There is a journal in the bottom of my trunk that I hate. It’s a 6”x9”, hardcover, blank book. The cover is bright purple with a textured pattern of diagonal stripes that run from left to right. If I give it my attention I can recall the sensation of that textured cover under my fingertips.
The pages inside this journal I hate are unlined. All of them. Completely blank pages. I bought the journal because I loved the cover. And because I figured the journal before that one had lined pages, so why not try blank?
In the months that followed that bright purple creation of paper was the recipient of the rainbow of teenage emotion coursing through my sixteen year old veins.
Rainbow is too nice a word. Cesspool? Tirade? Onslaught? Pit of despair?
The actual writing is immature, to say nothing of the words themselves. Every page has words that slant across the paper in a weak imitation of the textured diagonal lines on the cover. It looks like the person writing did a terrible job of writing in a straight line without the straight line.
There is one part of this journal that I do like. In fact, I like it so much that it’s the reason I still have the journal.
About a third of the pages in this journal are still empty.
One night, at the tender age of sixteen, when I believed I knew everything and was secretly afraid I knew nothing, I read over the pages I’d written in that journal. I read page after page of complaints, disappointment, sadness, and doubt.
That night, at the tender age of sixteen, I hated what I was reading. I considered ripping the pages I didn’t like out of the journal and starting over with the blank pages that were left. I ripped out one page. And then, for some reason, I stopped.
Through the fogginess of being sixteen it occurred to me that it didn’t have to be this way. That in fact, those blank pages were just blank pages and I didn’t have to worry about wasting them, or not using them. No one would ever know.
It also occurred to me that no one would ever read what was in that purple journal and that maybe I would want it at some point in my future. I never had to share it if I didn’t want to. No one would ever know.
This concept was new to me. I was a journal filler, a page completer. I cleaned my plate each meal, read books from cover to cover, and wore my underwear long past the point it should have been replaced.
But that night, alone in my room, I realized for the first time that maybe it was okay to just leave that journal the way it was. To abandon it before it was full. I was so excited by this idea that I picked up a pen and wrote in handwriting that may have been a smidgen more mature on what is perhaps a less crooked imaginary straight line that I was officially moving on from this journal. It was too full of dreary words and I really missed lines on my pages.
I put that journal in my box of memorabilia in my closet. The next day I went to the bookstore, bought a brand new journal that I loved, and started over. It was one of the most liberating experiences I remember. I hated that journal, so I moved on from it.
What do you do with a journal you hate? I have a friend who told me she never keeps any of her journals. She uses them to process and then disposes of them. The disposal is symbolic of her passing through a phase or time of her life that becomes a part of her, but that she can’t physically ever have again. And so the pages are recycled and she moves forward.
Some journalists burn their writing. Intentional burning can be ritualistic. For a person who wants to part with a journal, but it feels too special to simply throw away, burning is a good way to say goodbye. Whether pages are tossed in one at a time, preceded by the pleasurable sound of tearing paper, or the entire book is engulfed in flames in one moment, seeing it disintegrate before you can be healing. Therapeutic. Damn satisfying.
Or you keep it. Put it away somewhere safe and know that if the mood strikes you, you can always get rid of it in the future. Find (or make) a new journal as soon as possible, one that you love. If you didn’t like the way you were writing in the journal you hated, try writing a different way. Use longer words in shorter sentences. Write poems. Draw pictures. Write about what you had for breakfast and then explore the symbolism of a butterfly. Be gentle with yourself as you get back into the swing of writing.
What else might change because of this? After my premature break-up with the purple journal a shift happened. Unsatisfying books went unfinished. Bad movies and crappy television were powered off. New underwear was purchased.
I still clear my plate though. Every time.
Sara Marchessault is a writer, publisher, teacher, and mom who is on a mission to increase joy on the planet. Through the practice of self-reflection, we become aware of what brings us joy and what does not, and we make choices to move forward or stand still. Journal writing is a powerful reflection tool that can help any of us move forward, even in the darkest of times. For ideas on how you can get the benefits of journal writing without always keeping a traditional journal, check out Sara’s book, Beyond Pen & Paper: 33 Experiments in Journaling.