Over the years of facilitating National Journal Writing Month, I have met through the journal writing challenges inspiring and dedicated journal keepers. One such journal keeper is Sharon Boggon, who lives in Canberra, Australia.
After Sharon joined the NaJoWriMo Facebook group, she shared a photo (shown above) of her journal collection. Of course, I and the group members were blown away by it. I instantly had questions and wanted to interview her.
I’m pleased to share my two-part interview with Sharon, and I appreciate her taking the time to write responses to my questions.
If you want to become an avid journal writer, I think you’ll find Sharon’s story inspiring and helpful.
You are an avid journal-keeper, so could you please tell us approximately how many journaling books you have completed and what inspired you to start journal writing?
Oh gosh! I have never counted them. I have been keeping a daily journal since 1989. There is a heap of notebooks tucked all over the house. They sit in cupboards, peek out from under my bed, are a nuisance under the desk, forlorn, stored in boxes in the shed. Honestly, just gathering them all together would be a bit of an issue. They would have a party seeing one another again while I would feel a little strange at the reunion as they represent a life lived.
I use between 5-12 notebooks in a year, so I guess even estimating the number would be a challenge. The annual usage depends on the size and type of notebook, how busy my life is – how much I have to record, and how much energy I have to record it!
Sketching and Ephemera
Another factor in notebook consumption is how much sketching goes in the notebook. In the past, I used to put a lot of ephemera into my journals. All sorts of stuff found their way in, which is quite interesting now. There is the usual stuff like movie tickets and postcards, a child’s lock of hair. Still, I kept stuff like political campaign flyers from various elections and newspaper clippings about key events.
I added ephemera to my notebooks, but as time went on, digital technologies have taken over, so there are fewer ephemera. Occasionally, I print out photos to paste into my journal. I still paste things in, but not as often as I used to.
Other years, I used notebooks of different sizes. Some are A4 size while others are cute 6″ by 6″ books, i.e. approximately 15 x 15 cm. So it is hard to calculate the actual number I have filled. It also depends on if you count sketchbooks.
I go through stages of writing and sketching in the same book and then others where I keep a sketchbook and written journal separate. I see these activities as a form of journaling, but some might disagree.
For some of those years, I kept my journal in a word document on my computer, printing and filing them, but in other years I have not done that. Do I count those and if so, how? They are still my journals but on the computer.
I also kept some years in an app called MacJournal, but I have never printed out those entries. I should organize and index all the years, notebooks, and digital entries – the lot, but frankly, I am too busy.
What Inspired Her Journal Writing
What inspired me to start journal writing? Now, to be honest, I can not really remember. When I was a child, my parents gave me one of those diaries with a lock, and in my teens, I kept a diary. Those journals are long gone, thank goodness.
In my twenties, I worked in a secondhand bookshop and started a book log. I ran around doing my work in the morning and then sat in the afternoon and read, often a book, a day.
I rotated my reading between autobiography/biography, literature, popular fiction, history, and science fiction.
So I read an autobiography, then a novel, then a piece of literature with a capital L, and so forth, rotating the genres.
Occasionally, another genre snuck in, but that was the routine. I started writing what I thought about the books, keeping notes and quotes.
And then I started writing about the customers and the stories of their lives. It did not start out as a journal, and at that stage, I did not write daily, but by the end of that period in my life that activity became journalling and once I saw it for what it was, it became daily.
When I later attended art school, a teacher encouraged us to keep a sketchbook. In fact, we had to! Our sketchbook was 20% of the grade, so it was the difference between a pass and a credit. Or credit and a distinction. It was not long before the journal I was keeping was also used to store sketches along with the text.
What is your journal writing process? Do you journal and write daily and during a particular time of the day? Do you keep different journals, or do you complete one journaling book and move to another one?
My process has changed over the years. When the family was growing, I wrote very early in the morning when everyone was asleep. Then, for many years, I wrote in snatches throughout the day during coffee breaks.
Now I write late afternoon, and again after the evening meal. I often make a brief list of points to write about before I start. Sometimes I cover those points. On other days I don’t, they are there to act as prompts to get me started describing the day.
If I am sketching in the journal, it is usually late afternoon. If I have used watercolour on the sketch, I let it dry and return to writing up the page in the evening after the dinner clean-up.
Over the years, I have switched journal formats often. I go through phases. I complete one notebook before starting the next. If I am combining writing and sketching, I complete the book before starting another. Sometimes I will write and sketch in one book, but I also have another sketchbook going. I usually leave 2-3 pages at the end of each written notebook in case I ever get around to indexing them. One day I might do it!
In addition, I keep a studio journal. I have worked with textiles for years, written a few books on the topic and run a website that relates to hand embroidery. I group together the information, as taught in art school. So apart from designing fiber-related projects, things like fabric and thread choices are swatched. I record notes about dye recipes and fabric swatches. Stitches and samples, colour notes, etc. are all recorded in A4 sketchbooks.
I also keep a travel journal when traveling. I am currently planning a trip and working out if I want to do a concertina-type travel journal combining sketches and written word. The other option is to use two different journals, one a concertina sketchbook and the other a standard notebook for writing in. Or write on the back of the concertina sketchbook.
With all my journals, I play with the format. This long ramble is to illustrate that I play with different techniques to record my life. I try out new things, and when it works, I keep it. I mix it up and have fun.
And what type of paper notebooks and pens do you prefer?
Since I sketch and write in my journal, paper choice is always an issue. I think about my next notebook all the time! One reason I have separate sketchbooks is that I go through phases where I like to use wet media and I really need a good watercolour paper or multimedia paper to take what I throw at it.
Now that type of paper is fine for painting on, but terrible to write on. Often these papers that are designed for various forms of wet media are a little rough and the pen does not glide across the paper. As a compromise, if I am not throwing too much water around, I use sketchbooks that have about 140 GSM – 160 GSM of good drawing paper in them.
As I say, it’s a compromise. I can write in them without putting my teeth on edge and draw in them if I go gently on the wet stuff. I am always trying new brands of notebooks/sketchbooks in the quest for the ideal journal, but I have yet to find it!
I have tried other formats and systems. In the past, I have bound my own notebooks with mixed papers in the sketchbooks, thinking this would be a great solution.
Unfortunately, the chronological nature of journaling undid me. I found the day that the watercolour page fell open was the day I did not have time to sketch on it. I turned the page to write on the paper for writing. That sounds simple enough, but when I came back to sketch and use the watercolour page, I did not like the break or back-and-forth nature. This happened often enough for me not to bind a sketchbook that way again. So I tried writing paper at the front of the book and watercolour paper at the back. That sort of worked, but once again I felt I wanted the chronological nature of life to be apparent in the format.
An obvious solution is to use a looseleaf system where I mixed ordinary writing paper with watercolour paper, but it was not an easy fit for me. This worked for a while, but I constantly felt ill at ease with the format. I have never completely pinpointed why except the fact that the pages were loose made it feel flimsy and fragile. It made me feel that as a carrier of the reflection of my life; it was not strong enough. After a few months of this method, I chose a notebook and went back to my old ways.
Notes and Pens
Pens are something I love. Usually, I use a fountain pen. My confession is that I am one of those old women who linger in shops while fingering pens and pencils. I run my hands over the paper in notebooks and feel guilty when the shop assistant looks knowingly at me.
Notebooks and pens that are loved make journaling fun and special. I have learned that the materials I am using are important to me. Not as a status thing, just the physicality of the paper, ink or paint flowing across the page, the activity of leaving a mark that reflects the mood or tone of the day.
More About Sharon
Sharon lives in Canberra Australia. She’s the author of The Visual Guide to Crazy Quilting Design and Creative Stitches for Contemporary Embroidery. Visit her website, Pin Tangle – a blog about Hand Embroidery and Crazy Quilting.