Does form influence content in our journals?

Part of the joy of journal writing is having a beautiful notebook into which to retreat, with gloriously smooth blank pages to receive the ink without splodging, and a gorgeous cover that reminds us of the treasure inside.

But over the years of writing in lots of different types of notebook I’ve started to notice an eerie trend.

A couple of years ago I was given as a gift from my Dad a lovely handmade notebook by Katherine O’Connell, book-binder and proprietor of Handmade Books Online.

Here it is:

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It’s A5 size and its cover is a page of genuine scored accordion music. It was appropriate at the time because I was trying to teach myself how to play, and it turned out to be one of my most fulfilling journals.

I was inspired to begin new projects, and leafing through it I find a log of my early days writing the Handbook. It’s amusing to see lists of chapter headings that may or may not have made it into the final book.

The more notebooks I have owned the more I see myself responding to their design and form. For example, the music notation on this journal evokes a study, a set of scales and arpeggios that one would practise prior to beginning to play the real pieces. And inside there are so many warm-up exercises for the book that I was beginning to write.

In contrast, my current notebook has an anchor motif on the front. When I selected it from a souvenir shop on holiday in Turkey I didn’t really give a thought to what it might mean for me. But as I began to use it in September last year I realised that the anchor symbolised my need for stability and security, a grounding influence as I was beginning to head towards publishing my book. Whatever happened I needed not to be thrown off course – and the anchor has served me well so far.

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I’ve often been attracted to journals with heart motifs on them. The first one I used, again from the same souvenir shop in Turkey (I’ve visited often!), was OK. It was light-hearted and it accompanied me on a stage of my life when I really began to think and learn lots of things. When the pages were all full I wrote on the back cover: “To this journal I want to say thankyou, and I wish you a fond farewell. You have captured my most exciting ideas and my most profound musings over the past 6 months and it has been an utter joy to write in you.”

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However my second heart motif journal accompanied me through much darker times when I felt betrayed, confused and exposed. This was my bleeding heart journal, and it looked like this:

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I’m not really into supernatural stuff. I believe that our journals reflect our life rather than our life imitating our journals. But what if there is some metaphorical link between the form of our journal – its design and motifs – and the types of experience we record within its pages? Another fascinating question about which to raise our awareness, perhaps.

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