When it Comes to Keeping a Notebook, Process is All There is

Tzivia Gover, MFA, author of The Mindful Way to a Good Night’s Sleepand Joy in Every Moment.

Some writers have collections of journals that stand at attention in neat rows on shelves ticking off the years book by book. I have a ragtag collection of hardbound artist sketchbooks or whatever blank book I’ve rummaged from the sales shelves at bookstores, or that have been given to me as gifts for various occasions. My ever-growing collection of notebooks from pocket-size to oversize, hard-backed, hand-stitched, spiral-bound, cloth-covered and sticker-decorated now fills an entire closet in my study and spills over into plastic storage bins stacked in the cellar.

As a professional writer, I appreciate the satisfaction of a polished piece of prose or seeing my work published and bound in a book. Publishing is the equivalent of stepping out with matching socks and my best duds on. Journal writing is where I can scuffle around in my slippers with my hair unwashed. Honestly, I’m more than a little bit in love with my clutter of notebooks written in my erratic handwriting and filled with my rambling thoughts. Even when I’m embarrassed by the unchecked emotions of my younger selves, I’m relieved to find that younger woman tucked away into those pages. She’s a part of me and my life’s work is to forgive and befriend her; to bring her along from one volume to the next so together we can collect the rest of our lost selves and gather them (someday) into a wise, wonderful, and singular I. 

Journals are also great repositories of raw material that I have mined for poems, stories, blog posts and more. Each of my five published books was birthed from the pages of my notebooks. Journal-keepers never have to face the pressure of the blank page, because we have reams of rough drafts ready to transform into finished pieces.

My life as a professional writer has had its ups and more than a few downs. My journals have been my constant companions through it all. It’s in them that I commit to the process of writing even on days when I’ve been ready to abandon the enterprise. Because in the end, I’ve come to realize the truth of the adage that the journey (the journal?) is the destination. The final product (a perfected life, publication, praise) is largely out of my hands, which is perhaps why I keep holding on to those notebooks. The meandering lines of my life recorded there are the breadcrumb trails that lead me back home to my self, again and again.

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A version of this essay was first published in Joy in Every Moment by Tzivia Gover.

Recharge your journaling practice for the new year! Join “The Art of Keeping a Notebook,” a half-day workshop with Tzivia Gover, Saturday, Jan. 4, 9:30 am-12:30 pm at Writers in Progress Studios. Register here.

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