How to Start Journaling

Journaling has always been one of my favorite feigned habits.

I’ve kept a myriad of diaries, notebooks and journals since childhood, but it’s only been the last two years or so that I’ve actually developed any meaningful consistency.

I’ve been trying to force myself into a “miracle morning” type routine for two years now. Ideally, it would look like:

  • Make coffee
  • Meditate
  • Read tarot
  • Journal
  • Write (as in write for writing’s sake)
  • Yoga
  • Work out
  • Healthy breakfast
  • Bonus points for making my bed and actually getting fully *ready* for the day

And I would be damned if I wasn’t going to do all of that before 9am. Every morning.

Because–I don’t know if you’ve been on the internet lately–but that’s what your mornings are supposed to look like if you’re an evolved and interesting human.

Especially if you have the freedom and privilege to work for yourself from home, or find yourself blissfully roommate and live-in partner free. What a treat, right?

Well, I’ll tell you what my morning looks like right now:

  • Wake up because the cat is literally poking me with his paw
  • Pee, while the cat whines at me
  • Feed the cat
  • Make coffee
  • Get back in bed for about 30 minutes and scroll around on my phone
  • Check my bank account and get a nice reality check
  • Then I finally journal and pull a card (Right now that’s from an oracle deck called Moon Angels)
  • Sometimes I meditate (I do love Lacy Young’s meditations and will happily do them when I’m feeling particularly evolved and mature)

After that, I head downstairs and try to write before I get started on my “work” for the day.

As one of my favorite writers and teachers, Sarah Von Bargen, finally got through my head in her Make It Stick Habit School: You can really only establish one good habit at a time.

Something that I’ve noticed is that journaling is really the thing for me. It’s the closest I can get to therapy without getting my eyes wet and it’s way cheaper–about the cost of one Moleskine notebook every 90 days because it’s one thing I get to be picky about.

I know you’re probably so thrilled to hear the nitty gritty details of my morning routine, but I know you’re here for the goods so let’s talk about journaling.

How to start a journaling habit

Pick tools you actually like.

This is honestly the key for me. Once I found a pen and notebook I really loved, I started genuinely looking forward to sitting down at my desk every morning.

I’ve since switched notebooks and now am partial to Moleskines because they really are just my favorite for writing, but even the little notebook that was a very sweet souvenir from a good friend’s trip to Paris had its own unique personality.

Also, pens are important. I’m currently experimenting with a fountain pen, but I’m partial to a Pilot G2 or a Bic Atlantis if I’m really honest.

 

Make it fancy.

All I mean by this is do a little something special to your space or time to ritualize journaling. It’s like a preemptive reward for sitting down to journal on the days when you don’t really feel like it.

I have a candle I only light when I’m journaling and I let myself indulge in my very typical Bon Iver/Iron & Wine playlist until I actually open up my laptop.

You could have a special mug or wear fancy slippers or stay in bed a few extra minutes if that’s what butters your biscuit. Whatever makes you feel a little indulgent and selfish is a good choice.

 

Pick a goal.

For me, the first goal that really worked was to commit to filling up an entire journal.

It was that journal I mentioned earlier, one that I really loved that I bought at the Denver Botanical Gardens that I decided I was not going to squander by only writing in a few pages and then abandoning it.

When I did that, I moved on to the Paris notebook, then I allowed myself to buy a new Moleskine because I didn’t have any other blank notebooks waiting in the wings.

I’ve tried writing three pages every morning, but I’ve found that as long as I write every day, the length will naturally fluctuate depending on what I need to write about.

 

Don’t be so hard on yourself.

Seriously, sometimes journaling seems stupid and you’ll be writing “I just really don’t feel like writing because I’m hungover/bored/busy/content.” over and over until you think of one thing you did want to write about that maybe you thought of in the shower yesterday or something.

It’s not supposed to be poetic or prophetic. It’s easy to hope that your journals will be witty and devastatingly authentic so that someone will just have to publish them posthumously. Chances are it’s not ever going to be like that consistently.

Sometimes it’s drudgery and sometimes it’s personal revelations that unlock big things for yourself. That’s just how it is.

Like I said, this is a cheap and private alternative to therapy. Not every session is going to be a breakthrough.

 

Don’t censor yourself.

This is something I worry about. I even went through a phase in high school after a fight with my high school sweetheart when I was certain the One for me was still out there and not that guy that I started a notebook as a series of letters to my future husband.

That lasted all of four days.

Spoiler alert, the high school sweetheart was not the One for me and the jury is still out for my future husband, but I do not write to anyone anymore.

Sometimes I think about what I will want to have access to when I’m old or when I need to remember what it was like as a 20-something because my future daughter is doing something that’s driving me crazy or got me worried sick (sorry mom.)

But if you write with an audience in mind, you keep the good stuff locked up. You keep the bad stuff locked up too, and the selfish stuff and the creepy stuff and the fucked up stuff.

The only thing that comes out when you start writing with any audience or dream of future publication is just hifalutin nonsense that won’t do anyone any good.

(Sometimes you’ll write hifalutin nonsense anyways, but it will be good for you specifically when you catch yourself doing that and can dial it back to what’s really going on for you. Again, therapy.)

 

Allow for lapses.

Sometimes you’ll go a few weeks without writing in your journal and start to feel foggy and jumbled. When you notice you haven’t been keeping up with your journal, you’ll be able to go back to it.

The journal will not judge you or charge you for missed sessions. It does not ask you where you’ve been. It’s just there when you need it, which is more often than you think.

 

Try it out.

If you’ve thought about journaling but are freaked out by former attempts or think you don’t have time, I’m going to challenge you to do one page a day for a week and see how you feel.

You might still hate it or be stressed out by it, in which case, forget it. You are not going to be less successful or interesting if you don’t keep a journal.

Chances are, you’re doing something else in your life that is giving you the documentation you need to keep tabs on your own mind and that’s great. Stick to what works for you.

But if you do find your mind is less crowded and you’re uncovering stuff to work on through your writing, pick a goal and go with it.

Don’t get caught up in any rules or standards, just show up when you need to and remember that you can’t fail at this habit. You really can’t.

That’s the beauty of journaling for me, unlike other habits. Journaling is not a compound effect. You can’t get better at it, you can’t lose it if you get too busy or lazy for a few weeks.

Is there potential for journaling to improve other areas of your life if you do it regularly? Absolutely. I know my writing and anxiety have both been positively affected by journaling regularly.

So, give it a shot.

If you do decide to give it a try, feel free to tag me on instagram or shoot me an email if you want to share your experiences. I’m happy to talk about routines, notebooks, prompts, whatever! Good luck, y’all.

Moving: An Announcement

My freshman year of high school, I ripped a two page spread from an art room collage pile issue of Southern Living magazine. It’s a photo of a small cottage, with a screened in porch and a wildly joyful garden. It’s now framed in my bedroom.

I have a whole Pinterest board dedicated to cabins and cottages, small spaces with cozy interiors in rustic settings.

That’s always been the dream.

However, not much else about that dream has been clear. Am I alone in the house or do I have a partner? Is it in the Blue Ridge Mountains or the Rockies? Maybe on the border of a sleepy southern town?

The house was the one thing I knew I wanted. Tucked into some quiet corner where I became part of the landscape instead of part of a city.

But it was always a reward, a sighing, “someday” kind of dream.

I thought I had to earn it, deserve that dream. That I would know when I had made it because I’d be writing in the woods somewhere and sipping on coffee while the sun was rising.

That’s not the sort of thing you’re just allowed to have out of the blue. Right?

Dreams Come True Even When You’re Not Waiting for Them To

I had a plan, which of course means that my plan has gone totally out the window in the space of about two weeks.

After a pretty chaotic year, I laid out for myself (and to anyone who would listen) my plan for the rest of 2017:

  • Focus on growing my business
  • Save some serious cash
  • Travel to a select few cities to scope out potential next homes
  • Announce a move to my chosen destination on New Year’s Eve

This plan happened in my current house, a little duplex in Midtown, perfectly adequate for my needs.

Then I was informed, rather suddenly, that my landlord would be giving my unit to her nephew who would be moving to Tallahassee to attend college and I needed to be out by mid-August.

Not only was this something I had not planned for, not even remotely, it was already July!

Anyone who knows the Tallahassee rental market knows you need to start making moves in early summer to find a decent spot for August move-in because–duh, we’re a college town.

With little to no optimism, I started combing listings on every rental site, making peace with the fact that my current rent was not going to translate to a lateral move.

I had some guidelines:

  • No roommates
  • No apartment complexes
  • Some semblance of an outdoor space (even if that was just a stoop big enough to perch a coffee mug on)
  • Not on a busy road (I currently live on a major intersection, the only constant in my life is road noise.)
  • Must allow cats

With my very unusual rental history, I knew working with a property management company would be tricky at best, so I was also trying avoiding any kind of middleman.

In Tallahassee, this is a tall order in a short time frame.

But after only a few days of searching, I found a place that seemed unreal. Like so perfect that I was positive it was a scam. The best looking listing always are, it seems.

This place was seriously the dream.

At the end of the prettiest canopy road in town (in my humble opinion), part of an intentional living community, on two acres of land, plus–it even had a Jacuzzi tub.

After much hemming and hawing, a visit to a dreary rental in Midtown and a bit of prodding (and some inspired rental website maneuvering) from one of my dear friends, I snagged a tour.

I was nervous about meeting the owners that I can only compare it to a job interview.

But to make a long story short, they loved me, I loved the house, I applied and got the house.

THE HOUSE. THE DREAM HOUSE.

Blooming Where You’re Planted

Obviously, this move is having quite the effect on that plan I mentioned earlier. Even though it’s only a six month lease, it’s a longer commitment to Tallahassee than I had originally planned to make–if even just by a few months.

While I had other options, to move home to Pensacola or trade in my guidelines for some other temporary fix, I took the risk and the subsequent plunge for a few reasons that I think are important to consider when you’re staring down the barrel of an unplanned life change.

  1. What do you really want?

Chances are, your plans have an end goal. I thought moving away from Tallahassee would be my ticket to an experimental “reset” on my identity, shake me out of the stupor that living in one town for more than 6 years has given me.

I thought it would give me a new perspective to write from, somewhere new to explore and dig my heels into.

It would challenge me to make new friends and connections, be even more independent than I’ve been thus far in my adult life.

It would prove I can do whatever I put my mind to.

And honestly–a move would still do all of those things. It’s not something I’ve totally ruled out within the next year.

But what I wanted: distance, novelty, nature, motivation, new community. This in-town move still allows for all of that.

2. What are you willing to do to get what you want?

My new place is more expensive than my current one and I know that increasing your living expenses in the first year of working for yourself is a huge risk. Pretty much everyone tells you not to even think about it.

But, in this space, I know I could happily do the extra work that I’ll need to do to adjust for the cost of the privilege of living where I want to.

I’ve also had to be willing to take sole responsibility for my life from here on out.

My mom suggested I move home, let my family circle the wagons around me. That offer was tempting (and I seriously love my family for being that kind of crew), but I knew I would agonize over the “what if” of sticking it out on my own because I haven’t failed, hit rock bottom or intentionally chosen to move home because I was excited to.

Everyone has also pointed out: “But it’s such a drive, how will you drive that distance all the time?” (Spoiler alert, I won’t, but we’ll get to that.)

So the reality looks like: longer hours, more work, less disposable income, still not within a stone’s throw of my family and a good drive from my normal social safety nets in town.

3. Are you willing to embrace the reality of your dream?

Whether it was in Tallahassee or Tennessee, my dream house was always going to be a good bit from town.

It was always going to require an idealistic, pioneer-woman type independence–with a good dash of Puritan self-discipline.

Realistically though, having to be mindful about my trips into town to run errands, socialize, network? Having more dinner parties instead of nights at the bar? Spending more time reading books and taking long walks?

I wanted to be doing these kinds of things, um, forever ago?

But I always made excuses. It’s a pretty serious departure from the way I have lived my life the past few years. In fact, I’ve never lived my life like that.

The reality of my dream is that I’m going to have to be mature, responsible and mindful to make this work. I accept that.

Wherever you go, there you are

The answers to all of those questions doesn’t change based on where you go, no matter what it is that you want. A job in New York, a romantic partner on the West Coast, an “Eat, Pray, Love” experience abroad?

Great, go for it, but be ready to accept the terms and conditions of your dreams.

The only thing I have learned since leaving my hometown is that we are all who we are no matter where we go, where we live, what we do for work.

Lots of stuff sounds great in theory, but the reality is always going to be a little grittier and it’s always going to take more work than you originally planned.

You have to continue to live with yourself throughout all of it.

So what’s next?

For me and this move, this here project was a big motivator in my decision to take the plunge. If I wanted motivation and inspiration, this is going to be where I got it.

I’m really looking forward to sharing the move with all of you, plus all of the stuff I’m going to tackle while living out in the woods.

Here are some things I’d love if you did:

  • Ask yourself what dream it is you’re telling yourself is a “someday” dream and how you can get it as soon as a possible instead
  • Get over to Instagram and tell me about your dream that you want to head towards (gimme a follow so I can give you a follow, please and thanks)
  • Sign up for my brand spanking new mailing list so that I can send you notes about the moving process and share playlists with you because, yeah. (Form is below!)

Thanks for reading, love y’all!

Procrastination Isn’t Cute Anymore

There seems to always be someone a few steps ahead of me, when it comes to creative pursuits. Someone who has take the story I wanted to tell, or made the blog I want to make or gotten the byline I covet.

It’s hard not to react to those discoveries as if I’ve been scalded or scolded.

My friends are unfailingly kind and patient with me when I lament about yet another project that seems to have passed me by. They try to remind me that’s just my ego, that there’s plenty of space for me at the table, for everyone.

Those are comforting words that I have no problem saying to other people about their own pursuits. It’s easy for me to cheer on everyone else in my life. I struggle with seeing those truths when it comes to my own work.

Imposter syndrome is something I’ve talked to my business coach, Michelle, about quite a bit in preparation for finally making this blog public. My lack of confidence is rooted in the preconceived notions of how other people measure success or authority.

I don’t have a college degree, I’ve never had my creative writing published (not counting my high school lit mag glory days,) my life holds no unique set of lived experiences that qualify me to talk about anything at all.

But something inside me reacts to the potential of creation, to the sharing of stories and the mere observation of life. It’s an opening, an expansion that I don’t feel towards anything else in this mortal life. Maybe it’s not much, but it’s something.

What have I been so afraid of?

I’ve been rejected and critiqued plenty, that was never the worry. The fear I have is abandonment, of finally putting something out there and getting no return on the investments of time and support I’ve made in other people’s work.

Not only do I realize that’s both selfish and illogical–because I know my community is an incredible and loving one–I also know that the risks aren’t significant enough for me to continue worrying myself into stagnation. Or at least, continued stagnation.

I’ve had this domain registered for over 2 years at this point.

Delaying and suppressing myself any longer would have just made each new discovery of my creative ideas reflected in the work of others more painful and demoralizing.

The truth of the matter is that I don’t want to turn myself bitter about work I’m just choosing not to do, especially when that bitterness is so easily weaponized against other creatives.

Because, honestly–what’s the worst that could happen?

Nobody reads my work.
People talk about my work behind my back, ask “Who does she think she is?”
Someone labels me a fraud.
I give up after only a few weeks of work.

Worst of all would be giving up my domain and seeing someone else use this space, after years of letting it sit dormant.

So I figure I’m left with one option–risk my pride for the sake of my psyche.

Lately, I’ve started asking new questions.

Why not me?
What if?
How can I not?

New ideas and concepts are already starting to push these old ideas loose, like sharp baby teeth ready to be wiggled free in return for some pocket change and glitter under my pillow. 

Guess I have no choice at this point but to grin and bear it.

Return of the Writing Self

A handwritten musing.

This is not the glamorous return to my writing life I had pictured in my head.

This is not the notebook, the preferred pen or my first choices of setting.

But the day is drawing to a close and I want to give my writing self the satisfaction of one hour on the surface.

My writing self looks and feels a lot like my middle school self. Fantastical and hopelessly romantic, a voracious reader and questionable dresses. Obsessive and innocent. Carefree and wildly under-scheduled.

I remember the hours and hours of uninterrupted time at my little desk in my bedroom, the gutted Singer sewing machine cabinet. Bare feet on the cool iron of the pedal, pulling notebooks from the cubby that once held the machine itself.

I remember my stories, every one of them. There was a very well constructed and tastegul Harry Potter fanfiction. A sweeping novel-style piece I was writing on a steno pad that I passed among my friends, my first taste of what having fans felt like. The magical realism attempt in a Dollar Store composition book. The historical fantasy on that busted up Dell desktop my dad let me use as a glorified typewriter.

I would have rather had a real typewriter, but it wasn’t until I was 21 that I inherited my great-grandmother’s Corona.

My middle school self, my first writing self, would spend what felt like entire days immersed in those pieces. Different containers, different worlds. It was an evolved version of spending entire days out in the yard, playing make-believe stories out in thin air. I just channeled it into writing.

My writing self is a solitary girl at play. Not participating in a sport or a game–there were no rules, no spectators and no competition. It was joyful, explorative and engrossing.

My writing was motivated only by the love of writing and the need for creative expression. I didn’t know about blogging and had no ambitions to publish my work. I wanted to be a teacher, or a youth minister, or a metrologist.

Writing stopped being play when I allowed spectators. In middle school, it was just spectators–still no rules or competition. In high school, rules and competition began to surface. I appreciated the structure and found an editing self. I wanted to work for a publication. I started interning.

As I got older, I found it more and more difficult to make-believe. I started taking long drives and recording my dreams so I could write about them. This is when I started writing about my love life. I started journaling.

It wasn’t until I went to college that I began to see writing as a trade. Editing, organizing, researching were before the writing in the trade. But I first dared to see writing as my bread and butter then.

Once I left college, it’s hard to pinpoint when my writing self dropped below the surface, became a shadow. Possibly during my sophomore year, when my class load became cumbersome and my free time was devoted to a job, a boyfriend, a group of friends that partied.

I don’t regret any of that time spent, but that’s where the marathon writing stopped and my poems slowed to a trickle. I went from writing when I should have been doing anything else, to doing anything to avoid writing.

My writing self was also now in competition with the writing selves of other students. My work was critiqued, graded and rejected. It was also published, paid for.

All of this is not to say that critique and technique are bad or harmful. I created some of my best work under the pressures of internships and course work.

But writing as play, as a life affirming activity that filled what the world had emptied? I forgot what that was like.

 

I knew my writing self still existed because I saw her surface in January, during the writing workshop I took on a whim here in Tallahassee. She is ready to get back to work.

My writing self is less innocent than my younger self. She’s scared that she won’t remember how–or worse–she’ll be too old to play.

Her biggest fear is her seemingly endless competition. She’s been out of the race too long. Everyone else, it seems, has continued to write. That is just who they always were.

I know I am going to have to move past these fears and ego trips. I will have to make sure I’m not choking out my writing self by being broke, hungover, heartbroken.

Trying to come to terms with the oversaturation of the writing landscape, silence the constant comparison and breakneck speed of production on the internet is something I know I’ll have to master.

My writing self is my best self. It’s not a hard thing to nurture, this writing life. Not for me. All I need is somewhere comfortable to work, background music, some decent coffee.

I can’t recreate that best self through sex, romance, socializing, success–none of those things are play. Those are past times, just passing time. Distractions and escapes, endless loops of fueling one kind of unhealthy coping mechanism for another.

Play is important because play can be messy, it can get you hurt. No one is looking out for your every move.

You win nothing, gain nothing, prove nothing when you play.