The Case for Ugly Journals

by | Daily Life, Journaling

I see the art journals and stunningly gorgeous bullet journal spreads pictured in Instagram and whizzing through my Facebook feed, and I feel pangs of envy about the art skills on display.

I am a long-time keeper of ugly journals. I love artsy journals. I ooh and ah over beautiful bullet journals, but my journals just don’t measure up. I try to make them pretty, but the harder I try the more tacky they get.

Sometimes I get self-conscious about how my ugly journals fail when compared to the artistic journals of some of my friends.

It’s that comparison bit that really trips me up.  Every time.

My journal does not exist for the purpose of impressing other people. I forget that detail way too often.

My journal exists for a lot of reasons

  • It helps me stay organized
  • It helps me set goals and work towards them
  • It helps me plan my days, weeks, months, and years
  • It helps me figure out how I feel about an issue
  • It helps me figure out my next steps
  • It helps me understand what happened
  • It helps me figure out how to move on
  • It connects me to the deepest parts of myself that are otherwise difficult to access

It’s those deeper issues that really draw me to the practice of journaling, and it’s those deeper issues that keep me coming back again and again.

There’s nothing wrong with making it pretty

Sure, I like to doodle in my journal. I play around with prettying it up. I love to add stickers because I can add interest without relying on my limited drawing skills. I use a straightedge to draw lines. I use markers. I color code. Sometimes I trace images or try to free-hand images I see in coloring books. There are a lot of things I do to make my journal more fun and appealing to me.

I practice drawing, and I’ve created and evolved a number of layouts that I use to help organize my journal. I love those aspects of journaling and playing around with art. I love looking back over old journals and seeing how my creative skills have improved just with practice in my journal. This is so much fun for me, and it makes me happy.

But sometimes it goes too far

Your journal should not be a source of stress in your life. There have been times when I chose not to open my journal because the thought that I needed to create something beautiful was too stressful.

There have been times when I went to pick up my journal and then put it back down again because I didn’t have time to draw out an entire layout.

There have been times when I didn’t go to my journal because I didn’t have the right pen handy.

Whoa! Wait a minute!

My journal is not a place for perfection

My journal is my sandbox. It’s the place where I figure things out. Where I try things out. Where I practice. Where I learn and improve. It’s the place where I play.

My journal is my safe place.

If you have to be perfect in your safe place, it’s no longer a safe place.

make your journal work for you


A journal is what you make it

Ultimately, you write the rules for your own journal. If you want your journal to be a showcase, that’s awesome. But if you find yourself getting stressed out about your journal, or holding back, maybe it’s time to give yourself a break, and take a chance on letting it be ugly.

Judy Schwartz Haley


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