Journal More, Journal Better

butterfly valley sketchingHave you made several starts at keeping a journal but found it hard to keep at it? Are you in a journaling rut and need to get unstuck? Here is a simple plan to help you set realistic goals, get you sketching and journaling, and to help you keep at it. You can do this, and it will change your life.

It does not help to tell yourself that you “should” be journaling more. To make it happen, set clear goals for yourself. At first the push to start journaling more regularly will feel unnatural or forced. That’s because it is. It’s not yet your habit or routine. Do not be put off if it feels a little like work at the start.  You are training yourself to make a new habit. Once it becomes a part of your routine, it will feel natural and you will do it all the time on your own accord. Use the S.M.A.R.T. formula to set better goals.

[S]pecific: Instead of saying “I want to keep a nature journal” be as detailed and specific as you can. Answer the questions: What are you going to do? Why do you want to do it? Where are you going to journal? When are you going to do it? I am really interested in natural history so my goal might look like this: I want to keep a journal of natural observations, and places I explore. I want to do this to help me observe the events of my life and the world around me more deeply and to help me remember these experiences. I will journal on my travels and on walks around my home. I will journal on my birding walks, nature hikes, and other expeditions in addition to around my home when I find something interesting.

Everyone will have different goals. An equally exciting goal would be to capture the people, places, and events of your live, sketching in cafes, over a bowl of soup or a good taco, at concerts or other venues. The question is what are you excited about? What do you want to do?

[M]easurable: A number of pages per week is a measurable goal. You will be able to hold yourself accountable and measure your progress. Remember, it is a numbers game. The best way to get better is to fill more pages.

[A]ttainable: If you decide to fill 100 pages a week, you will probably fall short of your goal (at least I would). Choose a number that you can do but will push you a little outside of your comfort zone.

[R]ealistic: You will get better, give it time. Do not judge yourself on how pretty a picture is, but attend to what you discovered, or how much richer your memories of the moment have become.

[T]imely: When and how often are you going to open your journal? Think about the fabric of your day. Every moment is already filled so how can you fit in something new? Journal entries need not take hours. Let yourself get out your journal to catch fifteen minutes here and ten minutes there. Try connecting routines that you already have with the practice of journaling. If you have a cup of tea every morning, open your journal at the window at the same time. If you go birding or hiking, start to journal on these expeditions.

Now what do I do?

So there you are, journal in hand, out in nature, what do you do? The infinite range possibilities are overwhelming. Here are a few tricks to jump-start you and help you begin. Rather than trying to do everything, pick a little piece and do that well. The constraint will help you to focus.

One way to do this is the alphabet trick: Pick a letter of the alphabet (lets say B). Think of things that start with the letter B that could become the focus of a little investigation (birds, beetles, berries, things that are blue, etc.). Choose one of these and use it as a lens through which to see the world. You will be amazed at what you notice when you start looking for blue everywhere… Oh, and if you choose berries, be sure to add a smear of the juice on your page next to each sketch. The next time you go out, pick a different letter. There is always something to explore.

The most important thing is that you believe that you can do this. Throw yourself into it and you will find the skills growing within you.