Living with Your Messy Journal

Somewhere in your head is the vision of the perfect journal. Maybe it’s all online, on a beautifully decorated page with changing photographs. Or maybe it’s all written in fountain pen, in a lovely Palmer penmanship. It’s a nice thought, but it’s unlikely. If you are like me, you drag your journal with you and it has sticky spots on the cover, grease spots on the inside pages and some place where the cat (or your) chewed the corner.


“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are, you’ll fall into someone else’s plan and. . .”

Life is messy. Your journal will be, too. Unless you create separate pages and include only those you like, (and whose life is that controlled?), you will have pages that are neater than others. If you use your journal daily, you will write in various pens, include things torn from magazines, and in other ways, create a journal that looks like your life–messy and busy.

"Guess what they have planned for you? Not much."

“Guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”

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. They never get around to it. Coaching, like journaling, takes place in the middle of messes, tears, joy, and confusion. That’s how life is.

If you hate a messy journal, here are three ways to make changes:

1. You can cut out an annoying page, leaving about an inch close to the spine. Then tape another page, one you like better, to the stub, using washi or masking tape. (If you have a sewing machine, you can stitch it in.)

2. You can gesso over the page you don’t like, and re-create it. Now you don’t have to look at the annoying page. You can also use a cream-colored acrylic and let some of the old work peek through. It’s more interesting that way.

3. Tape a piece of vellum over the offending page and write a list of things you would do differently on the vellum. That helps cover the old work and lets you remember what you like and don’t like. (That may change over time).

Or, you can enjoy the journal exactly the way it is, knowing that you are a recovering perfectionist, and your journal is fine the way it is.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who keeps a messy journal. Several of them, in fact.


20 thoughts on “Living with Your Messy Journal

  1. I, like Rebecca, spend way too much time looking at “perfect journals” … it’s my “dirty little addiction” that Wendy speaks of. There’s so much inspiration in the art/visual journal virtual world, yet I still struggle with creating my own pages for fear they won’t “measure up”. I think I’ll title the journal that I just started “The Journal of a Recovering Perfectionist”. Then I just may open up some supplies that and try them out.

  2. Great post and comments today! The perfect Journal made me love and Rebecca Buchanan’s comment! I can understand her so well. I am a perfectionist too who in her heart doesn’t like perfectionism; I prefer the incomplete, imperfect wabi-sabi way; it’s more like life….

    P.S.: You are lucky to have such a great chef cooking delicious and healthy food for you. Lately I tried frozen grapes, they are my new sweets!

    • I AM lucky to have Cooking Man. He is a genius at following 8-page recipes; I, however, am the maven of looking in the fridge and pulling together a dinner from this and that and leftovers. So we are a good mix. Frozen grapes? I have to try them. I bet that tastes grape. . . .I mean great! The heart of wabi-sabi is endlessly comforting to me.

  3. YAY it feels like getting permission and freedom to be messy:) I used to be intimidated by nice ready made perfect journals…So I would collect my stuff and create alternative collections of creative possibilities….Finally I got over that barrier of keeping journals tidy or follow any rules….Just using them as proceeding through life within the beautiful mess ….Thank you for inspiration 🙂

  4. I have a few pages stapled together just in case I decide to go back and remedy the but I figure I don’t have such a desperate need for a surface to play on . . . I have given myself permission to just move on.
    And I’d love a brain printer is Paula ever finds one! If you can have voice recognition software then it’s just a matter of time surely? All those crazy stream of consciousness rants would go straight to paper, I’d just think of an image (like you with the ideas yapping round your heels) and it would pop up. Then the whole lot would insert itself into a post and I could approve and push publish! Nah, that wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying as putting the effort in . . . nice little flight of fancy though.

    • The vellum is very helpful. And a good use for a medium (vellum) I think of as tricky. When I show the “Perfect Journal” people look at it, get really worried and hand it back without opening it. Sometimes they say, “this is a joke, right?” It’s a conversation starter.

  5. I´ve said this for years: I wish there was a brain printer. Things look so much better when I think them than when I make them!
    I´ve done the “paint over” thing and also the “stick together” one. I love the spiral bound books because I can tear pages too, except that sometimes I like one side so I go with the other two solutions. Mmmmmm, not solutions, let´s call them creative possibilities, shall we?

    • I leave ’em all in, good and crap. But now, I make separate journals for class samples. Less explaining. Needing a brain printer is a sign of Creality–that gap between what we imagine and what we create.

  6. A watercolour teacher once told me to hang onto some of the not-so-successful paintings and early ones too. She said that it would be nice to look at them after some time has passed, possibly even years, and then I would be able to really see where I have come from and what I have achieved. And, besides, often a page or any other piece of creativity I have condemned a failure or nothing special will turn out to be something really like after even a few days. It really works.

    • You were a smart student to listen to wise words. I tell my writing students that if they don’t hate what they wrote three months ago, they aren’t learning. Growth is a natural, slow process and looking back always shows how far you have come.

  7. You’ve struck a chord for me–though I wouldn’t have consciously thought this. I procrastinate journaling yet spend countless hours oohing and aahing over the myriad journal examples in blogland. I need to just jump in. You’ve given me some ideas for taking some of those lonely one-entry journals I have lying around–take and put them into one journal using some of your techniques to incorporate them into the new. Voila!–my current journal would be started! I’m a perfectionist who never knew she was a perfectionist because my house is messy and I am so far from perfect–how could I ever say to someone, “I’m a perfectionist.” They’d take one look at me and burst into uncontrollable laughter. : )
    Thanks Quinn, I really am learning so much from your blog.

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