A version of this post was originally published in the monthly-ish Nest & Story newsletter. An oldie but a goodie!
There are two things I’d like to reveal today. Thing the first: I am addicted to organization. And thing the second: I have serious commitment issues.
This apparent contradiction in my personality has had some strange effects on my life. While I suffered little to no commitment-related anxiety when it came to marrying my high school sweetheart at 22 or having my daughter at 25, I’d rather live in a tent in the woods than get a corporate job with a pension again. And while I’m the proud owner of as many as a dozen very cute planners and even more iPhone apps promising a more organized life, the thought of committing to just one system has traditionally been enough to send me into a tailspin of overwhelm.
That is, until a few months ago, when I discovered bullet journaling.
You can Google it if you so desire, but I’ll give you the Coles Notes version: You get a notebook. A moleskine or Leuchtturm 1917, if you’re super cool. You get a pen. And that notebook becomes your entire life.
No more planners. No more apps. No more lists on loose-leaf paper or in your head. You just write – you write down everything, all in one book. You write your notes and your lists and your appointments and you add woodland animal stickers, if you’re anything like me. And it’s a huge goddamn mess but it works.
Or maybe it works because it’s a huge mess.
When you’re bullet journaling, you will mess up. You will try to draw something pretty and it will come out looking like a sad, injured goat. You will spell things wrong and cross them out 100 times and want more than anything to rip out the page and start again so you can give yourself the illusion that you’re perfect, that you’ve got everything under control.
But you don’t. And you can’t, because you have a Leuchtturm 1917 and your pages are already numbered so if you rip them out your index is going to quickly become wildly inaccurate. So you just keep writing. You find yourself accepting that you made a mistake. You take solace in the fact that when you turn the page, things will be fresh and new again... for about 30 seconds, until you mess it up.
It’s practice. Practice being messy. Practice accepting that if your bullet journal is ever going to look as pretty as the ones on Pinterest, you’re going to have to just keep on keeping on.
It works (for me, at least.) I’m finding that it’s the perfect balance of freedom and organization. And it’s gotten me thinking about the AWA method and my writing workshops.
When you walk into one of my workshops, you don’t have time for perfection. None of us do. We sit down, we smile, we bite into our homemade muffins and take a sip of tea and then we’re off. We’re writing for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes. There’s no time to edit, there’s no time for self-critique, we’re just writing. And then we’re reading out loud, these words that are in no way perfect. We’re sharing what we’ve got – right now, on the page in front of us, with no pretence.
And yes, it can be terrifying at first. To read something fresh – something new, something that hasn’t been carefully picked over and fixed and changed – to claim your own words can be very scary. But it can also be exhilarating.
One of the core tenets of these workshops is that we never critique fresh work. Instead, we share what we liked about each other’s writing. We share what we remember and what stays with us. This isn’t so we can all go home feeling warm and fuzzy (although that is a side benefit). This is because we very quickly learn that in any piece of writing – even the roughest, messiest, rawest piece – there is something powerful inside.
That line was like a punch to the gut.
I can’t get that image out of my head.
The description was so vivid – I felt like I was there.
Creativity is scary. It’s a big fat mess, to be honest. And as much as we’d like to rein it in, to control it, to stay inside the lines, to do everything properly so we’ll never be rejected, not ever again... It doesn’t work like that.
When you accept that truth -- when you take that risk, sign up for that workshop, try your best and fail over and over again -- trust me. You'll feel lighter than air.