“Journaling” has been a big trendy deal for yonks. I never bought into the program, mind you, but I knew it was happening. I just can’t figure out how to open a vein and spill my blood, my sinew, my guts onto a page (yes, bad metaphor, hush) and leave it all helplessly wallowing there, waiting for just anybody to come along and pick it up and poke through and do a post-mortem.
The closest I ever came was “morning pages” from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. If you follow that link you might notice that I linked to the paperback version. That’s because when it was first published, it only came in paperback. And in an odd way this is tied into the point I’m trying to make but as usual, not making very quickly.
Okay, so since I brought it up — I can’t recommend The Artist’s Way highly enough if you are trying to expand your creativity. The cover says, “A Guide to Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self.” Not just for “artists,” or writers. It’s about being creative whether that means art, music, dance, writing — creative.
Some of us have never allowed ourselves to be creative. Maybe intentionally (what the hell do I need with art?) or maybe because we’re just too busy with other passions — computers, video games, triathlons, who knows what? Or because we’re too busy simply doing what needs to be done. Excuse me, let me say that again. Doing What Needs To Be Done. (Because somebody has to do it, and if I don’t, who will? And excuse me, I don’t have enough crosses on my back, want to pile on some more?)
Others of us may have been artistic at one time or another. We might have written lyrics to songs, or sketched anime, or taken ballet or saxophone until we got Too Old For Such Nonsense — often because somebody in authority stomped it out of us and told us to grow up and leave that kid stuff behind.
One way or another, many people are now finding themselves yearning to be maybe just a tiny bit creative, or maybe a whole lot creative, but are afraid to risk looking silly. Or they don’t know where to begin. One woman I know of was a university professor (Hook ’em Horns! is a hint as to which university) who taught … probably economics or something. She had a major book due and was blocked — totally blocked. The deadline was approaching and she was tied up in knots. Through the grapevine, a friend of a friend asked me, “Do you have any ideas about what to tell her to do? She has writer’s block!” and I shrugged and said, “Not unless The Artist’s Way helps.” This woman wasn’t doing “creative writing” yet word got back to me within a couple of weeks that the professor was ecstatic and relieved and raving about TAW, and eventually even made her deadline.
TAW is a 12-week workshop. Every week you read a chapter and do some exercises, and they can be fun or silly or emotionally draining…. I found myself drawing and sketching and I’m not an artist (nor would anyone mistake me for one if they saw what I drew and sketched) but it was fun. Do you ever do anything just for fun any more?
Okay, so if I described you in any way up there, go check out the book, you might be glad you did.
Now, to get back to Morning Pages — one thing Julia Cameron says is that you must write Morning Pages, three pages a day, total free-writing without thinking or judging. (Read the book for more info on that.)
I had no difficulty figuring out what to write my morning pages in, because I’d already read Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. And she said, among other things, “First consider the pen you write with. It should be fast-writing pen because your thoughts are always much faster that your hand….. Go to a stationery store and see what feels good to you…. Think, too, about your notebook. It is important. This is your equipment, like a hammer and nails to a carpenter….” (Think about that for a minute, and maybe you’ll understand the obsession some of us have with fountain pens or special pencils or the perfect gel pen.)
“Sometimes,” she says, “people buy expensive hardcover journals. They are bulky and heavy and because they are fancy, you are compelled to write something good. Instead you should feel that you have permission to write the worst junk in the world and it would be okay.” (I admit right now that I am insanely jealous of people who can actually buy such journals and either not feel such a compulsion, or worse, be confident that what they write in them is totally worthy of such grandeur. And a lot of people can and do, because there are more and more of them all the time. I lust and drool over those gorgeous journals even as I have absolutely no reason to buy them.)
Then she adds, thank goodness for people like me, “A cheap spiral notebook lets you feel that you can fill it quickly and afford another…. Garfield, the Muppets, Mickey Mouse, Star Wars. I use notebooks with funny covers…. I can’t take myself too seriously when I open up a Peanuts notebook.” (If you are at all interested in writing, you should get her books, too, by the way.) And she also mentioned perhaps one of the most important things about spiral notebooks in my universe:
People ignore them.
Meaning, if you have a tattered Sponge Bob Square Pants spiral on the kitchen table and somebody sits down and sees it, they’re more likely to shove it aside than open it to see what’s inside. Nothing important could be in a spiral notebook. Right?
So I did my morning pages in one tattered spiral notebook after another. I generally used my kids’ hand-me-downs, spirals that only had a few written pages and otherwise were new. Rip, toss, mine.
Because, you see, I’ve always had this aversion to Journals with a capital J. I’d walk through bookstores and get to the blank books and they’d be so attractive, I just had to pick them up. And they did look important, like only something really really good would be worthy of them. Worse than that, they often had JOURNAL stamped in gold on the spine, or scrolled across the cover. And in addition to desire, the little voice in my head was screeching in dismay, “Who the hell writes a journal, labels it, and sticks it on a bookshelf for people to find and — oh my God — SNOOP in!?!”
Julia Cameron’s TAW was a phenomenal success. It exploded onto the scene in the 90s and suddenly groups were meeting all around the nation, all around the world, people working through the 12 weeks together. It sold and sold and sold. And I guess, belatedly, the publisher thought, “Wow. Look how much money we would have made if this had been a hardcover.”
So, they put it out in hardcover, right? Wrong. Meet: The Artist’s Way Morning Pages Journal. Which is essentially a hardcover book of mostly blank pages which cost as much as the paperback workbook.
I guess maybe it felt good to use the “official” journal, but I notice by glancing at Amazon feedback that it doesn’t seem to perfectly fit the bill.
It appears that now they sell the Workbook and the Journal both in hardcover and paperback. My advice would be to get the Workbook in hardcover and skip the journal and use whatever you like for that. The only reason I say get the workbook in hardcover is because mine got beat up as I used it because I’m rough on books, and since I did end up liking it so much, I wish I had a hardcover now instead of a beat-up paperback. (Don’t weep for me, though. I just ordered the hardcover.)
But even beyond the absurdity (and corporate greed) involved in coming out with a way overpriced hardcover blank book was the idea that here we have another case of a book broadcasting, READ ME — I AM A JOURNAL!
I know, I know, I clearly have issues.
So how did I end up with small Moleskines and large Moleskines and even one blank book (scroll to bottom) that shouts “Open me up, baby!” like a cheap hooker on Harry Hines Blvd. (Ubiquitous Dallas reference, y’all.)
What happened? Did I change?
No. Not really. I still haven’t written in the hooker one, and may never, but it makes me grin to see it around. And the Moleskines? I think I finally found the journal that is sensual and romantic but discreet. And once I got past the initial (one whole year’s worth, mind you) reluctance to mar its purity with my ugly scrawl, I didn’t mind turning it into a scribbled up mess, and believe me, it is one.
Plus the fountain pens! They are so fun to use, and maybe I just love feeling like those famous writers of yesteryear who sat in a Parisian bar with a cold rain dripping outside, while I’m smoking and writing and tossing back brandy and waiting for Hemingway to get in a brawl.
Because when both Natalie Goldberg (creative guru) and David Allen (organizational guru) tell you that tools matter, that you should choose tools that fun and easy and even seductive so that you’ll want to use them? I kind of thing there must be a pretty hardcore truth there.
But still, I want my journals to fly under the radar. To say “Don’t mind me, I’m not worth opening….”
That is, if I actually wrote one.
And I don’t.