Why you should start an art journal

Now that it is February, I can guarantee that many of us who tried committing to a New Year’s resolution have probably given up. Honestly, I’m not sure if people even do those anymore. I have had my fair share of uncompleted resolutions, from exercising every day, to reading 150 books a year or not drinking coffee ever again. You can see I’m no stranger to setting myself up for failure. None of those even made it past ten days, except for one. On January 1, 2018 I began the last New Year’s resolution I ever made, and, as it turns out, the only one I really needed: I started keeping a journal. 

I think that most people have a unique relationship with journaling already, and it’s safe to assume that each of us have tried sticking to it at some point in our lives. Maybe as a kid you had flowered diaries with a flimsy lock and key where you poured out your second grade secrets onto wide ruled pages. Or maybe you’ve tried earnestly to start one on New Year’s Day or the first day of school but ended up forgetting three days later when things got busy. Most of us have a love-hate experience: we want to write, but it seems like so much work. Whatever your experience, I am here to convince you that journaling is the best habit you will ever have, and it isn’t as hard as it seems. 

This practice means something different to everyone, and to me, it is the process of reflecting on my life 24 hours at a time, writing about the things I did and what I’m feeling. For the past three years it has been a calming, meditative experience. The pages of my journals contain my best and worst moments, feelings, days and everything in between. It is so ingrained in my routine that if I miss a day or two I notice that something doesn’t feel quite right, like I’m forgetting something. I get restless and I feel out of touch with myself and my life. It’s crazy to feel like that now because writing never used to be easy, nor was it my go-to form of self-expression. I’ve since found that natural inclination doesn’t matter in the slightest. Among lengthy paragraphs, my journals contain drawings and sketches, photos of my favorite people and places, song lyrics, concert tickets and random stuff I collect every day. That’s an important point I’ll touch on later. 

Not only does journaling make me more present and reflective each day, it also provides the fun of reading old journals. At the beginning of every year I try to read through the past one. By seeing each day at a time among every month of the year, I see my ebb and flow of thoughts and ideas and can tell how much things can both stay the same and change so much. The strange thing is that I can picture the days I’m reading about with so much clarity and detail, as if they were yesterday, and I know that I wouldn’t be able to if I didn’t jot them down as they happened. I’ve read through some of my first few journals recently, and it is both strange and endearing to see what my 16-year-old self thought about the world and things that happened to me, even though it wasn’t that long ago. It was so interesting to see what my habits and routines used to be and the different people I invested time into. There is no better way to see growth and change in every aspect of my life than to read what used to go through my head.

If you don’t want to hear any more of me and my passionate musings about my hobby, know that I’m not the only person who thinks it’s the best thing ever. Besides keeping memories and verbalizing emotions, journaling is good for your health. Doctors and scientists agree that sticking to daily expressive writing helps manage stress, which likely plagues every one of us at one point or another, especially in a busy semester. It has also been observed to improve immune function (great defense against COVID!) on top of sharpening memory and boosting overall mood (according to Intermountian). This is the ultimate therapeutic practice for not only mental, but your physical health, too, and you don’t even have to leave your bed! 

If you take reading this as a sign to start a journal, here are some easy steps that will guarantee this habit will slide right into your daily routine for good. First, find an empty notebook you like. It doesn’t matter what it looks like, if it has lines or not, or how many pages it has. Just get some paper. Next, find a pen that feels really nice to write with. You might want to decide if you are a morning or evening writer, or just jot down thoughts whenever you feel like it. Nighttime is my usual time because it calms me down before going to sleep, and I can write about the day I just experienced, but sometimes I feel like writing in the morning, too! Try out both and see what works best. It also helps to set a reminder if you find yourself forgetting often.   

Now, this part is what makes “art” journaling a little different and will make your journal feel even more personal and artistic, but is totally optional. It does require a lifestyle change that might clutter your desk space a bit, but it is so worth it: never throw out paper. There are some exceptions to this, but basically keep any paper-type media you come in contact with that seems interesting. At my desk right now I have parts of tea boxes and paper bags, magazine clips, photographs, paint samples, stickers, song lyrics scribbled on receipts… basically anything you can glue onto a page is fair game. Grab some tape or an adhesive roller and glue away! You can do no wrong, and nobody is probably ever going to see it except for you. 

If the idea of hoarding paper doesn’t seem interesting and drawing isn’t your favorite thing to do, don’t worry. I’m sharing my style of journaling, but that doesn’t have to be yours. That’s the beauty of journaling: it is virtually limitless and versatile and becomes as unique as you are. Many people not only jot down their thoughts and feelings, but write as an extension of their daily devotions and Bible reading, or to keep track of prayers or meditations. The most important thing to remember is that it doesn’t have to be perfect, and that you are doing this for yourself and no one else. 

I hope that you are at least a little bit convinced that journaling is something you should try out. It doesn’t matter that it isn’t January 1 or the start of the semester either. It takes a little bit of time in the beginning to get used to writing every day, but that only lasts until it becomes a part of your routine. Keep in mind that this isn’t supposed to feel like work. It is supposed to be calming, relaxing and fun. Missing a few days isn’t the end of the world—you often will—but all that matters is that you start again. In no time you’ll find your groove where journaling becomes effortless, therapeutic and enjoyable—and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it earlier.

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