The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Monday, February 23, 2009

What colour is your journal?

By Tamara Lee

Remember when writing Morning Pages was all rage? Folks were what-colour-is-my-parachuting and journaling to save their life. When was that, like the ‘90s?

I’m not sure when I started serious journaling; I do know I didn’t write in one regularly when I was young. Didn’t have the pretty little book with a precious little lock. My sister did, for a while, and I once looked at it. Read it for as long as it took my face to turn hot with shame. About a page-and-a-half. At the moment I closed her precious little journal, I knew what it meant to invade someone’s privacy, and I knew I didn’t want to meet that feeling again. But I also recognized that some of the words she’d written—so honest, earnest, vulnerable—were feelings I’d felt myself. Only I’d tried to put them into poems, and she just brazenly told her diary.

Around that time, I had an English teacher who encouraged free-flow writing in response to a daily quote he’d put on the board. I remember how foreign the whole experience was, to think-not-overthink thoughts as I wrote. Maybe I was 16 or 17, and I felt, finally, that I might be ‘getting somewhere’ with my writing. But still I didn’t journal.

When I backpacked through Europe, a year or two after graduating high school, I thought it would be the perfect time to start journal-writing. But of course I was too much in the experience to sit back and start reflecting. The little journal I’d bought in Chinatown before leaving is full of empty pages; aardvark drawings my travelling partner made while we waited for a train somewhere; names of long-forgotten people; the occasional vague attempt at saying something poignant.

Sometime between my return from Europe and beginning university I decided a writer might want to keep a journal, that doing so might capture significant thoughts and moments of brilliance I was sure I had but must have passed through my mind stealthily. Keeping a journal would allow me to catch my thoughts in the act.

Instead, it was a steady flow of frustrated whinging and pining, and otherwise teenage-like vulnerability for the first while. Looking through those journals I shamefully kept feels like I’m reading my sister’s high-school journal. Only mine reads more like someone trying too hard; someone who expects her sister to snoop and wants to give her a good show.

It’s taken years for the process to finally work for me. In fact, sometimes it feels as though I think more honestly with a pen and a journal, than while washing dishes and letting my mind wander. I find myself holding off working through a story or personal problem until I have my journal in hand.

But I know I’m not alone in this. Searching for a photo to accompany this post, I typed in ‘stacks of journals’ in Flickr, and found dozens of others who have this affliction, and who have visually documented their journal-love. (I’m using paperbackwriter’s photo because of the sheer volume of the impressive, meticulous documentation of her obsession.)

And now my own journal habit has evolved into a more complicated process: I have about a dozen journals going, all with different purposes, many ‘colour-coded’ for the tone of the project (the romantic-comedy script gets a little pink and brown polka-dotted book; the novella gets a larger, more serious-looking journal). There’s a black journal for my occasional dream recollections, and a green journal of notes for my new job.

Sometimes, I’ll find the ideas for one project have ended up in the wrong journal—possibly it was the only one I had when an idea struck—and so then I have to add annotated Post-It notes so I can locate the nugget of presumed brilliance. I'm thinking about colour-coding those Post-Its now, to keep those errant thoughts in order.

Things are clearly getting out of hand. Is all this a reflection of the journaler’s character? Her current state of mind? Something else?

I’ll have to get a pen and think about that.

(Image credit: paperbackwriter)


Blogger Lydia Theys said...

That was so interesting for me because Ihave never had the discipline to journal, although I have started many times. Even on vacations, by tthe end, my travel diary is nothing more than a scrawl of place names and cryptic comments. Maybe it's time to try again...

Wed Feb 25, 09:06:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Wow, what a complex journal system you have. I do something similar, but in computer files. I've kept pe and paper journals from time to time but I find them too permanent. Like the youthful diary, embarrassing when you read it later.

Wed Feb 25, 05:10:00 pm GMT-5  

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