I can't believe Nanowrimo starts in just a few days. I can't believe how fast this year has gone, or how behind I am in my WIP revisions, or how much there is I still want to write, draw, paint, do before the calendar turns yet another page. Life is crazy-making sometimes and that's why it's a good idea every once in a while to stop, take stock, and realize just how much you have accomplished in spite of it all.
One of my favorite books for helping me to stay centered in the midst of chaos is Visual Journaling: Going Deeper than Words by Barbara Ganim and Susan Fox. It's one of the best books I know on using art (as the front cover says) to: reduce stress; reduce anger; resolve conflicts; get in touch with feelings; give voice to your soul, even if you can't draw. My kind of book, for sure!
I've owned and used Visual Journaling for a number of years, way before I heard of the concept of "art journaling," which to me is a related, but quite different process than that described in the book. That said, I also know I became interested in art journaling thanks to authors Ganim and Fox and their very encouraging exercises that led me from my first nervous pencil marks to drawings and paintings that gave me the confidence to call myself an artist.
One of my favorite lessons in the book is the basis for the entire text: the check-in. The check-in entry is all about simply sitting down with your journal at least once a week and discovering exactly what it is you feel at that exact moment. The process is simple: open your journal so that you have 2 blank pages facing you. On the right-hand side, write down an "intention," i.e., the question you want an answer to. For me this is usually along the lines of, "What am I feeling right now?" Or, "What is the lesson I am supposed to learn from this past week?" Or even, "What is the real theme of my WIP?"
After writing down the question, close your eyes, calmly breathe in and out, and let your feelings turn into images. Don't judge, just let whatever needs to appear come to you. After a few minutes, or whenever you feel ready, draw your images on the left-hand page. By "draw" I mean make purple circles, orange squiggles, little dark green squares, or an entire family of stick-figure lizards drinking tea if that's what appeared in your mind's eye. Subject matter doesn't matter at this point. If you have polished drawing skills, by all means use them, but you might also find the most honest, energetic expression of your feelings is to stay with a strong degree of abstraction and the willingness to "just draw, don't think." Let yourself be a little kid again and don't worry about what the grown-ups next door will think.
Once you have your drawing as finished as you want it, the next step is to write about it on the left-hand page, underneath your written intention. There are a number of set questions you can ask to get going, such as, "How does this drawing make me feel?" "What do the colors remind me of?" "What do I like best about this picture?" "What disturbs me? And how can I turn that feeling around?" You can also ask your own questions, too, ones that fit your intention more precisely.
Visual Journaling: Going Deeper than Words is an amazing book and it's one that I like to re-visit from beginning to end every few years. Starting in January 2011 I'm thinking of using it as the basis of my writer's group meetings for the year. I think the other members will enjoy the book and it will give a new focus to our meetings--something you might like to try, too. If you don't have a writer's group already, inviting people to join a group based on the book is an excellent way to start one, and if your existing group needs an energy boost, there's nothing like a complete change of writing "scenery" to get the ideas flowing.
Tip of the Day: Treat yourself to a new mixed-media sketchbook, some colored markers, crayons, an inexpensive tray of watercolors, and your favorite brand of pens. Experiment with the "check-in" exercise described above and see what happens. Who knows, you may end up with an entirely new direction and resolve for your creative and/or personal life--one that celebrates your accomplishments and lightens even the heaviest of to-do lists.