After a long, long hiatus—I recently started journaling again. At different times, journaling had been an essential part of my routine, part of the way I relate to the world around me. But especially during the pandemic, I felt like my well dried up a bit. I wasn't going out, and didn't really know how to adjust my writing at first. Entries started to look all the same, and at some point, I just caught myself thinking: what’s the point? So I stopped.
Then, about 10 days ago, I picked up the pen again. Honestly, part of the motivator for me has been playing through Xenoblade Chronicles 3 lately. In it, the characters have lifespans of only 10 years, as well as being soldiers in a sort of endless conflict, and as such are constantly facing their own mortality. One character, Mio, is a devout journaler, using it as a way to process her life, and I thought, Oh yeah, I also used to do that. Seems nice. So I started again.
The pandemic for me has been a time of a lot of self-reflection and uncertainty—I’m lucky it’s been almost entirely mental strife rather than the often more immediately-pressing concerns of illness. I lost my primary income stream back in the Spring, and as such I’ve spent even more time thinking about what it is I want to do; the person I want to continue to become (not that this was only an occasional topic before!)
One of the things I’ve been trying to do this year, especially since then, is really formalize my habits. Give myself a routine and structure to build off of, and time to slot in either rest or exploration in between. I feel that if I finally build the habits I’ve long aimed for, or previously done sporadically, it’ll make everything surrounding easier, regardless of what path I want to pursue or job I end up taking.
A few nights ago, I read this piece from Shigesato Itoi—writer, journal designer, generalist—and felt comforted to hear him echo some of my same feelings. Itoi has been posting a blog daily at 1101.com, the Hobonichi website, for many many years, but in the article, he talks about feeling the need to step back from journaling. I’ve long appreciate the generosity he approaches habits, baked into the company’s philosophy: “Hobonichi” means “almost daily” (though as noted, Itoi hasn’t yet upheld the “almost” part of the title on the blog at least). If this paragon of diligence felt the need to step away, surely it was okay for me to do so, too.
The piece outlines the theme for his company for the upcoming year, in which he’s chosen to represent by the word “birth.” He talks about the importance of creation, rather than simply “organization.” His words ring true for me. I haven’t been shooting as many photos. I haven’t been writing for myself (though I’ve been writing a lot professionally). But I want to—I want to make things. I want to be smarter. More thoughtful. Stronger. It might be the most important thing, to just to go out into the world, have experiences, cultivate those, cultivate your ideas, and let them percolate into art. But of course, it’s not quite so simple.
Some other writer friends recently reached out to me, asking if I’d like to participate in a writer’s group. We’d just write some simple short stories, share, and share thoughts. Low pressure. It seemed like the perfect lead back into being creative, so I jumped at the chance. I’ve written one story so far, with another on the way, but I’m a long ways away still from being able to draw the constellations from my ideas and share that in a cohesive, seamless way. (As an aside, maybe it was never that simple. But I digress.)
Still, I’m finding there to be a sort of order of operations at play. I think I’d have to be really dialed in to just sit down at my keyboard and jam out a story in a day or two. I think I have to sort of tell myself, okay, I’m listening; let’s see what you’ve got. Record the loose thoughts as they come. And maybe a big part of that is collecting my thoughts and feelings, hopes and fears from my days in a journal. That sort of personal narrativization. Reflecting on myself before I can apply that to fiction again. I can’t just grow a bounty in a single step. I have to make the rows, plant the seeds, see them to fruition, and then harvest.
I’m only about 10 days into this new journaling run, probably a bit too short to declare as an established habit quite yet. But I’ve been pretty good at establishing a bit more routine for myself lately. I’m not here to say it’s completely changed my output, and I’m halfway through a new novel manuscript or anything crazy like that. I’m just planting the seeds. But it feels good to get back to it a bit. I know I'm not where I want to be, and honestly, I'm not always sure I'm heading in the right direction. But maybe that anxiety, that discomfort is one worth sitting with, for now. Being mindful about it, formulating that into a small bit of writing each day adds some clarity as I try and figure out where exactly it is I’m going, who it is I want to be. And if the process is good, hopefully the result will be, too. Only time will tell.