Thursday, May 28, 2015

Finding Journal Inspiration

Once upon a time, I wrote in my journal everyday.  But over time, I started to write in it less often.  I started keeping a bullet journal last year in hopes that this would help me to write more, but when this system broke down, I stopped keeping both a planner and a journal.

Since then, I've realized that the journals I used to keep no longer interest me.  In my old journals, I wrote about things that were happening in my daily life and angst-filled reflections on my life in general.  All of this is boring and rather depressing to re-read, and I do not want to keep journals like this anymore.

I missed keeping a regular journal, though, and over the last several months, I've been trying to think of a way I could keep a journal that would be fun to work in, not make me feel guilty if I didn't write in it for a day or a week, and would be interesting to look back on in future years.  I've always loved the idea of keeping a nature journal, but I've never been able to figure out just how I wanted to keep one.

Then, I came across a certain book at a local used book sale.  The book was Edith Holden's Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, and soon after I started reading it I realized that this was exactly the kind of journal that I wanted to keep.

Edith Holden created her Country Diary in 1906 in Olton, Warwickshire.  The Diary is a record of her nature observations throughout the year.  As I see it, it consists of three main parts, which I'm going to discuss in some detail:

  • Dated journal entries - Edith wrote the name of the month at the top of the page and the dates down the left-hand side.  She did not write every day; sometimes as much as a week or more would go by between her entries.  Sometimes she only wrote one sentence; other times, half a page.  Her written entries were mainly brief descriptions of the things that she observed in nature and contained few personal references.
  • Illustrations - Facing the written entries and throughout the Diary were Edith's beautiful illustrations of wildflowers, birds, and insects.  These were undated, but could often be matched to references in her written entries and were nearly always identified with names of the species.
  • Copied poems and quotes - Edith also coped out poems, quotes, and seasonal proverbs into her journal.

This is a typical page spread from The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady.  Dated journal entries are on the left, with illustrations on the right.  Other page spreads contain illustrations only, or illustrations combined with poems and quotes.

All of these aspects of Edith Holden's Country Diary are exactly what I want to include in my own nature journal:

  • Written journal entries - Write just as much or as little as is appropriate, and don't force myself to stick to a strict schedule.  Minimize the kind of personal details that filled my old journals, and focus on recording interesting observations and events.
  • Drawings and sketches - I am not even close to being the kind of artist that Edith Holden was, but I do want to practice sketching in nature more often.  Doing so will help me to improve my observation skills, and the finished journal will be more interesting to look at than one that contains only text.
  • Poems and quotes - I have long collected these in my commonplace books (which I will write about in a future post), but I like the idea of including my favourites in my journal as well.  It will be a good option for those days when I don't have anything to write about, and it may also provide a good opportunity to practice calligraphy - something I have long wanted to do.

Thanks to Edith Holden and her diary from over a hundred years ago, I feel excited about keeping a journal again and I hope that one day I'll be able to share some pages from my nature journal with you.  (If you're interested, you can also read my review of The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady.)

Have you ever been inspired by someone else's journal?  And do you keep a nature journal?


  1. What a fascinating blog post. I am reminded of Dicken's "A Christmas Carol" where in a dream I am confronted with the ghosts of Journals past, present and the future. During my working life on the road, I religiously followed the wisdom found in Stephen Covey's "First Things First " using a "classic" Franklin Planner ring binder that I carried in an attache along with my paperwork, notebook computer, journal and an appropriate selection of paperbacks, pens and pencils. In Journal Present I am a house spouse and continue to carry all of the above, less the paperwork, in my old attache (my bride calls it my purse) when I head for the coffee shop. The ghost of Journals Future says "simplify" so the binder and journal are now combined in a Bullet Journal, my books and notebook computer have been consolidated and shrunk into an iPad mini and a Quiver carries my fountain pen and stylus.Though I am delighted to have shed the attache, ring binders and books, I too am struggling with the shortcomings of the Bullet System. Though I found it sad that you eventually abandoned your Bullet Journal, it was heartening to realize that I am not alone in finding it difficult to change old habits.

  2. Check out Lynda Barry's new book, Syllabus. It is full of interesting ways to keep a journal as well as so much more.
    I really enjoy your blog!

  3. I LOVE Edith Holden's diary! I'm so happy for you that you are inspired by it. Although I keep a separate sketchbook and journal, I would say that the combined contents are similar to that type of journal. I look forward to hearing how that process works for you.


    1. I just read your review, and now I feel like re-reading the book, as it has been a while. I should also say that while my sketchbook is not so much observations of nature as of daily urban life, I do find myself sketching the same trees in all seasons, or the returning mergansers each year, so it is as close to a nature sketchbook as a city girl can get ;-)

  4. One more thing: Try to get your hands on a used copy of Hannah Hinchman's A Life in Hand: Creating the Illuminated Journal (now out of print; a Kindle edition is available, but hard copy is better to experience). It's another book I love about the process of regular writing/sketching.

    1. I already own a copy of A Life in Hand (I even reviewed it here quite a few years ago - I also own her other book, A Trail Through Leaves: The Journal as a Path to Place, which I think is even better and is one of my favourite books ever.

  5. Hi Heather,

    Love this post. Exactly the feeling I had two years ago. Especially the whining and 'woe is me' aspect of the journalling didn't appeal to me any longer so I totally understand why you want to write a different kind of journal.
    I first came across The Country Diary when I was in England and I desperately wanted my own copy. Finally my parents found one for me in Amsterdam and I've cherished it ever since. I'm a terrible artist and I can't draw, but I try to cut out pictures and write descriptions, not about my life any longer, but observations, as you said.
    I hope your new way of keeping a diary fills you with joy!

    Regards from Holland,


  6. So glad you are familiar with Hannah Hinchman -- she is one of many sketchbook artists who have inspired me. I re-read/re-viewed The Country Diary after reading this post. Thanks for the reminder. Her book is so timeless.


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