from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Sunday, 15 May 2016

the journal

Like most writers, I imagine, I have, and carry with me, what I used to think of as my notebook. 

Now I realise it's my journal, in which I track – well, everything. In it goes my life:
  • details of my immediate inner and outer life: family, animals, friends, significant events, the garden and the rest of the natural world here in our Devon valley, the seasons' turning, weather and natural events, story and myth, travel journalling when I'm visiting the Hebrides or Brittany or the Cévennes mountains, and my work;
  • notes about place;
  • ideas;
  • nature notes;
  • the big picture: outer collective stuff – political events, foreign affairs, the environment, issues of social justice; 
  • poems and ideas for poems; 
  • stream-of-consciousness writing; 
  • quotes; 
  • philosophical notes; 
  • photos, postcards, pictures and sketches (sometimes I'll collage or at least customise the cover);
  • my dreams; 
  • snippets of conversation; 
  • phrases; 
  • things I've cut out and pasted in, or copied in by hand, from publications; 
  • records of my life; 
  • titles of books I'd like to read, music to listen to, films to see, or that I want to recommend, or that have been recommended to me by others; 
  • what I'm reading;
  • ideas for workshops, courses or books of my own; 
  • first drafts;
  • secrets;
  • things that I don't want to forget; 
  • things that have disturbed my balance (useful to track these over time and see what's changed in my reactions and responses; if nothing, then notes to self to pay attention to these issues);
  • things I want consciously to work on; 
  • imagined dialogues with or unsent letters to people where there's unfinished business, and/or people I care about or have cared about, living or dead; 
  • joyful events (lest you should think it's all navel-gazing misery); 
  • records of my spiritual/psychological/literary growth;
  • record of acceptances of literary stuff sent out; 
  • the occasional rant;
  • a kind of checking-in at the year's turning points;
  • workings-out of soul-stuff;
  • and all the rest, including a kind of encyclopaedia of my own esoteric interests.
Some days, the only writing I do is this blog or in my journal. And some days that has to be enough. Even 10 minutes a day is better than not writing.

Through revisiting these journals from time to time, and perhaps especially the freewriting sessions and the dream notes, I track long distance themes in my life, and their resolution (or otherwise). (I can't over-estimate the value of this latter in a life trying to be lived consciously.) So the journal is also a therapist.

It's very liberating. A journal is private. It's not for public consumption; it's a place to become intimate with oneself. And it's a way of not forgetting.

I mention all this because it was good to be back in an environment the other day, at the Cornwall workshop, where we were talking about the usefulness of a journal, and of the conjoining of the creative and reflective processes, and how therapeutic paying attention to these things through writing can be. And how often we forget its value. 

Or permit ourselves even just 10 minutes a day to visit our journal. 

'The hardest thing to do is doing what you want to do. As soon as you think of it, there are innumerable reasons why you should not do it. Writing this book, for instance. I spent a whole day on the beach arguing with myself. And all that time, the waves splashed miraculous towers onto the beach, birds ran through water tunnels and up to my feet, the white winter sun made mirrors in my face. I could have given in to this beauty and become one with my walk. But I didn't because I kept on talking in my head.

'What did I talk about then? What was this voice in my head arguing, louder than the waves of the ocean? It was telling me what this journal had to be! How it had to be. What could be in it and what not. Mostly it was telling me that this project was not a good idea... See, you can't do it! Stop right now. You began it the wrong way, this project. This is not the right way.

'I looked at the sky through the white light and the water mist, and my chest was so constricted from all these arguments that I was amazed how birds could keep themselves in the air. Then I realized, perhaps they have no little voices in their head, telling them they can't do things. Imagine every time a bird wanted to fly, it stopped breathing long enough to think why it probably shouldn't fly. You would have a lot of lame-winged contorted creatures hopping around on the beach.'  
(From A Walk Between Heaven and Earth, Burghild Nina Holzer.)

Buy a pen you like to write with. Find a notebook you want to write in; or make your own. There are many examples on the web, and many books on creative journalling.

Here's a link that might be of interest to you:

You could also go on a bookmaking/binding course, such as those run by Rachel Hazell (can personally vouch for them):


  1. Thanks for all of this, Roselle, which I should know and of course do. But it's prompted me to be much more disciplined about visiting my notebook/journal. Writing in it during that first session of the Iona day was so helpful and releasing. Too often at home I think I've nothing much to write about and yet when I do write, there it is, usually, an incontinent flow sometimes, small gems at other times, much anger and frustration; very little sometimes but always better than nothing.
    Just now I need to make notes for the novel, record my first walk of the day in these wonderful, cool but smiling May dawns . . . and so on.
    Reading your blog has made me realise just how much I'm missing, forgetting, by not writing it out, confiding in my journal. And considering that some of my characters rely on journals, it's careless of me not to visit it every day. It's not enough to walk and talk aloud to myself, it needs to be set in stone.

    Happy journaling,
    Miri x

    1. Thanks, Miri, and when i keep my journal i feel so much better in every way. But don't beat yourself up! Who does do such things every single day?! Love, Rx

  2. Very interesting....thank you for this post and I love the quotation from Burghild Nina Holzer. I am also interested in your own description of your journal as the notebook for everything. Reading it makes me wonder yet again if my way is the best for me...I have not one "everything" notebook but many. A journal of life events/thoughts; a writing notebook of general ideas about writing; a specific notebook for the book I am currently working on; another notebook for records of books I have read; and small notebooks for the handbag where I jot things down when out and about. Sometimes, of course, things overlap, and I get confused between notebooks.....but on balance, I think the division helps me feel slightly more organized mentally....probably an illusion! And a big drawback is when I travel I can only practically take one notebook...

    1. Hi, Christine, and thank you for the comment. Well, of course, there is no one 'right way'! However, my own experience is that things – life, writing – have felt more coherent and integrated since I switched from your way (which was my previous way) to just one main A5 notebook. I do carry a small notebook in my bag when the A5 won't fit, but basically the A5 takes the place of all the others. Much more satisfying!

      Best, Roselle

  3. Thankyou so much Roselle for your entry, your insights into journaling and for including a link to The Journal Writer's Handbook! For me journaling is a physical, integrative act which aligns mind, body and spirit - and integrates the two hemispheres of the brain. It never ceases to amaze me how we can manipulate a tool to form meaningful language on the page and this way express the surprising depths of ourselves. It's miraculous.

  4. I like what you say above, Juliet; yes, exactly so. I also like your blogs (and their concision and brevity – something I don't seem to manage!).

    Couldn't see a price for your book on the website/blog?


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