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!