Journals can be many things to many people. Dot-grid journals seem perhaps to be used most frequently as a sort of personal planner: setting health goals, tracking habits, creating useful calendars, checking off items on a to-do list. These are all fantastic ways to use a dot-grid journal – and there are lots of resources available to help you if you are interested in the bullet journal system, or other personal-planning-type journalling methods.

For me, my Knitting Season journal has just one purpose – to support my creative making.

I use one journal to help me with three different kinds of making – writing, designing, and knitting.

I regard my journal as a tool, and not an aesthetic object. It is a means to an end, and not an end in itself. My journal is a thing that provides the preconditions that are necessary for making a project happen. My journal is the place where my making begins. It’s a location for recording initial thoughts before I start to make, and it’s a space which I can also use to document and help the process and the progress of the making.

Using my journal effectively is all about getting my creative making moving – whether I’m planning a range of different projects for the coming year, working my way systematically through a series of design ideas, or developing vague thoughts that might at some point turn into concrete paragraphs, and eventually a book chapter.

To get the making started, the journalling has to start as well. So if you want to use your journal to support your own creative projects, here are five simple tips for getting started.

1. Don’t regard your journal as precious.
I know that many people find it really difficult to start a journal – to simply put pencil or pen to paper on the first page. Journals themselves are pleasing, pristine objects. You might find the stationery and pens you’ve acquired to be so beautiful that you don’t want to actually use them. The paper of the pages of the journal themselves could be so lovely that you don’t want them to be spoilt. You might regard the act of starting a journal as very similar to cutting into a piece of gorgeous, costly fabric. What if your sewing skills aren’t up to producing that dress you’d planned to make? What if it ends up fitting badly? What if all that fabric and time and labour and money go to waste? But then, you’ll never have the dress if you don’t cut into that fabric.

Your journal is not a precious object.
It is a tool.

Try to start by recognising that what goes in your journal will always be provisional and will never be complete.

You need to accept that the pages of your journal are provisional spaces and to understand that that those spaces will be characterised by some necessary imperfection. Good and not so good and plain terrible ideas are going to get recorded alongside each other. Plans may be abandoned, and some goals left woefully incomplete. Creative making is always an uneven process. There may be many false starts and many forking paths. But however chaotic and unruly your journal seems, the amazing project that you are going to go on to make out of the range of ideas that begin haltingly and messily in its pages may well be perfectly ordered. Sometimes in order to make something beautiful and complete you have to make a mess first. That’s what your journal is for.

2. Get things started
If you are the type of person who finds a blank page terrifying, or are awestruck into inaction by the pristine beauty of your journal-as-object, you need to do something to get things started.

Keep the first four pages blank for your retrospective table of contents or index, (see my linked post for more about organising your material retrospectively) and then, on the next page – just make a mark.

*Use some coloured pencils to test out different shades for the projects you’ve planned, or create a palette of your favourite yarns, listing the shade names next to each colour.
*Cover the page with your favourite stickers or some stencilling.
*Make a sketch of a garment you’d like to make.
*Write a sonnet.
*Copy a quotation.
*Paste in a picture from a magazine.
*Draw a poorly-rendered but affectionate caricature of a family member.

Once you’ve made some marks on the first page, do the same with the second. . . . and then just keep on making marks.

3. Keep things moving
Try not to be a perfectionist. The pages of your journal don’t have to look beautiful (though it is of course very nice when they do). Remember: the journal’s function is not principally aesthetic. Its first function is to be a useful tool for you. Just keep recording thoughts when they occur to you, and jotting down ideas. It doesn’t matter if you don’t think an idea is good enough or feel a thought’s not fully formed. You can annotate these thoughts or ideas as things to come back to later. Draw a line. Turn the page. Move on. Relax into the wonderful provisionality and the fabulous never-to-be-completed nature of the pages of your journal. And keep those ideas coming and the pages turning.

4. Know when to start making
Your journal provides you with a place to plan for any creative project you intend to make. But for some people who have a tendency to over-plan, a journal can also become a sort of substitute for a project itself. Journals are fantastic for planning, but there is definitely a point at which planning can turn into procrastination. Have you sketched the same cardigan more than twice? Have you rehearsed the same idea or turn of phrase over several consecutive pages? Do you keep planning the same project – in a slightly different iteration – over and over and over again? As long as you are still recording things in your journal you might be able to convince yourself that a project is moving forward, when in fact it has started to stand still. It is very useful to be able to recognise the point at which the planning just needs to stop. Over the years, I have got quite good at recognising that point, and I would say that simply knowing when to start is the key to really enjoying the creative process and being reasonably productive. So try to recognise when it’s time to begin to start making. Take a breath. Steel yourself. Cast on your project, write the first sentence of your story. Cut into that fabric and start to sew.

Remember: the journal is the precondition for the project –
the journal is not a substitute for the project itself.

5. Allow the journal to support the making
Finally, when you start work on a project your journalling doesn’t have to stop – it just needs to change direction. From being an ideas-generating tool, your journal has now become a tool that supports your creative process. The pages of your journal can now run in parallel to the progress of your making. If I’m producing a chapter, and find that I’ve written myself into a corner, I often find that a wee hour or two with my journal rather than with the work itself can refresh my thoughts sufficiently for me to be able to resolve whatever problem I’ve created. Similarly, when I’m knitting a design, I use my journal to keep detailed notes about the process: how to construct a sleeve or neckline; how to describe a potentially tricky instruction around a collar; how to remember exactly what to do with the left and right hand needles when binding off a steek. What I record during my making process definitely isn’t pretty – there are lots of scribbled numbers and instructions and crossings out and elipses – but it is invaluable.

So to summarise, here are my five tips:

1. Don’t regard your journal as precious
2. Get things started
3. Keep things moving
4. Know when to start making
5. Allow the journal to support the making

And finally – and most importantly – have fun with your journal!

33 thoughts on “5 tips for getting started with your journal

  1. Well, I am now on page 10 of my Knitting Season Journal. That and page 9 feature the palette you featured on IG just now. I have chosen 7 MT yarns that, IMHO, perfectly fit the picture and I have taped them into my journal. Also, I have come up with a little procedure to mark ideas that come to me, based on apple washi tape — loosely inspired by the infamous apple that bopped Newton on the head! Thank you Kate! The excitement is building :-)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Not sure if you’re a fan of Diane Keaton (I am!). She wrote a book, Then Again, in which she explores her relationship with her mother (among others). Her mum was a great keeper of journals. I can only hope to amass a set of journals as described by Ms. Keaton. Not only interesting, functional books, but a beautiful legacy.


  3. Thanks Kate for this interesting post. I started journaling in 2016 after I finished treatment for breast cancer. Journaling, along with my rug hooking frame were my way of holding space for myself while I figured out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. My journal is the place where I play with design ideas, write interesting quotes and work out my next steps. In the process I developed a system of writing prompts which help me to focus on “What do I need right now?” and ways of opening up my creativity and working through blocks. When I started I had my journals and my rug hooking. Now my journal is an integral part of my design process and every design starts with inspiration from my journal. I call my process One Loop at a Time, as that is how I write and hook. I’m so glad my friend Shelley suggested I check out your site.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I started my knitting season journal on January 1 by listing all the KDD items I have already knitted, followed by a list of those I want to knit. Great beginning to 2019!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love this post about journaling. My favourite part was to not treat your journal as something precious and write everything in it. I love my journals for that reason they aren’t perfect but they do show the real me not some social media post. Hope you have great new year 🤩

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Kate, thank you for this post. It is very timely as I’m about to embark on a life changing event moving from the US to the UK, putting on hold a 30+ year career, leaving my 3 young adult children behind (they are perfectly capable and will definitely visit, but still) to support my husband and his career. Thankfully I’m a knitter and I will have that to comfort me during any rough patches and times of homesickness.
    Friends have told me to blog but I think a personal journal is more my style. I do want to somehow document my new adventures but I sometimes wonder how my writing might be received by those that read it. ( and no one HAS to read it but I hope my family someday will) Your post reminds me that the journal is for ME and what anyone thinks of it is truly irrelevant. Having a “perfect journal” is not the point. The process of documenting my thoughts, feelings, adventures and projects, whatever they might be is what will matter in the end.
    To this end, I must simply begin.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. i love this, as with everything you post, it has the effect of “freeing” up something, of giving us permission, (thinking of the gauge/swatch/needle topic.

    as someone dealing with a traumatic injury you are also an inspiration in other ways as well.

    in gratitude,


  8. Thank you Kate. My journal was precious. I was afraid to start but after reading this blog I (ok planned) to start today. The Perfectionist side of me was soon abandoned as I over balanced with a double layered tin of colouring pencils and ended up trying to put them back in colour order! This was my first steps to writing in my journal. I decided in a tiny bird with colourful feathers to remind me to fly freely and be creative. I pasted a ‘take note’ and stuck a sticker on my first page, reminding myself that ‘Kate made me do it’ my journals is free now for me to express my creativity without rules and regulations!

    Thank you Kate


  9. In my fear of messing up my journal, I wrote on other scraps of paper and taped them in. I really need to get over this! But I do kind of like how it looks like a scrap book. Thanks for the kick in the pants, Kate.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Dear Kate,
    Excited to havereceived the “knitting seasons” journal in the mail Friday. Thank you for this post containing good advice for how to jump into using this tool and how applicable several points are for enjoying life in general.
    Here goes!


  11. I learned a similar lesson many years ago when I had a recipe notebook with recipes from some beloved family members. As nice as that collection probably looked in the beginning I treasure it more now that it is dog-eared and written in. Seeing the notes written by yourself or someone you love makes such a wonderful mess. I love where a drip of some ingredient or other has stained the pages. These are the traces of my life and the lives of women who are so dear to me. I love how humans make simple marks all around them and I love to imagine who carved that line into a bench or feel pages that I know someone else handled and wrote on.

    I like to think of my journals etc as some of the traces of my life, a bit of the mess of real living captured on a page like a flower pressed in a book. So if my son colours on a page or two I am thrilled. I love all the random bits and it has definitely freed up my writing and making. I can so easily get stuck in thinking about how to get the thoughts out rather than just getting them all out and then figuring out how to finesse them. Once stuff is out of my head and I have started everything else gets easier.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Such wonderful advice, thank you so much for taking the time to explain all this. And I’ve found the ideal way to start my lovely journal, with percussive quotes from this article! 😉Thanks again! And happy journalling 😊


  13. Point 4 is so important!!! I don’t always know when to start, because I’m so afraid of swatching and getting nowhere. Journaling and getting nowhere is less scary.

    Your description in point one of the essential provisionality of a journal is so interesting. I’ve started thinking that way about house: I clean up so we can make messes, because a clean workspace is an invitation to make a mess. I’d never thought about my journal that way.

    Awesome thoughts. Thanks for sharing. ♥️

    Liked by 1 person

  14. So nice to have this journal and I’m looking forward to fill it with ideas, inspiration, notes etc. etc.
    And a request for the webshop: Crayons in Millarochy colours!
    And a question: Why is there no yellow/golden colour in the Millarochy palette?
    Have a lovely new year


  15. Thank you for taking the time to write a blog about your journal. I know about the worry of pristine pages. My earliest memory of school is getting a new exercise book and getting anxious that my first page would get an ink blot and I would spoil the look of the page. And I would be reminded every time I opened the book and maybe my teacher would make a comment like “needs to take more care”. I think keeping the first few pages as an index will help, as they can stay pristine for a while, until I get going. I went onto to train to become a primary school teacher and was very careful to encourage the children in my class to see mark making process as positive experience.

    I so love my journal. The paper is wonderful and I am so happy I bought it as my Christmas gift to myself from my mum who died at the beginning of the year aged 93. She was an avid knitter and I still have her 1940’s patterns, some of her wool and her knitting needles.

    (A lot of her knitting was just after the war, so we were regulars at jumble sales where we bought woollen garments and unpicked them to make up into clothes for my brothers and myself.)

    So I think this is a fitting book to remember her by. I will embrace the mess I might make and enjoy the process of learning how to make it work for me. Your blogs have been so great in getting me thinking. I am a basic knitter, but my sister in law has been on your Shetland course and we have great fun “talking” knitting.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. How interesting. My kindergartener gets notes home on her work like that sometimes. I think she rushes because she’s bored, and has never loved colouring, so I don’t push her too hard on it. But I never thought about the later impact it might have.


  16. Thank you :-). #1 (the journal is not precious) was a swift kick in the back-side. Funny how sometimes someone will turn the phrase ‘just so’, and the clouds part and you can see so clearly both the problem and the way out. You are that someone for me right now, and I thank you for that. Also, my shelf of beautiful and pristine journals thanks you!! Including, (shall I confess?), a second journal just like one my daughter bought me for my birthday because I didn’t want to mess up the gifted one. LOL!! I’m going to have to copy this post into one of my pristine journals and get on with it!!

    Again, Kate, thank you. You have such amazing insight.


  17. Thanks, Kate. Great way to send us off!

    It has just occurred to me that journals are a bit like footsteps on a walk or maybe splashes in the water during a swim to a certain point and back again. They are not the journey, but you can’t have a journey without them! And, maybe they include a stumble or two, or maybe a few awkward strokes, but they are yours! And, when you get to where you are going, you will be admiring the view, not looking back. This is a bit of clumsy metaphor, but…:-)

    Liked by 1 person

  18. All good advice, Kate, which I hope I can follow. My first thought, though, when my Knitting Season journal arrived this week, was that I have to begin by improving my handwriting (hopeless). At breakfast out this morning, a friend (who also received her journal this week) and I shared concerns about the subject(s) of our journals and the sorry states of our handwriting (her is better than mine) and drawing skills. We may need further consultation so we can encourage each other into the journaling.


  19. Thank you for your advice! I had asked about this on one of your other postings just a few hours ago. Since then, I decided to start by listing some of my favorite pattern and yarn sources online. Decorations on this page will come later. I created an inventory chart for all of my knitting needles on the next page. I like your ideas and will try them out, too.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Hi Kate

    You have inspired me to start a journal – I am so looking forward to it.

    Thank you for the inspiration.

    Regards Michelle


  21. Oh my, you have freed me from my “fear of the journal” ! I have many, many blank books/journals – most have something written in them, some were intended for a particular purpose or theme – but ALL of them have either been abandoned or morphed into something else. My silly guilt at imperfection and not completing the intended purpose of said journal was rather paralyzing…so silly ! I do use some of them for my knitting and weaving designs, but I need to just relax, and follow some very sound “Kate’s Advice”… Thank you !!


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