understand what the journal portrays. I still get comments like “isn’t it cute, she’s trying to draw her day or capture the look on the cat’s face.” No, I’m just trying to keep my hand busy and sticking to a theme for a journal I’m working on. Then, the ideas percolate and might end up on a canvas or a piece for #twitterartexhibit. Here’s hoping for some inspiration, devine or otherwise.

  6. YOU got me with this one, Queen! I am one of those having more than just one journal! (actually, you found one of them I don’t post anymore) I have at least 3 online, in 3 different languages! Yeah, that’s creepy, isn’t it?! Well, maybe for some of you guys, for me is expressing different faces of myself. And sometimes I get my ideas better using a foreign language than my native language. And I keep different physical journals, one very small in my bag, where sometimes I really write more than just my ideas (more than just a diary). And I have another 2 for expressing my creativity, whatever that might be at some point. SO yes, I’m keeping more than just one journal at the same time. Of course, I believe we all have a “secret” journal that is only OUR private journal that NO ONE EVER READS IT (or at least no one while we are still alive) and I’m pretty sure this one is not ONLINE. No, no. Because it is private.
    And as for the mistakes, I go back and read my journals and find terrible typos or even grammar mistakes. We all learn from our journals, I believe.

    • I’d never learn anything if I didn’t go back, read my journals and think, “Hey, I quit doing that stupid thing!” Or, “No kidding, I’ve been doing that for a long time!” I love the different language idea. I think it opens up whole new areas of your heart and brain.

  7. Different journals for different themes. Some of them are specific for a particular project (like the 28 days with Lynn Can´trememberhersurname). Same goes for scrapbooks.
    I burn the morning pages when the project is complete. I keep an appointment diary in which I write what I actually did and discard the “real” appointment diary after the year is finished. Mmmmmm, no, that is not actually true. I keep those for a few years, take a picture of the lot and throw them away.

  8. I’ve got journals all over everywhere as well. Mine aren’t organized like yours are, though. Whatever journal I pick up is the one I’ll be working in until I set it down or need something from that journal again, Personally, I think it’s a blast when I do need to find something I wrote or sketched or doodled ages ago because I get the opportunity to thumb through the pages of my many journals and remember where my mind was at and see how far I’ve come. It’s a memory journey for me and I like it that way.

  9. I have separate journals too. But there aren’t necessarily all organized. I do have a project idea journal, and my morning pages, and a shared journal with me and my sisters. But most of my journals are a little bit of everything. I started working in multiple journals because I was too impatient for things to dry. If you have several options you can use, you can do a bunch of pages at once – working on different ones while others are drying (paint, glue, etc).

  10. My journals are all over the place – literally and figuratively. I keep separate journals for separte things like you – personal journalling, quotes, gratitude/prayer, sketching, course notes, etc. Sometimes though, I can’t find a journal, so I use what is at hand. Or I use sticky notes and tape them into the right place later. I’ve got journals by my bed, in my purse, on the bookshelf, in my tote bag, in my art space, in the den. Sometimes they go missing for a while, then I find them and start using them again. Or I’ll leave them for months at a time then pick them up again. I’ve always thought there was something wrong with me! I usually a pretty organized person. I gave up worrying about it though. I figure, heck — at least I am journalling, capturing thoughts, ideas, lists, images. It works for me. And it makes for interesting reading when I go back and look them over. It’s better than “not doing” it because it can’t be “perfect”. Happy journalling!

    • I love the random approach. I now do looseleaf jornaling, so I have pages all over the place. I sort and bind them when I find enough pages that go together. It’s fun and always a surprise.

  11. It’s a great post Quinn, and I agree that it’s not a great fit to try to squeese everything into one book, not least because I would HATE to take five pages of notes at a meeting on watercolour paper! 😉 Or bring my private diary to a meeting for that matter. Question: but what if you have the wrong notebook with you for the notes or things you need to do? When you leave the house, how do you know what book to bring? 😉

    • Good question. I always bring the notebook with business notes. In the back, I tuck a page of two of heavy paper. I have a ballpoint and pencil with me. Unless I’m on an art hop, I do most of my work at home, but I take notes and quick sketches while I’m out. How do you solve this delicious problem?

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