Writing: A Beautiful Mess

Every now and then, I think it’s a good idea to stop and take a status check, evaluate where you are and if you’ve made any progress. Well, this week something happened that I believe warrants at least a mention if not a small celebration. Last year, I wrote about my problem with perfectionism, which I’ll address later, and I’ve also told you that I kind of have a book-buying problem. Turns out, I also kind of have a journal-buying problem. I probably have at least 15 in this house (even after the moving purge). But not until yesterday have I ever completely filled one up, cover to cover. See? I’m growing as a person.

Here’s the pattern I’d fall into: I’d invent some reason I needed a new journal (usually while standing in Barnes and Noble or at Target, mesmerized by the beautiful selection; you know the place, right next to the equally beautiful stationery collection). My reasons varied from tracking my food and calories daily (which lasted about 3 1/2 days), to writing down dreams I’d had (this lasted for even less days), to collecting pretty songs and poems and scripture (which lasted a little longer than the other two). The latest was a bullet journal, which was my favorite, but obviously I failed to keep up with it just like the others. The problem was, I convinced myself that once I’d assigned a purpose to a certain journal, I couldn’t deviate from that purpose. So, like I said, I have about 15 journals in this house that have only 2 or 3 or 10 used pages. The rest of the pages remain blank.


Until this one. It was given to me as a gift. Its flexible spine allows it to sit open comfortably and also be folded over. It fits nicely in my purse and I love the warm calming colors. Since I did not purchase this one myself, I didn’t have a specific purpose in mind for it, which helped me to feel more free to do whatever I wanted. [Some of you may be thinking here, why do you even need a journal? Just type stuff. But I have a thing about writing by hand first, always have. I prefer to use typing as a way to soft-edit as I go, and also get rid of some of the lots of junk.] A blank page, however, can be kind of daunting. Especially if one has a perfectionist problem. I want everything I write to be perfect and polished, worthy of being written down for someone to see. Even if “someone” is only myself. That’s simply not realistic.

The idea that what I’d write might not be wonderful or life-changing or even coherent made me hesitate. At first. But then I realized (well, let’s be real, I should say, then I read over and over from writers I admire) that what you write first is almost never good. And even if it is kind of good, it’s almost always only a fraction of what actually gets through to the final draft. You just have to write.

So I started to use this beautiful journal to jot ideas, recipes, funny stories about my daughter, random thoughts. Gradually, lists became sentences, sentences turned into paragraphs, paragraphs morphed into sloppy versions of blog posts or mini-essays. I didn’t worry about my handwriting or my spacing or punctuation. I just wrote. And a funny thing happened. The moment I let go of my unrealistic expectations, the words seemed to flow out of my hand. I no longer stressed about the next word or sentence, it just came. Of course, this didn’t happen every day, so I’d set it down and walk away. But many days, I’d find I’d written 6 or 8 pages without even trying. Before I knew it, the journal was completely full.

A lot of what I write is actual nonsense. Sometimes ideas come to me suddenly, and I have to stop what I’m doing that very second to jot it down or risk losing it forever. This usually happens at a pretty inconvenient time, like when I’m changing a diaper or cooking breakfast or on the highway. I shudder to think of all the (brilliant) things I’ve come up with that have disappeared into the black hole of my mom-brain. Other times though, thinking about what to write is like trudging through mud, so again I walk away and come back later. Once I have an idea, I let it roll around in my mind for a while, think about it in the shower and when I’m driving. By the time I’m ready to put it on the page, my hand seems to do all the work. When I go back, sometimes I think, “What IS this?”. Sometimes I decide to trash an entire section. But sometimes, in a revising state of mind, I’m able to make sense of what I’ve written and turn it into something someone might actually want to read.

In all honesty though, this journal is a mess. It’s full of symbols and arrows, indicating where to move whole chunks of writing (it’s a miracle I can even follow this), crossed out words covered in squiggles, bulleted lists. On some pages, I have chosen to write diagonally rather than straight for no reason, and I even went through a doodling phase. But, like Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird,

“Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are an artist’s true friend. What people somehow (inadvertently I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here– and by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.”

So, I’m learning to find joy in the mess, see it as a crucial part of the process. My next step is clear: find some of those mostly empty journals and get to work on messing up another one.

IMG_5307Currently Reading: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, which inspired me to reflect on my own writing process and share it with you. Lamott is funny and honest and wise. In fact, I’m kind of sad I didn’t discover this book sooner. I might’ve relieved myself of some writing angst earlier on, but I’m so grateful to have it in my possession now.

2CEFD669-9912-415E-90A1-A652EB0CE88DCurrently Drinking: This tea from Tazo. It almost tastes like apple cider and is not caffeinated, so it’s been a great replacement for my usual after-dinner sweet. I need to get off the sugar train ASAP! This is helping.

Thanks for reading and until next time, peace and love from my household to yours.


6 thoughts on “Writing: A Beautiful Mess

  1. Katie, I have several barely started journals also. I put the date on each page and there are months-sometimes-years- between my entries. I used to care about my inconsistency but now I just marvel when I find these brilliant (or sometimes embarrassing) thoughts or doodles I once put to paper. I’m putting a new book in the mail for you tomorrow. You will love this one.


  2. I just have to write too and also am a perfectionist! What you did in your journal reminds me of some of the projects in Brene Brown’s Gifts of Imperfection course which was really freeing for me to look at making imperfect art as crucial. Thanks for sharing!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s