Pen and Paper: The Sensuality of Journaling

Moving house three years ago, I realised just how many journals I had collected over the years. Many of them have only a few handwritten pages – the rest being blank. Very few are almost full. I don’t think I can boast a single completed journal. Yet each time I enter a stationers, or a good gift shop, I am drawn to the journals. I need to handle them. Feel their weight. Assess the quality and colour of the pages. Run my fingers along the cut edge of the page to feel if it is smooth or rough. Each new journal has a certain smell. I particularly like heavy-duty paper and leather, but knowing this is not very practical, I am usually strong enough to leave them in the shop and buy something less intimidating. Making an imperfect mark in a perfectly constructed journal would just be a waste.

I look through my drawers and shelves and find that most of my well-used journals are cloth-covered bound journals with thinly ruled pages. These are easier to keep in order, as my untidy handwriting works better with ruled lines. I usually buy those with quality paper, so the pen just flows over the surface of the page when I write. Writing in these journals is effortless and I allow myself to explore unconsidered thoughts. Reading through them, I sometimes find ideas I had completely forgotten, as though my brain had emptied itself to clear space for new thoughts.

The unused journals mostly have blank pages. When I look at them, I wish I had the skill to sketch ideas as well as record words. They seem designed for a holistic approach full of colour and carefully scribed versals and gothic scripts, surrounded by finely shaded impressions of a flower, leaf or bird. I started to write quotes I liked in one of these journals, but was so disappointed with my scrawling hand, that it now sits at the bottom of a drawer, looking sad.

Three or four spiral bound notebooks house my working ideas. Plans for a memoir, ideas for poems, potential chapter names and those few hurried sentences that hopefully contain the kernel of a brilliant future publication. It’s a shame that once captured, I rarely return to these prompts. I’m always moving on to the next thing, whatever that may be.

My mind seems to need a fresh journal for a fresh purpose. It seems unthinkable to begin writing about something new halfway through a used journal filled with thoughts that no longer seem current. Am I afraid that my new ideas will be tainted? Or is it just the human need for a blank page. A fresh start. A new chance at creating something worthwhile?

Conscious of the space my journal collection takes up when we are trying to downsize our possessions, I bought a few software packages designed for journaling, and for creative writing. They also remain largely unused. The writing process is different. It feels perfunctory rather than sensual. When I am handwriting onto a rich paper, my ideas flow from my head, through my shoulders and down my arm, to drip off the end of my pen. I can hear the paper rustle or snap as I open to the crisp new page, feel the texture of the cloth on the cover, smell the ink and the paper – and sometimes the leather – and feel the pen slide with my thoughts. When I have finished writing, whatever is there, is there for good. On a computer it is all too easy to click on delete, to cut and paste into a new sequence and to lose the original words. Rough as they may be, the original words often contain more than a single idea. Re-reading these imperfect thoughts at a later date can spark off an entirely new chain of thought. One that requires yet another new journal.

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