A beautiful new journal. Yikes!

Last month I received a journal for my birthday. It’s beautiful, handmade and local. The paper looks and feels wonderful. It’s a nice size. It stays open. I was excited to write in it. Now, that might not seem revolutionary, after all, that’s what journals are born to do, be written (or drawn) in. However, when I opened it up and felt excited to write in it, it felt different.
In the past, I’d feel a strange combination of excitement and angst. Love for the paper, the book, the place — a beautiful place — to house my thoughts. Then the angst would kick in.

It was always difficult to just start writing. I’d start several pages in, leaving blanks in the front, or wait until I came up with the perfect purpose for the new journal. If I did start writing, it wouldn’t last long. No great surprise there, it just wasn’t fun! It was too damn stressful.

So, I accumulated a collection of mostly empty journals. Most of them gifts, lovingly chosen and offered gifts, that I stashed away, because looking at them left me feeling a bit sad.

A revelation

I didn’t really realize I had been doing this most of my life until recently. I read something somewhere, I wish I could remember where, about the angst someon had when they had a new journal. Until I read that, I hadn’t given my journal habit much thought.

When I started reflecting, I realized quickly that this angst was at play. But why? Or perhaps more helpfully, how?

As I think about it now, it seems a lot of it was about “getting it right.” I’ve explored this in the past, when I talked about having fun while I was making lots of mistakes and when I fired my internal editor and hired my dead uncle. So, yes, this is a theme for me. And for lots of my clients too.

So, I started to wonder about how “getting it right” was influencing my feelings about journals. First I thought about the power of the written word. I love books, loved them since before I could read. The written word has been very powerful for me. And, it seems that I had the same belief for my own writing. If I was going to write it down, it should be right, right?

A pretty funny belief to have about, or to question, in your own thoughts. They’re your thoughts. No right or wrong. They just are. Your thoughts I mean.

So over the last few years I’ve been challenging these beliefs that keep me from being anything but my honest self, and was thrilled by the surprise experience of getting a new journal and being excited to write in it. In fact this post, was started in that journal.

9 comments to A beautiful new journal. Yikes!

  • I started a journal about a year ago. Actually, I call it my notebook, it seems less formal and intimidating. Everything goes in it, recipes, ideas, notes, and personal stories. I take it with me everywhere and it’s been a very creative surprise for me. Tackling a journal with less stress and expectation is a good start.

  • Great post. I have a collection of beautiful, blank notebooks as well. Blank, because I’m waiting for the perfect purpose for them. So far, that purpose hasn’t come. Hmmm. Maybe it’s time to let those go! When I write in a journal, it’s always in the same type of spiral-bound Miguelruis notebook (the same one I use for Autofocus) which I love writing in. That takes away the pressure you describe, which I can totally relate to.

  • Susan Long

    I don’t journal, probably due to getting in trouble as young child after my parents found my sister’s and mine diary filled with talk about boys, Pink Elephant Club and naughty naughty words. But hey, there’s always something in your post that speaks farther than the topic at hand! So wow that brought about a different angle awareness on many levels… eye opener. Cool!

  • Shannon–Oh, YES!!! You’ve described me perfectly. I have I-don’t-know-how-many gorgeous journals, with smooth, thirsty paper just waiting to absorb some ink. Some are as pristine and unmarred as a snowy field because they’re so beautiful it’s just too damn intimidating to actually WRITE in them. In others, only the first two or three pages have been written on. Because I can’t just write…I have to **dedicate** the journal to one specific thing, and when I (invariably) stop that thing, the poor almost-empty journal just sits around.

    You make an interesting point about loving books and the written word. Ditto for me all my life, so yes, this could be a contributing factor to my reluctant journal-marking.

    Hey, maybe we should each take a journal from our stack and delibertely fill it up with all kinds of messiness! :o)

    Michelle’s last blog post..Happy Accidents

  • Ooooo….good for YOU. Ditto with everyone else on the blank journals. Blogs are hard enough, but at least with a blog: a) it’s typeset, so no worries about the inability to maintain a horizontal line b) you can delete with a key-strike c) we haven’t been programmed to worship the screen as some of us do a thirsty, cotton page.

    Congrats on breaking through that block (and first page) and keep it going! While I’m not ready to crack my collection of beautiful, blank journals, I’m cheering you on!

    Denise dS’s last blog post..My Thoughts are in Italy

  • Diane

    As usual, you read my own thoughts, Shannon. I have collected journals, notebooks, diaries- just yesterday I saw a tidy spiral bound book that I just KNEW I could use…when I remembered the 20+ equals at home. I have even used 3-subject notebooks, hoping to separate the uses- “ME, family, future ME”.

    I will use some of the ideas above- actually using that book in my purse (right now) that says, “MY THOUGHTS” without being afraid of what those actually are.

  • Hmmm, I smell a “Mess Up A Beautiful Journal” Challenge coming up!

  • Great post, Shannon.
    I, too, have lovely blank books just waiting to be filled. I have written in some of them, but felt like I was ‘wasting’ them because there was really no one purpose to the writing.
    Then I started ‘morning pages’ as suggested by Julia Cameron in ‘The Artist’s Way’ and I have pages and pages of filled loose leaf notebook pages.
    Because this writing has no purpose other than to vent and discover, it’s easy. I’m prolific and have made the most amazing discoveries in the act of writing…

  • ari

    hi shannon,

    I am a 14 year old (well 15 in 6 days but who’s counting) girl who constantly struggles with the idea of messing up a beautiful journal.

    On my 13th birthday I received this absolutely gorgeous neon orange smythson journal from my family friends. It has not yet been written in. On my 14th birthday, I received a very different but equally gorgeous handmade, leather, thick, journal with a metal clasp from another one of my family friends. I have written in this one, but I only write quotes in it that I like. The problem is, I am so careful that it is perfect and my handrwriting is neat that the journal kind of lost special meaning. I love it, and added another quote today, which I haven’t done in a while, but I don’t know, something is weird. I suppose I tried so hard for it to be perfect that it seems almost fake. I am trying to from now on only add quotes when I hear them, not sit in front of the computer on brainyquotes.com searching for things I think would go well.

    So now I am left wondering what to do with my orange notebook. It is thin and pocket sized, which is great. I want to fill it with my thoughts (not diary-ish) but like ideas. I want to be an executive producer of a tv show when I’m older, so maybe like plot/editing ideas etc.

    What do you think I should do with this notebook? I don’t want to overthink it like I did last time, but I suppose that is what I am doing by writing this insanely long comment that is really a plea for help.

    Also, I love the “mess up a beautiful journal” challenge concept, but it is stressing me out like CRAZY! haha. I don’t think I would be able to handle that kind of pressure (or rather, lack there of)

    Thanks for any advice you may have,


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