I’d first come across the term on Instagram, I think. Bullet journalling. And back then I didn’t connect it with the beautifully hand-drawn diaries that people were sharing photos of. I’d admired the photos hugely, but assumed that they were a specialised form of art that only skilled artists did. As for regular folks like me? We’d have to make do with plain old ruled notebooks.
But then the term started cropping up more and more. On book bloggers’ pages, on mental health pages. Even on some of my friends’ pages. Plain sheets of paper brought to life with intricate designs and gorgeous lettering. I read articles about how satisfying it was to document your day and map out your goals with the help of pretty pictures rather than simply writing them out. I scrolled through Pinterest for bullet journalling ideas, tried drawing some of the banners and page dividers and floral designs myself and realised that they weren’t half bad. In fact, they were quite good!
And I thought – hey, here’s a nice project to keep me productive and happy when I’m home from my dreary day-job!
And so I bought a notebook, laid in a stock of black gel pens, downloaded Pinterest and began.
At first it was satisfying. Immensely so. I’d think of new drawings for every page and new patterns to doodle along the sides. I’d browse Pinterest for mandala and zentangle designs and improvise to my heart’s content. I got better and better with each successive page I drew, and everyone I showed my journal too exclaimed over how well I’d done it.
It was great. Until it wasn’t.
Until thinking up new designs for each page became cumbersome. Until my squiggles and zigzags started to look repetitive. Until I started falling behind on my daily updates and had to finish two or three or even four pages at a time to stay on track. Until I had to force myself to make each page look uniquely pretty even if I was having a rough day and just wanted to scrawl angry words across the paper.
And then one day, after I flipped through my journal and saw that I was twelve days behind and that the previous pages all had similar-looking flower vases on them, I’d had enough.
I put the diary away, observed a minute’s silence for the project laid to rest and decided to give up journalling for the time being.
I tried to resume it after a while. New diary, new beginnings. And I kept it up for a couple of weeks. But all the zing had gone out of it. I was just copying designs from online and filling up mandalas for the heck of it. My doodles lacked the sparkle that my earlier ones had possessed. Ultimately, I laid down my pen and put my bullet journalling phase aside for good. And it wasn’t until more than a year later that I took up journalling again – in a regular ruled diary this time, with only words and no pictures. And it’s unlikely that I’ll be taking up bullet journalling again in the foreseeable future.
Was it all in vain, then?
For one thing, I discovered that I really enjoyed doodling and that I had a knack for it. What had spoilt it for me was the pressure of coming up with new stuff everyday – but the act of doodling itself was calming, enjoyable and something I could do whenever I had a spare moment. I’m currently working on a set of abstract doodles which I plan to pin up on my wall – I add to them whenever an idea strikes me, and put them aside when I’m out of ideas.
For another, I learnt that “therapeutic” activities can be stressful in their own way. Yes, there is something satisfying about looking back on a diary filled with pretty pictorial accounts of your day – but if it becomes too difficult a habit to maintain, it isn’t worth stressing out over. Some people can maintain a daily bullet journal, I know. But I’m not one of them. And that’s okay. I should stick to the therapeutic activities that I can actually make a habit of (reading and writing, in my case) and keep the doodling as a hobby for when I feel like it. That way, I don’t have to make a chore out of something that’s enjoyable and satisfying in its own right.
I still have my old bullet journal, and I still flip through it sometimes. It’s nice to look back on those days and see how my doodling style has evolved. I take inspiration from some of those designs for my current art projects too – another bonus! Will I revisit bullet journalling? Maybe, maybe not. For now, it’s enough to know that I discovered a new passion, and I have a diary full of pretty pictures to show for it. 🙂