As Elul, the month of reflection before the High Holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, winds to a close, I’ve been flipping through my old journals. I always do this in September, as students are getting back to school and as we prepare for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
I’ve probably tried thirty different journaling fads in the past ten years and I’ve failed at every single one of them. I’ve written gratitude lists, tried “challenges” to write every morning, mimicked elaborate bullet-journal spreads from Pinterest. Truthfully, though, I’m terrible at journaling on a schedule. Sometimes I would rather spend the afternoon yanking out my molars than answering some prompt from Tumblr or making another damn gratitude list.
But… I like the feeling of a notebook in my hand. I like the way that mundane scribblings– a schedule, the scratched-out lines of a poem– become softer over time, like the worn cotton in an old set of sheets.
Allow me to introduce the cool, easy-going cousin of the bullet journal: the lazy journal. I just take a single journal and write down anything I could possibly want (or need) to write by hand. That’s it.
Here are a couple no-frills ideas that have helped me keep a (lazy) journal over the past couple years and actually stick with it.
I take my journal and a pen with me literally everywhere.
I always keep my notebook and pens with me so its always there when I need to take notes in a meeting, when have an idea to write down, or when I want to doodle on the bus.
I’m a classic fidgeter. I get distracted easily and like having something to do with my hands. I picked up my journaling habit in high school when I was having trouble focusing in history lectures– taking detailed notes and drawing tiny circles in the margins kept my hands moving and helped me focus.
Over the years, it’s rare that I sit for an hour in a lecture or on a conference call without my journal in front of me. And more and more, when my hands start itching for something to do, I’ve gotten better about pulling out my journal instead of scrolling through Instagram.
I choose a theme at the start of each notebook.
This is a tip I picked up from Tavi Gevinson of Rookie: every couple of months when I start a new journal, I pick a phrase or word that is my “theme.”
The summer Destiny and I got really into reading tarot, my theme was “prophet//child” and the semester I started doing archival work the theme was “lost & found.” Sometimes I write a bit about the theme I’ve chosen or use it when my writing is stuck– but mostly I just do my thing and forget about it. Only later do I look back and realize, woah.
Last year, I chose the theme “body//language” for my journal on a bit of a whim because I was trying to dive more fully into my meditation practice. That year, though I didn’t make the connection at the time, I was also living with my Aunt Elsie, whose worsening Alzheimer’s made it more and more difficult to communicate verbally.
Elsie, a notoriously cutthroat scrabble player, had played Scrabble every afternoon for several decades. But towards the end of her life, she made only nonsense words– WRLW, CARLDS, DNOT– sipping crystal light as she carefully placed each tile. Even when she barely spoke, playing Scrabble was still an important afternoon ritual in our house. We’d sit together in the afternoon, making nonsense words and speaking in trading gestures, touches, and warm smiles.
At the time, I had no clue why I kept writing about playing Scrabble with Elsie at our kitchen table. It’s a lazy journal– I just wrote down whatever was on my mind. Choosing a theme for a journal is a low-effort way to helps me reflect and organize my writing later on.
Finally, when I’m writing in my journal, I use one notebook for everything.
Lesson plans for teaching Hebrew School. Grocery lists. Illegible notes from meetings. Homework. Doesn’t matter– it’s all going in the same notebook.
This is mostly for practical reasons. It’s simpler and less expensive to only have one notebook for anything I could possibly write. In other words, laziness.
It’s also because I love having a chronological record of my thoughts and activities all in one place. When I flip through old journals, a to-do list can remind me of the banners Jazmynne and I painted on their balcony in the middle of the night or of the night we all wore matching green lipstick to the Pinhook. Old notes from class can remind me of sitting next to my crush or the first time I read Gloria Anzaldúa.
Ultimately, I’m content to fill page after page with banalities because those banalities are the way I experience the world– and it’s often the minutiae that are most meaningful to me years later.
I’d love to hear from y’all– do you like writing things down in a notebook or journal? Do you use one or many? And do you have a routine, or do you just write whatever you feel like? Leave a comment or shoot me a message about your writing!