Welcome to Dear Queer Diary, a (new!) column about the joys (and occasionally, the pains) of journaling. We’ll be cracking open our tiny notebooks and breaking out the rainbow-colored pens on the regular, so get ready to limber up your writing hands and document all your beautiful feelings!
Header by Rory Midhani
Before you start perusing Etsy for the perfect notebook, let’s consider a few of the many fantastic reasons to journal:
1. Journaling helps you remember stuff.
When I was a youth, I was obsessed with documenting my life for the sake of posterity—and although I have no doubt that posterity will someday appreciate the blow-by-blow accounts of my flirtations in high school French class, it turns out that I am really the one who appreciates being able to reminisce about the way my heart raced when I was assigned to work with my crush on an oral presentation about salade nicoise.
In addition to providing virtually endless entertainment and embarrassment, my journals of bygone days also offer essential information about the development of my young psyche—and bizarre, hilarious, and occasionally poignant insights into the way I’ve changed. If you’re still not convinced, perhaps a Harry Potter analogy will change your mind. Imagine, for a glorious moment, that you are Albus Dumbledore (a queer role model if I’ve ever known one!). Your journal is your Pensieve. Using its magical powers, you will store and recall information that will ultimately lead to the downfall of the Dark Lord. Accio notebook, am I right?
2. Journaling lets you feel ALL the feelings.
Whether or not you’ve already invested in a nifty Autostraddle journal, your diary is your party, and you can cry if you want to. Although apparently writing in your journal does not make break-ups any easier, nine out of ten doctors agree that scrawling “I HATE EVERYONE” over and over will make you feel better about having to watching your brother and his girlfriend snuggle when your lady love is 3,000 miles away. Yes, I may have made up the statistic about doctors. But I may also have some personal experience in this area, and I can tell you that when I am feeling furious, elated, irked, self-righteous or (on my better days) filled with joy and delight, my journal beckons.
3. The ladies love it.
Let’s just say that, hypothetically, you were to take your journal to the hippest coffee shop in your area, order an iced chai and begin writing. And let’s just say, hypothetically, that you were to look up briefly a lock eyes with a fellow lady iced-chai-drinker at the next table. Your heart rate increases. You turn back to your journal. Fellow lady iced-chai-drinker will naturally wonder… What is that exceptionally attractive girl/woman/boi/human writing? Isn’t the way her delightfully asymmetrical bangs fall across her forehead when she leans over her journal enchanting/cool/sexy? Do I dare approach her and ask for her number? The best part is that you already have a handy piece of paper on which to write your digits.
4. Journaling will help you achieve self-actualization.
Since I have read all ten of the Princess Diaries books (and the beginning of this fanfic that came up when I googled “Mia Thermopolis gay”), I can confidently state that keeping a diary leads one to become the ruler of a small European principality, find true love in the form of a delightfully nerdy Jewish person and conquer frizzy hair. So that’s a thing. If you’re into it.
If you’re not into it, it’s also possible that journaling could help you achieve other life goals, since it often involves articulating your desires and finding ways of fulfilling them. And who isn’t into that?
5. Journaling is a radical act.
According to Teresa de Lauretis, when a woman puts pen to paper, she “usurps” a position of power the patriarchy would deny her. Similarly, whenever we write about ourselves, we are affirming the existence and importance of queer identity in all its facets. Whether you write a page-long treatise on your love of Jolly Ranchers or a meditation on the cultural currency of the alternative lifestyle haircut, you’re claiming a space on the page for yourself in all your beautiful queerness—something that the Russian government, Orson Scott Card and way too many other people are only too eager to censor.
Next: Let’s find the perfect journal for you!
If you are anything like me, your bookshelf is filled with blank notebooks. You’ve got the purple glittery diary you received from your aunt for your eighth birthday, the smooth leather journal your parents gave you for your high school graduation, and the weighty A4 notebook you purchased in Argentina, intending to begin your sure-to-be bestselling novel.
Yet somehow, when you are suddenly inspired — by an important life event, a good book, or this scintillating article on the virtues of journaling — to write something down, none of the journals that you already have seems quite right. Which is both how you come to have such a large collection of blank notebooks in the first place and how you end up searching, once more, for the perfect journal.
The first thing you need to know, my dearest queer diarists, is that the secret to finding the perfect journal is accepting that, ultimately, journaling is not about the journal. The most glorious notebooks on earth will do you no good if you do not fill it with beautiful words and truths and dreams and secrets. And if you have those beautiful words and truths and dreams and secrets, you could write them on a paper napkin and have them mean just as much.
However, all that doesn’t mean that it isn’t totally worth it to Etsy it up in search of a glorious notebook in which to inscribe your deepest and most secret thoughts—on the contrary! At the very least, your chances of not losing a lovely notebook are much higher than your chances of not losing a paper napkin that you scribbled on and then threw into your backpack underneath your running shoes and the complete poems of Adrienne Rich.
The following are a list of factors to consider in the quest for the perfect journal:
My preferred journal is less than half the size of a normal piece of paper; however, this is a highly personal preference that has much to do with my collection of awkwardly little purses and freakishly small handwriting. Consider your own needs: Do you long to create life-sized sketches of your cats? Do you need to carry your journal in a waterproof sack to protect it while you snorkel?
Unless you are a shockingly prolific writer (or you have excessively large handwriting), I would advise a slimmer notebook, at least for starting off. The satisfaction of finishing off one journal and getting to pick out another is immense, and if you start off with some kind of massive tome, you may not get to go notebook shopping again for eons.
For most journals, this is a simple choice between lines, blank pages, and maybe graph paper. And if you can’t choose just one? You can order a special custom notebook that allows you to specify a certain ratio of lines to blanks to graph paper!
3. Form Factor
I’m not entirely sure what “form factor” means, but I really like alliteration, so I am just going to go with it. What I am talking about here are things like the hoo-ha (not that kind!) that loops around the front cover to close your journal or whether or not the notebook of your choice stays open while you write or tries to devour your hand like some kind of snapping turtle.
This is the fun part of journal shopping, where you get to choose whether you want your journal to be covered with cute hand-embroidered owls, hip letterpress bicycles, or punky studded leather. Must you have gold-edged pages? A front cover carved out of a fallen tree? As always, my friends, you do you.
If, in the process of doing you, you would like some sources of inspiration, well, the images above feature some of my favorite models from across the wild wild web—including one particularly fine notebook designed by your good friends right here at Autostraddle! If you’re broke, don’t worry. A notebook-making post is coming soon!
You know that whole pen is mightier than the sword thing? It’s true! So why not go forth and fill all the tiny notebooks in the world with our thoughts/feelings/dreams/doodles? Tell us your favorite reasons for journaling in the comments! Where’d you get your notebook?
Maggie is a queer twenty-something who considers herself a connoisseur of quick breads, wedding blogs, and epistolary novels. Her life ambition is to save the U.S. Postal Service.