Journaling Toward The Light


14 Art and Writing Journals of 2014
Last year, I made a resolution to write in my journal every day.  I’m proud to say I succeeded.  I must have written almost 1000 pages.  I began by writing in bed first thing in the morning, before I was truly conscious.  I only wanted to write about 15 minutes, just enough to get access to my imagination and the part of my brain that puts life into language.  It worked pretty well, unless I urgently had to go to the bathroom.  I resolved that by taking my notebook with me to bathroom.  No interruptions there!
I think the key in getting a writing practice started, is aligning it with something that’s already a habit.  I usually wake up.  The notebook’s right there.  It’s easy to pick it up and start.  It took about a month for it to get easy, but now it’s a habit and I feel weird if I don’t get to write first thing.  Luckily, I’ve only had a few days when I didn’t have the time or privacy to get it done in the morning. 
I don’t really do a free write, though sometimes it’s pretty close.  I make a conscious effort to remember stories and events that I want to record in my journal.  In the coming year, I want to use my 15 minute burst of writing to capture more details, and more stories and poems.  Now that the habit is firmly a part of my life, I can start directing the writing energy a bit.  
Around August, I decided I was wasting too much good paper to keep writing in my sketch books, so I switched to cheap lined composition books for the morning write. 
Two things happened.  The first was a good thing.  I was able to write more freely about things I wanted to be private about.  I carry my sketchbook journal with me everywhere and I show it to people, so I didn’t feel as free to write about many things — most of the pictures here are from the sketchbook visual journal. 
The second wasn’t so good.  I felt like I was leaving part of my memory at home.  I’ve used my journals over the years to help me with my inability to remember things consistently.  It took me a few months to get used to keeping two separate kinds of journals, but now, I like it. 
My writing partner and I discovered the book Leaving a Trace: On Keeping a Journalby Alexandra Johnson.  If you want to start or improve your writing practice, this is a great book.  It has very useful ideas on how to keep up with the information in our journals, and on using journals to reach creative goals.  The first step is finding a way to access all that writing.  Johnson has suggestions that I used to make a simple index for my composition books.  On the last few pages, I divided it into section, and marked each with a letter of the alphabet.  
Keeping it simple is key to getting it done
When I finished my writing session, I made a note in the margin on what it was about, put a square around it, and then wrote it in the index, too.  Some days I had one subject, some days I had several.  Now I feel like I can find what I need in them – stories, notes, dreams – without too much trouble.  It worked so well, I began to number and list my sketchbook entries, too.  Looking over the indexes, you start to notice what’s most important to you, what threads to follow.  It makes a map of your creative life.
Well, my square around my subject is usually wonky
These little ring tabs are perfect for putting a date on spiral bound journals and notebooks.
My challenge this coming year is to read through my old journals and index them.  I want to glean them for stories, poems and insights.  I also want to see how much stupid blather I’ve produced.  I’m not as afraid of that as I used to be.  I’ve found that stupid blather helps the stories grow.  When the itty bitty shitty committee in my head tries to shame me, I just remind it that every garden needs fertilizer.  I ask the committee to help me find the best stuff instead of focusing on the worst.  And sometimes, it works.
As I read back through this year, I see again and again how keeping a journal and sketchbook has helped me through difficult challenges.  I made it a practice years ago to be honest about things like depression, chronic health problems, and heartache, but not to give them more attention than the things that make me happy and the goodness that’s all around me.  When I scrape myself up off the floor after a bad day or week or month, I see that I’ve not focused on the shadows.  I write to the shafts of light that peek through the seams and cracks of my darkest moments.  
A recurring theme!
Tolstoy spoke of enlightenment as “the increase of light in oneself and attention to what it shows.”  In this coming year of 2015, the year I will turn 55, I plan to pay more attention to that light and speak of it in the language of art as often as possible. 
If you have creative goals for the year but have a lot of resistance, I urge you to read Art & Fear, Observations on the Perils and Rewards of Art Making, by David Bales and Ted Orland, which I reviewed here. 
I’ll end this last blog post of the year with my favorite quote of the year, by choreographer Merce Cunningham:  “Falling is just one of the ways of moving.”
I’d love to hear your comments. I’m linking this to the Paint Party Friday site where you can find a plethora of artists following their dreams.  Have a happy new year.
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36 thoughts on “Journaling Toward The Light

  1. Thanks! Journals have a lot of power. Even when I go through periods where I'm not consistently journaling, I am more observant and more likely to see the goodness of life.

  2. Dear Joy , you have so many great points and insights in this post , along with lovely art pages as well. Good for you to be keeping a journal so consistently and organized too! Love the quote you chose too. Happy New year and happy PPF!

  3. OH I am so happy I came upon this post. It is chock full of information and some delightful art. My journaling lacks “meat” and your suggestions are very timely for me. Thanks! and happy PPF

  4. I love this post. I, too write every morning at 430am – Morning pages- Julia Cameron, steady stream of blah blah blah, but I also keep other journals, too. funny. I found an old journal this evening from early 2000 and had to laugh and cry at the same time. I love that you cited Tolstoy's thought on enlightenment. I think it resonates with me at this moment. At 57 I also am doing a lot of journaling of all kinds. happy new year. wishing you peace.

  5. Since being first a writer, words have had always so much meaning in my life. I've been painting only a few years, and I found painting a relieving way to express myself without words. You know, I've been so tired of words so many times 😀

    Now I've found a balance between ways of expressing myself, one way doesn't shut another way away. And I felt the same happened to you when I read about your year and your journal. You've been lucky, your year has had many thoughts and realizations, that's great!!

  6. What amazing determination and dedication you have! I really like the frog and turtle art! The details on you 2015 turtle are amazing! Your lettering is great too! Thank you for sharing your journey!

  7. Thanks so much. Sometimes consistency is a luxury and life is the thing, but the more I strive towards it, the more consistent I can become. Once a pattern is established, I can tweak it and actually get things done. Have a great new year, too!

  8. You probably keep one consistently, just not in a regular pattern yet. The more you aim for that, the easier it gets. I take advantage of how once you make a habit it's hard to break. I just go for the good habits now. 🙂

  9. Thanks so much, Susan. Sometimes when I feel like I'm writing too weakly, I assign myself a theme, and it adds a bit of “meat” to the mix. Keep creating and have a great new year.

  10. I love it when I read an old journal and find memories I've COMPLETELY forgotten. I love finding passages on old friends and friends and family who have died. It's a letter you're writing to your future self — it's a gift to yourself.

  11. Thanks. I feel very blessed. I love that drawing and painting is a way of describing something, just as words are. It's good to have some visual art in our lives because it gives us a way to express what there are no words for. I find if I show up with pen (and watercolors) in hand, sometimes the muse shows up, too.

  12. You're very kind. Thanks so much for reading my blog and for your encouragement. I feel very blessed to be able to use writing and art to make sense of life. I'm slow but I get there, just like turtles. Have a great new year!

  13. Joy your blog is one of my favorites! I haven't visited in a long time and I'm glad I see your posts now and then on facebook! Reading your words of wisdom is of course a completely different thing and I thank you for sharing with all of us!
    I really like your habit of writing journals and I'm very curious what you are going to do with all your writing.
    That frog painting and words are fantastic, I could use that as a header or reminder! It's ingenious! (I think I could go on and on about the things you say and do, so I'll stop here 😉 )
    All the best for you Joy and happy PPF
    Ilona

  14. Thanks so much Ilona. I so admire your work, and I'm so pleased to know that you find so much in my work. With all my writing, I hope to have eventually have finished books — children's books, stories, novel, memoir, poems, essays — but the real reason I write is that enhances my life. It helps me to put life into words. I feel like so much of life is a puzzle, but writing about it helps solve some of my confusion. I also believe that the language we choose to describe ourselves can change how we think about ourselves.

    Anyway, feel free to download and use that flying frog for a reminder, if you want. I'm glad you love it. I was so happy when I finished it and realized why it was flying.

  15. Joy, you are an inspiration. Right now I am sporadic in writing down my feelings. The most I have done is too write a list-like memo in my journal books, the date, what I ate, my list errands, and then I cover most of that up with paint and “other”. I was only doing it because i should, and had no glue on what to say. Today I am painting over a page written on Dec. 27th. I haven't written anything since(except grocery shopping lists) on separate pieces of paper. I love your koi…I miss having a pond.

  16. Lists make GREAT journal entries, especially on days when you're over tired or over busy. I like the idea of a list being a support for painting, but you can up the creativity of your lists by making lists of things you like. When spring hits, it's hard to capture all the flowers that I love, so I make a list, sometimes with a doodle. A list of things you miss can stir up lots of writing ideas. Many writers use lists to help prime the creative pump. Thanks for reading my blog and keep writing! Have a creative year.

  17. Congratulations on making journal writing a daily practice. Although I don't have the time to journal on a daily basis due to work and some college courses Im' taking, I know there are great benefits to it. I like the idea of keeping it separate from your art journal, so that it allows you to express yourself in complete confidence. Perhaps after I finish my courses I can follow your example. Happy New Year, my friend!

  18. Hello Joy, what a fascinating post about journalling and what a good tip about indexing. It's so easy to forgot the little things, and sometimes the big things as well.
    There is so much beautiful art here too. I especially like your turtle drawings and your illuminated (I think that's the term) letters, but I like all of your paintings and drawings very much.

  19. Thanks so much, Janet. I think if you're working more, you work more. It's like your business invites more work in — and if it's work you love, then life is good. Blessings!

  20. Well, your course notes and art work are your journal for now. And a good journal practice doesn't have to be daily, it just has to be regular. Picasso said painting is just another way of keeping a diary. So there are all kinds of ways of preserving your life's journey.

  21. Indexing is so much easier if I do it as I go. If I have to go back and index things, then I never do it. It's too big of a project. I'm glad I learned this technique. Thanks for kind words about my art and writing. Illuminated letters are a great thing to draw if you feel stuck and can't think of anything.

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