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 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 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.