Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

On Blank Journals and Self-Doubt

Forget what they say about diamonds and dogs: when it comes to writers, journals are man’s best friend.

Okay, okay, maybe dogs, too.

Like most writers, I love journals. (I’m talking inspiration journals, although, writers should consider the diary kind, too.) Whenever I get a new one, I admire the artistic cover, run my fingertip down the unbroken spine, flip through those beautiful, blank pages and let their virgin paper aroma fill my nostrils. If the journal has a ribbon as a placemarker, I fling it out of my way. Then, I move to the first page, pick up my pen, and…freeze.

blank journalHere it is before me: a gorgeous, unsoiled journal with over 100 blank pages waiting to receive my brilliance. Only, I can’t help but wonder, do I have any brilliance to give them? Who am I to dirty these clean manila pages with combinations of words that I deem “creative”? Are the words I write worth the death of a tree, worth a lifetime on paper?

Once the ink marks the page, it is there forever. Even if I use pencil, the ghost of the lead will stain the pages with half letters and smudges for life of the paper. There is no going back.

Okay, I’ll scale back the drama, but hopefully you get my point. And even more hopefully, you’ll tell me that I’m not alone in this. For whatever reason, writing in a blank journal is a million times more difficult for me than writing in a word processor. The few real-life writer friends I have echo these sentiments. They, too, recognize the confidence-shattering object that is the blank journal. But, surely, we cannot be the only few who feel this way.

So what is it about the blank journal that is so intimidating? Here are my theories:

1. Symbolism

As humans, we apply a great deal of symbolic meaning to objects. When faced with a new journal, a writer does not see it as merely a journal — it is a vessel of creativity, a primitive draft of a novel, a piece of posterity for grandchildren to discover and leaf through in 30 years. That’s a lot of pressure.

2. Self-Doubt

While I don’t necessarily agree with traditional writer “stereotypes,” I will concede that many (though not all) artists are inflicted with disproportionate amounts of self-doubt and self-criticism. Therefore, when faced with an empty journal, all the ugly heads of “writer’s block” rear. Seeing these blank pages give you a glimpse into your soul: you are not worthy of soiling them with your unexceptional thoughts.

3. Perfectionism

Once your writing utensil hits that virgin page, the mark can never be undone. Why ruin the journal — it’s so pretty! What if your handwriting is messy? What if you make a mistake and have to cross something out or create eraser smudge? Should this journal be all for its own project, or can you divide it into sections? What if you run out of genius and can never fill the entire journal?

new journal
The beautiful journal I got for Christmas, which inspired this post, and which I vow to use fearlessly!

This is not an exhaustive list. And the next one isn’t either. However, if these, or any other thoughts, haunt your new journal, try reminding yourself of these things:

1. It’s just paper.

Seriously, it’s just a bound set of paper pages. It’s not some sacred vessel. In fact, even with your words scrawled in it, it’s still just a journal. Calm down.

2. You can get another one.

If you “ruin” your pretty new journal with “uncreative” thoughts, you can always get a new one. There is no ration on paper at this time in human history.

3. No one else will read it.

Your journal may not be filled with brilliance, but that is okay! It is a place for inspiration, random thoughts, and plot bunnies. No one has to see it, and even if they do, no one will judge it as harshly as you will.

4. Stop de-valuing yourself.

Your words, your creative thoughts, are worth writing down. Trust me, even if you think they are rubbish, they’re not. Besides, as number one says, a journal is just paper. Without your human touch, it will be wasted paper. So put it to use.

5. Just have fun.

A journal is a writer’s playground. In our technological age, you will not publish anything that comes directly from the pages of your journal. At the very least, you must type them into a word processor, which will give you a chance to edit. With that in mind, just brainstorm and experiment and play. Save your genius for Scrivener.

Perhaps my writer friends and I are alone in this phenomenon. However, whenever I receive a new journal, I feel a deadly combination of excitement, nervousness, and insecurity. I know I need to take it less seriously, and perhaps an unofficial new year’s resolution of mine should become to allow journals to be a playground rather than a breeding ground for my self-doubt.

In fact, I am going to combat that this week by using a new journal to hold the story beats for my next manuscript. What about you?

How do you feel about writing in inspiration journals? Do blank journals intimidate you or bring out your creative best? Share your experiences and tips below!


17 thoughts on “On Blank Journals and Self-Doubt”

  1. I too started a journal this year, more of a diary of sorts. My plan is to be brief and only record the big things that happened — I don’t really need to jot down just how many hours of TV I watched, and I have Pinterest for the books I read, LOL — and to add gratitudes. I got that last one from you, and it’s something I think will also help keep my occasional depression from sneaking back with a vengeance. The trick will be trying to avoid repetition; one can only be grateful for one’s cat so many times. 🙂

    Anything writerly though, goes in my Writing comp book. It’s got scribbles and short flash fiction exercises and all that jazz. Hopefully I can keep up with the diary and the writer journal for more than just January!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Beyond my diary-type journal, I have two regular “writer journals.” One holds all my random fiction ideas and the other holds all my nonfiction/blog ideas. However, I got a beautiful new one for Christmas, and it brought up all those weird “What in the world do I do with these pretty blank pages?!” feelings. So I wanted to explore that here in this post.

      Thanks for sharing! And good luck keeping up with everything!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Love the post Kate, I have a few journals, but the one I use the most is my stream journal. I do have another journal for my writing notes, but it’s only for that. I do love a pretty journal, but sadly I don’t use them, lol, they are just too pretty.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I identify with this all too well. I currently have about 8 “journals” hanging around with nary a scratch in them. I got a new one for Christmas from my best friend and his partner, with a lovely new pen. They wrote me the sweetest note about how they hope that something I write in that journal for 2015 turns into something wonderful (aka published). I nearly cried, thanked them, and secretly vowed never to actually write in it. It has gold leafing. GOLD LEAFING! How am I supposed to write in that? I will put it on the bottom of the pile and chose one of my less pretty journals to start with. Maybe one day I will brave enough to actually use it for its purpose.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, that is exactly what I’m talking about! I love getting journals, and it is such a great ego boost when someone gifts you one. But the expectations that go along with the pretty journals can really psych you out. Thank you for sharing, and I hope one day you put that gold leafing to good use!


  4. Another amazing post, Kate. You hit the proverbial nail right on the head with this one. Personally, I’m very familiar with the deadly combination of excitement, nervousness, and insecurity… it happens with blank word documents too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words and for sharing! While I do get timid when faced with blank word documents, they are not quite as bad for me, because I know the create new, backspace and delete keys are close at hand. With journals, it just seems so permanent and intimidating.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. That’s one of the reasons I stopped using journals for my first drafts. I reuse printed paper instead – just write on the blank side. That way I take away that first fear – that I would sully something new and pristine with my “unworthy” words. The paper I use would have been recycled or thrown into the trash anyway, so it doesn’t matter if the words I put on it are not perfect. And since I started doing that, the fear of the blank page has evaporated.

    Now I am a pack rat that hoards recycling paper for future use.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. If you’re worried about others seeing it, you could always buy a journal with a lock or a place to attach one. I had one of those when I was a child, and now that I’ve lost the key, I can guarantee that no one will be reading it!

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Such a brilliant article Kate! I agree with you on all the points 🙂
    Sometimes, being a writer, we seem to blow things out of proportion. And many times it creates unreasonable problems.
    Whenever I buy a new journal, or for that matter even a new notebook with pretty jacket, I start thinking about what should be my first words! lol! Like the entire humanity depends on my first words on the first page!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! It’s so silly. They are just journals and yet they create so much pressure! I’m hoping to tackle more of these “writer problems” in later posts.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your experiences!


  7. I’ve been keeping a diary since I was about 13 years old, so I don’t feel intimidated to write in it. And I keep ideas and personal journaling in the same notebook, so I think that might help as well. I see it all as scribbles and notes and when I find inspiration from other sources I’ll write it down there, too.

    I stopped buying nice notebooks and journals a long time ago. I prefer plain ones like artist sketch books or school notebooks with cute covers. I think this idea came from wanting to spend less and not anyone being able to readily identify that – THAT notebook was a personal diary or thought-sketch! *shudder*

    But I prefer to write blog posts and longer stuff on the computer. How about you?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your process!

      To answer your question, I write almost exclusively on the computer. The only things that I hand-write are random ideas, novel/plot outlines, and I do micro-journaling for my personal life. I also do my first round of editing by hand. Otherwise, all blog posts, drafts, and revisions I do on the computer.

      Liked by 1 person

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