It started roughly two months ago when I felt strong stirrings to pull my unfinished novel manuscript out from under a bed in the guest room upstairs where I had stashed it in a clear plastic box, remove the wide clear tape, take a deep breath, and — with a trembly feeling somewhere in my chest region — grasped the 35,000 word first 13 chapters in my hands, and felt a hot surge of YES shoot straight to my brain stem.
My primary characters have grown with their time spent in a box under the bed. I wanted to get to know them better before before leaping into some thousand word a day regimen. I had already given each of them a music playlist, but that turned out not to wear well or say enough about Grace, Jack, Claire, Rory, Bo or the others.
It occurred to me that each of them needed their own notebook, complete with photos of my ideas of what each looks like, along with other images, words and phrases that fit their personal histories, belief systems, needs and goals.
So that got me going. Soon, I had old blank journals and marble composition books stuffed with all sorts of things I had cut out of magazines laying around the house. My husband, always trusting my process, didn’t bat an eye when I brought magazines and sharp little scissors to bed and cut like a woman possessed for several weeks while he calmly read through several books.
In reaching for some sort of organizing principle for these notebooks, I discovered an enormous internet subculture of folks who make art journals, smash journals, and junk journals. What? This was completely new to me. I have never kept a scrapbook, am not “crafty,” and am an incompetent doodler, with great respect for folks with a talent for art. Shoot, I’ve never even made a lumpy clay coffee mug. Would have felt silly trying.
Anyway. Something in these Pinterest boards, blogs, websites, and YouTube videos got to me, and I began sticking bits of Washi tape (a new discovery) to my characters’ notebooks and adding glued on words and other stuff that seemed like “them.”
Here are several examples of those rough, but exciting, beginnings:
I’ve learned so much. Main thing is that this process of gathering clippings, photos, and various ephemera that speak to me about a particular character is useful and fun. It’s made me go deeper and get to know them in ways that purely linear words on paper had not so far accomplished.
After learning a few extremely basic techniques and buying a few supplies (acrylic paint, water colors, gesso, modeling paste, distress inks and a stamp pad), I decided to add a journal for myself that deals with the creative process of writing generally, whether fiction, memoir, or other creative nonfiction. I’ve found it incredibly absorbing, fun, and, well, illuminating.
I’ve been unsettled about what to call these notebooks, especially my own. I believe Art Journal is a title for artists. I have close friends who are what I think of as “real” artists. They are gifted in drawing people, landscapes, cities — you name it. They do original work on canvasses and in their sketch books. To me, it’s a high form of creative work and to compare what I’m doing with that would be like calling derivative fan stories original fiction.
And yet. What I’m doing has value to me and there must be a phrase to describe it. There is! I found it this morning: visual journaling — also called creative journaling. Now I’m comfortable and can go forth with this medium as an incredibly useful creative adjunct to writing.
Here is an excellent YouTube discussion of art journals vs. visual/creative journals: