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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