DIY: Write to your feelings

So, I was journaling this morning and I started doing something I’ve never done before. But to really set the scene, I need to talk about my life, so here goes:

I have seldom woken up without a large dark feeling in my stomach for the past ten to fifteen years. That is an overwhelmingly large portion of my life. Just constantly waking up with a pervasive feeling of dread. Morning meditations helped it, and journaling kind of helped it too, but I found something this morning that people had recommended I do in my meditations but not in my journaling.

I wrote a letter to that feeling. I didn’t name it ‘dread’ or ‘fear’. I called him heavy and dark, but not necessarily bad – just there. And I said to him that he could stay as long as he needed. But weirdly enough, as I neared the end of my three pages, he was quite different, larger and looser and less of a knot than a rod. I’ve noticed similar effects with meditation, but it was almost more fun and obvious to do the writing, and it made it easier to feel like the feeling wasn’t just me and I didn’t have to claim it so much as that it was a visitor and I was just hosting it for a while until it figured out where it wanted to go. I kinda tried to make it feel at home.

This really helped me – both to explore that feeling more objectively, with words like ‘heavy’ rather than ‘bad’: and gave me some power in being able to welcome it rather than wish it were gone without any way of achieving that. It made me able to say ‘you can stay’ without having to necessarily have the thought and believe the thought and maintain an unwavering acceptance and lack of questioning for the thought (sometimes meditation is like that, and accepting it is a battle in itself). Because it was written, and that takes the pressure off a bit. And the feeling wasn’t gone, but it looked a bit different, and I could hold it and hold other things at the same time, and that helped – I could hold what I’d called fear and hold excitement and motivation and calm all at once. It was interesting and a very cool exercise that I will be doing more and am glad I decided to try out today.

So, how do you do this?

I guess you sit and think about how you feel and where that feeling is in your body – which is quite a visceral process in itself. And you check that, that feeling, and call it non-judgmental words like ‘heavy’ and ‘dark’ or ‘light’ or ‘fuzzy’. Nothing good or bad, not horrible or unmanageable or pleasant – just adjectives that don’t convey that. And then write to the feeling – tell it it’s welcome as long as it needs to be, ask if there’s anything you can do to be a good host while it’s around. Be a friend to it, and watch how it changes, and write to it about how it changes, too. I wrote to mine in quite a Victorian voice because I’ve been reading A Little Princess and I have a weird affinity with 19th century children who aren’t like other children and kind of want to be one, an overly polite storyteller with the conviction of a soldier. But you don’t have to do that. So things like, ‘I feel you expanding out’, ‘you’re getting heavier’. I think it’s important to say ‘you’ and not ‘it’. I’m not sure exactly why, but I think it helped me separate that feeling entirely from myself – ‘you’ cannot exist within me, whereas ‘it’ can, so that semantic change helped me a lot.

Be curious and caring – I think it’s easier to do it in writing than in sitting meditation. And do what you want with the letters, too.  Mine so far are in my journal so I doubt I’ll burn them, or anything, but that might be the way for you. This is a very new tool to me, and when I tried to google it I got more about talking about your feelings than directly to them. But we’ll work it out as we go along, yeah?

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DIY: Affirmations and Self-Talk

I’ve been thinking a lot about positive self-talk and affirmations lately, as someone who has a tendency to vent a lot and then feel a bit better for a while and then kind of fall into that cycle. Lately, I actually have liked affirmations – both as a way of setting my intention and as a way of calming me down. Plus elevators have totally been waiting for me lately, so that’s a good sign.

So, what is an affirmation?

I think of it as a conscious way of controlling your thoughts, and redirecting them to a message. Having one is a good way to stop a thought spiral, in terms of having somewhere for it to go. And I like the ones that are process-focused, because they can always be true, even when you’re being really down on yourself and negative. So, one of mine is, ‘I am being guided in the right direction.’ I use that as a way of looking at setbacks or negatives as mere redirections, geared to point me at something way better and more suited to me (which is a nice way of just being positive about something).

At this point, I do have to say – I don’t want to advocate that you don’t grieve for things you need to, for people you could have been or could have been friends with, etc. It’s important to feel for those things, but in the same way that you have to look where you’re driving or you’ll crash, you have to look at where you want to be or you’ll get stuck on the negatives without understanding the opportunities they open up in other ways. After all, Thomas Edison something something lightbulb something?

I’m also hyper-aware of how trite this can sound, how motivational-postery it can seem. Affirmations aren’t about faking it ’til you make it (I don’t think). They seem to me to be more about saying positive things you know to be true – and a good way to approach things from a growth mindset. For example, every experience I have contributes towards my sense of self because I build my opinions, I build my knowledge banks, and I develop patterns. So I can always say, at any given time, ‘I am growing towards being more myself than ever before.’ Which isn’t one of mine, but it definitely could be.

How do I use affirmations?

I like to say them whenever I’m not saying anything else in my head, or sometimes to take control of nerves. It doesn’t often actually help me to feel calmer, though when I do them and I’m calm it makes me feel really good. But it’s a way to redirect those things I’m not thinking about or thinking about to something that makes sense and is positive. So it’s about repeating them – in your head, out loud, however you like. I don’t think one method is more powerful than the other, though some people do. I think it’s about finding something that works for you – that may even be writing it out over and over.

How do I craft an affirmation?

So, this is harder, but I think it’s taking the focus of a problem, and stating it as something you’re working on, or seeing the positive in things. So, when I’m having a frustrating day, it’s, ‘I choose to address this with love, rather than with fear or anger.’ When I feel unconfident (a lot right now!), it’s ‘I am working hard on my growth, and it’s paying off.’

You can think about your negative self-beliefs and write positive ones instead, but that might not feel true to you at all, and this process is about finding something you can believe, or believe yourself believing. And in my case, it’s all about loopholes. You can believe anything if you word it the right way. I may hate queuing, but I certainly appreciate the opportunity to develop patience. I don’t like being upset, but I appreciate the opportunity to see my heart grow and figure out my own boundaries. Affirmations are, at least partially, about seeing setbacks as an opportunity, and having the chance to correct that consciously and then repeat it allows you a go at developing those messages more unconsciously.

What are your affirmations?

Currently:

  • I am being guided in the right direction. I appreciate redirections; they add intrigue.
  • People want to help me!
  • I can handle anything that comes my way with love and honesty.
  • My enthusiasm is infectious.
  • Opportunity seeks me out.

DIY: Meditation Practice

Oh boy, this is a post and a half, isn’t it? I talk to people about meditating seldom these days – I don’t want to seem preachy, and it usually gets a response like, ‘I could never meditate, it’s too hard, I go to the gym instead.’ To which I’m like, for one thing, you can definitely pay a mindful visit to the gym. But also, as someone who cannot spend regularly engage in solo exercise to save their life, that is a great example of being way more disciplined than me. And about four-fifths of the battle with meditating is discipline, so, there we are. But I want to talk about meditating and the different types of it there are.

I think meditation is about engaging with yourself deliberately and noticing your patterns, but there are all sorts. At the heart of it it seems to be about finding a way to stay calm and develop acceptance towards all things – negatives, positives, pain and pleasures. So, I’m guessing you already know some of the benefits of meditation, but just in case you don’t, here they are:

  • Reduces stress
  • Improves concentration
  • Increases self-awareness
  • Increases happiness
  • A bunch of other things

So, you know, it’s definitely good for you. How do you begin?

STEP ONE: Dedication

It starts with time. With dedicating the time and space to meditate – some people do it on the train, some people have altars in their home. Some people use guided meditations, whether they’re breath-based or visualisations. It’s a very personal process. But if you don’t establish the space for it in your life, as with developing any habit, it won’t happen. I recommend setting aside ten to fifteen minutes a day to find a place where you can be quiet and alert.

Using a habit tracker can help, but can also make it a weird obligation that you resent or that you have to drag yourself to. It’s more about doing it at a certain time – and not dragging yourself to fulfil it at the end of the day, at the expense of your sleep cycle. So make sure you set that time and commit to it, and have a secondary time in mind in case you don’t fulfil that commitment the first time.

STEP TWO: Sitting

Posture is only important insofar as you need to be alert, but not uncomfortable. Recommended positions are sitting cross-legged with your back straight, sitting on a chair with your arms on your lap and your feet on the floor, or lying on your back with your arms by your side. I lie on my side, but straight, because I’m comfortable that way but I’m unlikely to fall asleep.

STEP THREE: Time

How long do you meditate? I think the important thing is to do it at all. Goenka recommends two one-hour sits a day. I usually shoot for forty minutes, but some days I do ten, and that’s okay too. But it’s really important to do the sit, even so. Additionally, if I feel myself getting stressed, I try to focus on my breath carefully, even if I have to multitask it. So that isn’t formal meditation, but it’s practice nonetheless.

I think any commitment is better than none – start with one minute. My mum starts people off with three breaths. Start small if you’d like – I started with two hours a day and moved to forty minutes. It’s about what suits you. Ten minutes a day can really make a huge difference!

STEP FOUR: Picking a method

I like using a variety of methods, but my first love was vipassana. I think these things can be used in a complementary way, and it’s about finding what works for you. Doing anything mindfully or reflectively can be meditation – writing, driving, brushing your teeth. But also, there are so many ways to sit – guided meditations, compassion focus, visualisations, repeating affirmations, repeating mantras, focus on energy, kundalini, yoga and movement meditation, walking meditations, zen, stoic – what you dedicate yourself once you’ve made that time and space is really up to you. It can be quite overwhelming to pick – Gaia has a helpful quiz here if you need a direction, but don’t feel limited. If you don’t get along with today’s method, there’s always tomorrow to try a new one. It’s worth mentioning that ‘get along with’ doesn’t mean ‘find pleasant’. It’s about figuring out where you feel you can make the most progress and movement, and what serves you best in that time. Do research on your method – here is a long list of types to get you started.

It can help to get into your meditation by focusing on your breath for a short period of time, just to calm down and get into a concentration frame of mind.

That’s it – you make the time, and you do it, and you do it every day or regularly, and that’s it, you’re meditating! In the same way that you make the time to shower every day (and there’s no reason you can’t meditate and shower at the same time). Demystify meditation!

DIY: Having a routine

Having a routine is really important for some people. Routine provides a sense of familiarity and safety. Actually, forget the benefits in a listicle for a sec – a couple weeks ago I was talking to my friend Louis, sort of about routines, but sort of about my mindset – and he said, ‘It’s important to set yourself up so that by doing things you do, you’re creating a series of wins for yourself. You wake up at the time you meant to, that’s a win. You meditate in the morning, that’s a win. You shower, that’s a win. You listen to a podcast on the way to work, that’s one, too.’ That completely reshaped my view of a routine – it’s not just about doing something predictable – it’s about building a foundation of positivity to propel you through the rest of the day. That momentum is valuable, and can be easy, if you build habits that work for you. It doesn’t have to be a morning routine if you’re not a morning person – I know people who have before-bed routines instead, and those are valuable, too.

Now to address the benefits! Having a routine means that you have more open space and capacity to think about other things in that time – having that decision already made frees up cognitive space. It allows you to foster good habits for yourself, too – committing to doing things on a daily basis, and things that are good for you at that, means you’re committing to keeping that habit alive (though if you need more motivation with that, Habitify ain’t bad). Also, all this certainty can reduce your stress – and make your morning less about flying out the door a bit late. On that note, it can probably save you money too, if you decide to make breakfast at home.

So, how do I form a routine?

It makes sense to figure out what’s doable. So first, let’s address sleep.

When is a good time for you to wake up, and what is realistic? If you need to get your sleep cycle on track, it’s worth using Sleep Cycle or something similar to wake up within the same half hour window every day. I find that even if I go to sleep later than usual, waking up within the same window every day helps. Some people do the same time every day, but I prefer to allow myself that lenience as someone who’s an early riser anyway. Also, Sleep Cycle is particularly good because it uses your alarm but detects when in that period you’re in a light sleep phase, so the transition from asleep to awake is especially gentle. Make sure you partake in good sleep hygiene – that means no screens an hour before bed (but if you’re going to, then try to use a blue light filter like Flux, go to bed around the same time every day. If you can’t sleep, get out of bed, do a menial task like washing the dishes, and go back to bed. When you’re about to sleep is also a great time to start doing guided sleep meditations, or listening to the Sleep With Me podcast.

So, let’s assume you’re up and about. What activities appeal to you at this point in time? Here’s a list of things you could do that work for you:

  • Doing some yoga
  • Going for a run
  • Going to the gym
  • Meditating
  • Making a to-do list for your day
  • Making a really beautiful breakfast and eating it in bed
  • Laying out your outfit for the day
  • Taking a bath
  • Reading an article about something you’re interested in learning about
  • Reading a book for fifteen minutes
  • Drinking a glass of water
  • Stand outside
  • Walk your dog
  • Walk someone else’s dog
  • Go look at dogs in the park
  • Make a smoothie
  • Develop and use affirmations
  • Journal
  • Count your blessings
  • Do the Morning Pages
  • Eat some fruit

This is pretty endless. You could wake and bake if you count that as a win. But the gist is, figuring out a combination of those things that works for you, and doing them. You don’t have to commit to this forever – I like the thirty day and review policy, and if you skip a day you add one on the end. And then at the thirty mark, you review, and see what works and why, and what doesn’t. But commitment is important. Set reminders, use a to-do list, whatever you have to do to kick yourself into doing it. It’s important to do things in a logical order, so you can complete tasks and get into a positive mindset without even thinking about it.

This is how my routine looks:

Wake up between 6 and 7
Make a note of the questions I have to ask today and pull a Tarot card
Do the Morning Pages, and pray I don’t need to go to the bathroom (if I do, I will journal in the bathroom and then shower)
Shower, and work out my affirmations in the shower (I also say my affirmations throughout the day periodically using the free Lucky Cactus app as a visual guide – the one I linked is $10. Don’t use that, that’s a rip-off. It helps to make something grow while saying them)
Come out of the shower in a fluffy dressing gown
Meditate for between five and ten minutes using Breathe
Do five Surya Namaskars
Get dressed
Read the Tarot card
Write something in my gratitude journal
Check my email and to-do list for the day, making sure it’s all prioritised properly

For the record, I know that the Tarot cards might be silly or something, but I like the opportunity to read into them and to think fully about how I feel about those problems I’m asking about, as well as the lens with which I approach my day.

That all takes about forty minutes – journaling takes up the majority, because writing three pages in the morning takes about twenty minutes of that, and the rest is fairly quick. And then it’s 8am, and I go do the things on my to-do list. I find that I get a nice segue into the notifications on my phone, because reading Tarot usually involves Googling and my gratitude journal is on my phone, so I get some exposure to the digital world before I think about tackling anything that involves anyone except myself.

If you want to look at what other people do, check out MyMorningRoutine – just keep in mind the adage, ‘different strokes for different folks’!

DIY: Journaling

So, I’ve been doing Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages for about…two months. Actually, just over one month. It’s something I plan to stick to. I quite enjoy it. Journaling is something I’ve done on and off in various mediums for a long time – the constant restarting collage-style art journal, the online diary so that my internet friends would know if I was dead or not, the precious Princess-Diaries style book that I carried everywhere with me and wrote in with a special pen. Coming back to it, I’ve realised how important chronicling things can be. It’s good to go over things and to write for release, but moreover, it’s interesting to tease out patterns and figure out thought processes, and writing leaves the opportunity for exploration, for repetition, and for mistakes – and their correction. It’s the perfect, quiet way of learning, and of self-assessment, and of freedom to be.

I’ll talk about a few different forms of journaling here – art journals, a diary, and the Morning Pages. All are different, and there are lots more ways to go. Journaling is a very self-defined process, because it can be done in almost every single way – one week last year, I was very stressed out, and my release came in the form of me sprint-writing nine conceptual pop punk songs through the eyes of an underachieving teenage boy. I didn’t relate to it at all, but it was still journaling for me, I think, in that I chronicled something, and channeling a fictional stress helped alleviate my own. Which brings to mind the question – is there a difference between creating and journaling? I think journaling is more about recording emotions, feelings, events, but there’s room for creation in that – in interpretations and pursuing trains of thought and seeing where they go. I think the two are more similar than they initially seem.

So, why is journaling important?

Well, first, it encourages reflection and presence in your day – you have to be there to remember it. Conscious thought about your day is important for realigning events into perspective and tapping into what you might be grateful for, and for working out how you’re feeling about the events – and to just decompress. We seldom get the time and space to vent in the way that journaling allows, I feel – when I journal, I feel like the whole day is sloughed off in three pages of angry writing, whereas I could vent out loud about the same thing and feel no better after an hour. Moreover, journaling is an opportunity to recognise your feelings and develop a sense of self-awareness, and thereby develop empathy.

The Huffington Post has a basic article on the benefits of journaling. But this is about why journaling is important and how to do it, not why you should make it a chore. So we’ve covered the first; here’s the second.

How do I journal?

As aforementioned, I’m going to talk about three kinds of journal – written, art, and the Morning Pages. My current system is a mixture of things – I keep a periodical gratitude journal (updated about four or five times a day), do the Morning Pages every morning, and usually try to add to my art journal about once or twice a week. I have kept written journals in the past, but the Morning Pages has replaced that for me, for now. Here goes!

Written journals

Written journals can address almost anything you want them to. You can write about your day – the events around it, the feelings you’ve had and why – or you can follow prompts, or you can do a mixture of both. You can do it online, offline, on paper, whatever works for you really – I personally quite like working online, but there’s some indication that handwriting exposes you to more critical thinking processes than typing, so bear that in mind. I force myself to do my Morning Pages by hand, even when I have to do them by the light of my laptop on winter mornings.

This is very open, and you can basically do what you want with it. If you want to keep your journal online, I’d recommend Tumblr, which is relatively user-friendly, taggable for sorting posts, and you can share things if you’d like, but can also password protect your work. You can also use Evernote, which is a notetaking app that 1. lets you have categories! 2. is more geared at being private, though you can share things with email, 3.  translates neatly between smartphone/tablet and PC.

Some good notebook brands are Leuchtturm1917 (I use this one for my art journal), Decomposition notebooks (I used to use these a lot and they’re fully recyclable and recycled), and Field Notes. If you need a starting point or feel fearful, try One Line A Day, an intimidating five-year project – but less intimidating because you only need to write a line. That’s like, five seconds.

Here are some journal prompts:

Art Journaling

Art journaling is weird and looks different for everyone (like every kind of journaling, ha). A lot of people collage; some people just straight-up draw or paint, which I find really admirable. I think. Looking at it, it can be really intimidating to get going, which is why I like collage a lot – everyone else’s journal looks really cool and interesting and that makes it way harder to start your own. But it’s a lot of fun to do. You can choose to have a ‘finished product’ for each page, or just to keep going and see how things go. But I think art journaling is a really good thing to work with the perfectionist in me – I can’t count the amount of times in my life that, even as a child, I had a beautiful notebook, drew something on the first page, said, ‘Fuck!’ and then left it, never to be touched again. The beauty of pages is, well, you can tear them out. And the beauty of art journals is that you can stick something over it, or turn it into something else, like a warped Exquisite Corpse, and sometimes something looks very different at the end, and it’s important to learn to like the things you make, whatever form they’re in. It’s also a cute place to put your paper tickets.

So, how do you art journal? First off, you gather some supplies – my art supplies are watercolour paints, wax crayons, felt tips, drawing pens, a pair of scissors, and a gluestick. I didn’t recommend brands for the most part because quality does not matter. You also don’t need drawing pens – I actually don’t use them very much at all, though I sometimes get to use them on other projects and that helps me to justify that purchase. If you would like a complete and quite intimidating list, here is one. Also, you might want magazines or books to cut stuff out of – there are a lot of very cool ones you can use, but they can get expensive. I tend to pick up vintage books about plants and photography from local charity shops and call it a day there.

So, once you have all those in one place, you just kinda…go. However you want. I like to start with backgrounds, where I either paint a bunch of soft colours that blend into each other, or stick in a large photograph. And from the background comes the foreground, where you can incorporate more photos, tickets, quotes, basically whatever you want. I hate to be prescriptive – art journaling is incredibly personal and interesting. If you want more ‘how to’ stuff, check here.

The Morning Pages

Okay, I have what I’d call significant experience with the Morning Pages, though I still haven’t read over them (I’m running a couple of weeks behind on The Artist’s Way). The gist of them is that every day you wake up and you write three pages (approx. 750 words, I think?). Due to the thing about critical thinking I mentioned before, Julia Cameron is insistent that you Do It By Hand. I’ve been thinking about making this a nicer part of my day, and trying to actually use nice pens and a nice journal and have a desk set-up for it (maybe someday, London, maybe someday!). These pages do not have to follow a train of thought – ideally, they’re stream of consciousness. They can be about you, or about anyone, if that’s where you’re going. A lot of mine are plans and worries and niggles. But the point is to write. You just have to write – longhand, for three pages. That’s it. That’s the whole thing. Some people do it in the morning (I do it first thing, before my morning meditation). Distraction can wait. That’s the point. Also, don’t show anybody, at least not for a while. This is about building a practice, not about having something to show people, and moreover, bringing judgment into the mix is a huge mistake.

So, why is this important?

Well, for one thing, it helps a lot of people, who report increased productivity, decreased anxiety, less out-loud complaining, and increased compassion. So, it’s kind of a superpower. Also, having a place to vent and to expose the patterns and shitty little things you put up with in your daily life is crucial to healing. So there’s that.

On the whole, journaling – whether you use these methods, a combination, or an entirely different one – is a place for you to exist unapologetically, or even apologetically for a bit, and is a way to sit with your feelings whilst still engaging with them in an active way. It is a way to process things and to observe yourself, to come to terms with how you’re dealing with things, and to learn more about yourself. And overall, it’s a pretty good way to do something for your mental health without the intimidation of sitting to meditate, the overwhelm of silence, or the invitation of having lots of thoughts and nowhere for them to go.

 

DIY: At-home retreats

So, this weekend has been a Thursday to Sunday of me shutting off. It wasn’t actually fun or easy. It was a lot harder than it sounds. I got home Thursday afternoon, told everyone relevant that I would be uncontactable, and left it at that, then I turned off my laptop. My planned activities: nada. Should’ve really thought that through.

I initially didn’t intend for the retreat to be silent, but my ma suggested it, so I decided, sure, a silent retreat, why not? Here’s why not. If you’re doing this, plan it, and do it better than I did. I ended up breaking down after a solid 24 hours because there were things I couldn’t express, and they were as simple as ‘No, I want this for lunch’ or ‘I didn’t realise that my silence meant you would still be able to talk to me’. I did this at the family home. Don’t be me. Don’t be me. 

What ended up happening: I meditated for like, four hours straight, and made a fair amount of art, and did some writing, and had a massage, and then was really sad and angry after a day because I hadn’t planned anything properly and shocker, I was bored and I didn’t want to be bored! Turns out, doing the work is kind of boring. I’d recommend that if you’re planning a meditation retreat, you don’t do it alone, but instead do it in an environment where other people around you are doing it. I found it totally miserable to see my dad watching TV or something while I was meditating. Also, I didn’t really think out negotiating my relationships more – cooking for myself, how I was going to interact with the dog. All sorts of things I didn’t plan.

Overall, it went okay. What ended up happening after my breakdown – I did a bunch of meditations, some of which were guided. I did some self-hypnosis. And then I read a couple of books. I read a comic book by Ryan North, and a book about psychic development, and a crash course on postmodernism. And I went to see a movie at the theatre with my parents. I’m not sure it was the game-changing weekend I’d planned for it to be, with me emerging free of my self-doubts. But it made me realise something really important about retreats – you don’t understand the work until it’s done. You just see the aftermath, and it takes a long time to fix stuff, and you have to take stock and notice the change.

Actual recommendations for a DIY retreat:

  • If you’re doing it around your family,  plan on any communication issues in advance. If you’re being silent, figure out your meals, and any silent periods.
  • Arrange some sort of spa therapy for yourself if you can. It’s kind of nice and relaxing, and for me, I never really think about doing it outside of environments like this.
  • Do unplug. I felt a lot of shame around the idea of unplugging, and am in fact writing this post from a guest account because I don’t want to have my notifications back yet. I felt guilty at the idea of reading a book. Ideally, your retreat might want to focus on being, not doing, but unplugging is a good way to ease in.
  • If you’re not ready to actually unplug, negotiate notification-free spaces for yourself. I found the guest account on my computer extremely helpful for this, and I think I’m probably going to create an account where I get admin capability but don’t sign into anything at all just for periods of time like this. It was good for me to be away from that. It made the time I spent on the internet about learning and ingesting new information that wasn’t related to anybody I know.
  • Actually timetable it, if you’re not going to do it with any friends or anything. If you have a timetable to stick to it’s much easier than filling large swathes of time with ‘…uh, well I guess I’ll meditate, then.’

 

DIY: Zine making

Zines are a very interesting beast that I fell into one day by accident. I’d heard of them before, and I guess it’d kind of occurred to me that I could make them, but I’d never really had any interest in really self-publishing until I saw Margot Terc and Leigh Smith‘s work. It was really interesting to see how you could be raw and interesting and not have to write in full prose or paragraphs or even write anything that seemed beautiful. In fact, it always kind of took the pressure off. Plus, zines are the most accessible art form, I think – they’re literally designed to be distributed cheaply, to be reproduced via photocopier. You can make an eight-page zine with one sheet of paper, which translates to cheap reproduction – you can also use risograph printing, make it look as informal as you want, or turn to online distribution, like me!

zine

So, how do they help, exactly?

In my experience, creating has always been good for me, though I wouldn’t necessarily call it cathartic or therapeutic. I normally write poems and paint in watercolours and write music – which are all quite meticulous. I can make a zine in ten minutes. It is a fiery burst of my feelings. It doesn’t have to make sense – it’s just how I feel in the moment, and I don’t have to care how risqué it is, or how exaggerated my movements are, because they’re me in that moment, and zines are about capturing that movement for me.

I think zines are partially so helpful in comparison with other art mediums (though of course, creativity in general is very good for you) because there is no pressure to do a good job. What you make is going to be inexpensive, so there’s no pressure to do it right first time, and there’s even the opportunity to play around with your mistakes and see how you can tweak them into something you might like a lot better than what you initially had in mind. Also, art can really help you process events and feelings, and make sense of them in ways that talking about it might not.

In general, self-publishing is very powerful and interesting and I’m a believer in taking back your power where you can, rather than leaving it to traditional routes which might leave you feeling like you can’t express yourself, like your narratives aren’t worth broadcasting. Zines are an opportunity to be loud and also to be heard, in spite of the fact that you don’t have a lot of money behind you. For £10 in a library, you can get a hundred one-pagers made, and you can leave them wherever you want – in bars, cafés, libraries, at gigs. I like that aspect of things a lot, it’s like leaving a secret around for people to hunt down. It gives you the opportunity to not only explore, but share your narratives with people – and to have them respond back! Which is really exciting and scary sometimes, but because it’s such a genuine medium, it’s hard not to respond with love and with care.

Alright! How do I go about making one?

There are a lot of methods you can take. You can fold a single sheet of paper according to this guide, and then number your pages and run your design over them (this is also cool because you can do a big poster design on the back so that when you unfold the whole thing it doubles as a poster!) or you can make a booklet and bind it together. You can use Amazon self-publishing or Lulu if that suits you.

In terms of your content, I like to really focus on how I’m feeling, but some of my favourite zines have been diary entries, focusing on phrases, focusing on phases, altered books, or even collaborations.

I know I have been very vague here. It’s because I don’t want to prescribe – you can make zines about anything, whether it’s yourself, your favourite recipes, fanfiction about your favourite band – literally anything, and it can be for you, or it can be for everybody, or it can be for a select few. I’d highly recommend you try it, and if you have fun or want to share it with someone, share it with me!