Keeping a journal offers insights and opportunities

Colleen Russel J

It's been years since I've kept a personal journal or diary, but there was something about 2020, the start of a new decade, that inspired me to start one.

Originally, I had planned to use my journal to set goals for myself, track my progress, and encourage myself to keep doing better.

I was doing pretty well, but then came COVID-19. Most of my plans were disrupted, my goals put on hold. As I worked to adjust to "the new normal," my journal evolved into both a daily log and creative outlet, guiding me through new challenges.

It might help you too. Whether you're looking to explore some deep thoughts, record your day, or paint a watercolor, here's how to get started.


When we think of a journal, most people think of a diary, a private notebook where you can chronicle your innermost thoughts. While it's common to start journaling about personal experiences, journals can encompass a wide variety of styles and subjects.

Types of journals include: bullet journals that track habits or goals; dream journals for recording sleep patterns and dreams; prayer journals, which may include inspiring scriptures, prayer requests, or blessings; travel journals that record details of a trip; art journals that feature drawings or collages; and writing journals that hold stories or creative ideas.

There are also many types of guided journals — premade books that include writing prompts, exercises, and activities designed to help the journaler to focus on specific feelings, goals, or ideas.

Colleen Russell, a North Idaho-based women's empowerment and creativity coach, author, and artist, says journaling is a way of connecting with and learning about yourself.

"I started journaling as a private way to write about how I was feeling and it's slowly developed into more creative journals," she says. "The type of journal you choose really just depends on how you'd like to express yourself."

Russell's current journal is an art journal, where she uses painting to express her feelings through colors and shapes.

"I've been writing the story of what's happening in my world during this pandemic, by putting it into art," she says. "For me it's comforting to know all of this can be happening around me, but I can still be creative and experience joy while holding the story that's unfolding."


When it comes to choosing the type of journal you want, Russell says it's best to simply ask yourself what it is you want to write about, and trust your instincts.

"Some people just want a simple, small, lined notebook," she says. "Others want big, blank pages with room to draw or add pictures, it all just depends on what you're comfortable with."

Russell says she would encourage people to journal, even if at first they're not sure what to write about.

"I'd say just start with that first line or picture," she says. "The key is expressing whatever it is inside you that wants to come out."

For some, journaling is a more free-flowing, messy process, while for others it's a neat and orderly one.

Brooke Matson is a poet, book designer, and executive director for Spark Central, a nonprofit creative space in Kendall Yards, which offers creative learning programs to the public at low cost.

Matson says that for her, journaling is an outlet for emotions and ideas, as well as a place to practice writing.

"I think it's very beneficial to keep a journal as a mirror for your thoughts, even if it's not neat or chronological," she says. "Sometimes (journal writing) was just what was on my mind, or it was an idea or memory that morphed into a poem."

While most of her journals are written in a stream-of-consciousness style, Matson says she does sometimes find it helpful to set the goal of completing a set number of pages or spending a specific amount of time.

"I found I worked best unstructured except for the time and pages," she says. "Journaling is an important processing step for me and when I don't do it, I feel worse!"

Emma Noyes is a local artist, researcher, and educator who has kept a journal for many years. A member of the Colville Confederated Tribes, Noyes is also the author/illustrator of a soon-to-be-published book about a family's efforts to raise a Salish speaker called Baby Speaks Salish.

"I kept a journal on and off throughout my childhood, but what really cemented the practice for me was traveling," she says. "As a student at the University of Washington, I was awarded the Bonderman Fellowship, which gives students the opportunity for eight months of solo travel, but it can't be related to any academic study, research, or volunteering. It's strictly about 'wandering and wondering.'"

Noyes focused her travel on visiting indigenous communities to explore both similarities and differences in our histories and cultures.

"It was a long time to travel by myself, so I brought along a journal that became my daily companion, a place for reflection and one of my most prized possessions," she says.

Emma Noyes journal spread

Noyes says her journaling style combines several different techniques, with writing mixed in alongside sketches, lists, or even simple ideas outlined in thought-bubbles.

"It's highly creative and explorative with art and ideas," she says. "At the same time I'm also documenting and curating my daily experiences."

While she doesn't plan pages in advance, Noyes's entries still somehow manage to have an organized, polished look.

"I think it's something I picked up from keeping clear lab notes, and years of journaling on nonlined pages," she says. "I sort of developed a feel for writing in a straight line and visualizing art on the page."


If you don't currently keep a journal, why might it be a good idea to start one now?

There are various research studies, books and articles that tout the benefits of journal writing, some of which include reducing stress, releasing emotions, increasing confidence and self-discipline, boosting memory and comprehension skills, and sparking creativity.

"Journaling hasn't necessarily been proven beneficial for everyone," Russell says. "But there have been well-known psychotherapists like Ira Progoff, who've explored it as a beneficial exercise."

Russell says that for her, journaling has been a helpful way of guiding herself through life's ups and downs, and also led her to writing her book, The Feminine Path to Wholeness.

"I think that for those who've been journaling a long time it does become a place to bring your feelings, and sort of place them outside yourself so they aren't so consuming," she says.

She says journaling during the coronavirus pandemic has been a particularly helpful tool in acknowledging and letting go of difficult emotions.

"There are things happening right now, that even if they haven't yet touched us personally, have still impacted our lives and it's good to be able to acknowledge that," she says. "Years from now I'll have my art journal to look back on, see my experience in the paintings and remember those feelings, even if the words aren't there."

She says journaling also might be a useful activity for families to do together during this time.

"Painting or even just writing their story during this time could be something families share in and talk through together," she says. "It might be interesting to reflect on years from now when sharing history and experiences with one another."

Noyes says she too has found journaling has helped her to organize her thoughts, relieve stress, and work through challenges throughout her life.

"I do think journaling has been a wellness tool for me," she says. "It's a place where I can get my thoughts out as they come to me in the moment. When I re-read entries I also try to have compassion for the self I was at that time and whatever it was I was going through."

Noyes says she knows several people who have started writing journals during the coronavirus pandemic, as a way of both documenting the experience and moving through it.

"I think it can and will be really helpful for people to be able to write the story of their experiences during this time," she says. "Not only is it helpful for we, ourselves to write about what's happening and the things that are still important to us, but it may be meaningful to future readers who could gain hope or insights from it."

If you're ready to start filling pages, there are many options waiting to hold your thoughts.

Auntie's Bookstore in downtown Spokane offers a variety of bound, blank books, including the Moleskin line, as well as journals from brands like Flame Tree Studios and Peter Pauper Press. There are also novelty journals tied to certain books such as Michelle Obama's Becoming and Susan Cain's Quiet Power, and various guided journals from San Francisco-based publisher Chronicle Books.

At Atticus Coffee and Gifts, also downtown, the most popular journal offering is their travel-size, lined notebook by Compendium. The shop also sells five-year journals that include daily writing prompts, as well as classic, cloth-covered journals by Designworks.

Wishing Tree Books, in Spokane's Perry District, is a children's bookstore, but also includes some adult selections. Owner Janelle Smith says one of the shop's best selling items is actually a two journal set called You, Me, We that allows the journalers to swap their books back and forth as they complete various activities inside. Other popular journal choices for kids include a celebration journal called Yay! and a gratitude journal called Bedtime Blessings.

"There's hope in an empty journal," Smith says. "I think that's why they're so popular with people."

click to enlarge YOUNG KWAK PHOTO
Young Kwak photo

If you're someone who enjoys crafting and learning new skills, consider visiting the Spokane Print and Publishing Center, also known as SPPC. Located at 1921 N. Ash St., the center is a nonprofit learning and creative space that offers workshops, studio space, and access to printing or publishing equipment to its members.

Dorian Karahalios is a bookbinding enthusiast and workshop instructor at SPPC, as well as one of its co-founders.

"If you're interested in learning about printing or publishing processes, you can become a member or take a workshop," he says.

He says the majority of SPPC workshops are beginner level and include instruction on screen and relief printing, letterpress, digital publishing, and of course... bookbinding.

Bookbinding is the process of assembling and securing blank, written or printed pages within a cover. During the process, the pages are held together along one edge either by sewing with thread or using a flexible adhesive.

Karahalios says what interests him about bookbinding is that it allows the crafter to include small details and touches that aren't possible with a commercial binding process.

"There are two parts to a book, the artifact or the physical object, and the manuscript or inside content, and each of those things informs the other," he says. "I'm interested in that intersection, and how we're able to create a binding that complements the manuscript, and elevates it to an artistic object you'd like to own and display."

To create a journal or blank book, Karahalios says there are several easier styles of bookbinding that you can start with.

"I've taught several introductory workshops on Japanese Stab Binding, which is a simpler style that's still very versatile and elegant," he says. "Coptic Stitch is another good beginner style, that gives you a really ornate looking spine but also allows the pages to lay flat, so that's handy for journaling and sketchbooks." Karahalios says SPPC also sells hand-bound blank books, with most of their current selection being items he himself has made. "We recently started a new tier of membership called owner-member, which allows local artists to take a more active role in SPPC doing things like hosting open hours, teaching workshops, and selling merchandise they've created," he says.

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