Since 2009 I’ve celebrated IFJM publicly on this blog and invited you to join me with your creative works.
Fake journaling is a process I’ve used for decades so that I can make time for a creative project and explore ideas or art media that are appealing to me.
I’ve been fake journaling off and on for so long (I did my first fake journal as a child), that I have a certain pattern or leaning, when creating a fake journal—they tend to have a bit of a story arc. They obviously start in medias res since April 1 isn’t the first day any of my characters have kept a journal. The journals might not have a resolved ending (because sometimes life doesn’t resolve itself). However, there is often something of a story in my fake journals.
Because my fake journals since 2009 have been put up in public here and as flip throughs on YouTube, they are often what people see as “examples” for what to do if one is going to participate.
They are simply what I have done.
But in recent years I’ve seen a number of participants attempt to create an elaborate fiction, with a beginning, middle, and end, while juggling a new type of art paper, an unfamiliar art medium, research about their character’s life and occupation because he may be quite different from the participant, and the desire to post publicly (requiring the work of scanning and writing a blog post perhaps), all while juggling the busy duties of a full and active life.
I’ve used IFJM and fake journaling to help students and friends deal with their internal critic issues (that little voice that tells them they aren’t creative and can’t do a project like this anyway).
Setting up an elaborate project like I just explained can often be a recipe for failure. Even if you were retired and had no fixed obligations on your time, the scope of your project would be so large as to push at the boundaries of your life.
I love to encourage people to exercise their creative muscle, but the point of my public projects like IFJM and the Minnesota State Fair Sketch Out, is to get people creating within a situation and context where they can COMPLETE the task and taste fulfillment and success.
If you can taste even a little bit of success—like finding one great part of a drawing, even if it’s only one great sinuous line—you are more apt to come back to the creative table and try again.
I gave all this considerable thought at the end of last year's celebration. I wanted people to participate and to make it through the month with their 30 entries (more if they were so inclined), feeling good about the creative stretch that they set for themselves.
To facilitate that result I have deliberately delayed the release of this year’s Tagline: “Shift in Place.”
I have deliberately not made my usually January through March posts on how to prepare for IFJM, how to get your materials in hand, how to pick a journal, how to pick a paper, how to identify a character, and so on.
Past posts on those topics are thorough and available to the readers of this blog if they look at the category list, or even if they simply read the links suggested in the March 3, 2016 post.
If you want to prepare for IFJM and set lavish parameters on media use and character/story development etc., you can go right ahead. I want you to be as creative as possible in a way that HELPS YOU MEET YOUR CURRENT CREATIVE GOALS.
But I would also like to invite you to consider a simpler approach.
A Simpler Approach
What if you jumped in with no preparation, no preconceived notions, and on March 31 you sat down for thirty to sixty minutes and did a little soul searching on how you wanted to spend thirty to sixty minutes of daily art time for the month of April? What if you asked yourself what would fit with your current art goals? Within the confines of your current responsibilities and obligations?
What if out of that March 31 thirty to sixty minute conversation you let one idea bubble up and grabbed it? Say, sketches of the budding flowers in my garden (if of course you’re living somewhere in the Northern Hemisphere).
What if you then picked one journal with paper that would allow the sketching of those flowers if you used pencil, color pencil…?
Or if you were dying to use wet media, then pick a wet media journal or cut up sheets of watercolor paper into 30 pieces and make a loose sheet journal in which you use watercolor.
What if you asked yourself just 3 or 4 questions about the character who is keeping that journal and kept the answers fairly close to home?
So if you asked, “Is my character male or female?” and you are male, you’d write about a male character. If you asked, “What does he do for a living?” you would pick an occupation that is similar to yours—office work, scientist, outdoor work, whatever. Ask what time would such a person have in his day to draw? How does he make time? Is it just habit?
This will influence you when you pick a time each day to sketch, to let that character in—because a character who draws simply from habit isn't going to go to a "special" location every day to sketch, unless his habit involves a special subject—if he sketches birds, he'll need to go to a location where they can be found.
When you ask yourself how old your character is allow the answer to be within 10 years of your age, up or down.
Finally ask yourself "Why does he draw?"
This will take the longest time to think out. Make it a good reason. Don't accept the first comment that comes to mind—ask more deeply. You might rely on your own reasons for drawing to help you here. You might substitute a reason one of your friends has that you wish you could cultivate.
Keep it all this simple.
That’s it. You’ve done thirty to sixty minutes of preparation, and you’re ready to start on April 1, using art materials YOU HAVE ON HAND, that fit the criteria of the questions you’ve just asked.
Starting on April 1, and again every day of the month, find time in your day to step out of yourself and become the person who does that creative act you’ve set for yourself: an act that can be completed in thirty to sixty minutes given your CURRENT level of drawing ability.
I guarantee that if you do this thoughtfully every day for 30 days that level of ability will increase—and that’s a positive result all by itself.
Finally each day after you have finished your drawing and written down the date and time, take 5 more minutes to write down some text on the page (or page spread) that your character, the person you are being right now, is thinking about or overhearing, RIGHT NOW.
This doesn’t have to be paragraphs of text connecting to the previous day’s entry. You don’t have to keep charts about plot points that are coming up in the rest of the month. You don’t have to research anything. This is just your character thinking about his or her day and the action they just took by recording that image, whatever it was, in his or her journal.
Shift In Place
This is the meaning of “Shift in Place.” It means taking a quick, sidestep out of your life, into the life of someone else, to let them create something on the page.
That creation happens in the stream of life just as all journal art and journal writing does. This means you’ll want to put yourself in an area where there can be a trigger to help you make the transition—an art museum (if he’s observing art), a grocery store parking lot (if he’s running errands), the bus (if he rides mass transit).
In this way you will find out how your character feels about all these things because you will step into his world, drawn in by what you see that he wants to sketch. And you will respond to it in the moment. And then you will get back to your life.
This means that there will or could be lots of mundane things in your character's journal. Celebrate that as a huge success because your character is living a real life full of all the mundane things we all deal with every day—it’s his take on the mundane that is different from yours!
There is no story. There is no narrative thread—at least you are not going in with one. You are letting things unfold from the mundane.
Half way through the month a story might occur to you, and you’ll wonder about it. Resist it, keep working as I’ve described. How often do you sit down to journal aware of what you’ll do the next 30 days to get to a certain result? That’s not journaling, that’s fortune telling.
When you get to the end of the month—and there is an increased likelihood that you’ll make it to the end of the month because you haven’t set out lots of baggage for your creativity to carry about—you’ll have time to look back at the month and see what you got down on paper.
Something will come out of all those mundane moments. You will see a more real character who revealed himself in glimpses as he moved through his world. You will see how there are different ways to respond to the mundane. You might even see a story line, life story, or theme emerge that you may wish to take into another creative project!
You will also have 30 days of showing up and honoring your goal of creating something each day—a drawing or painting of something that speaks to your character. (At the end of the month those choices might speak volumes about that character and his interests in ways you could never replicate if you tried to concoct a plan.)
With thirty to sixty minutes of creative time each day in April you will wind up with a sense of satisfaction you can carry into your “real” creative work—a sense of satisfaction that confirms you can set goals and meet them; a sense of satisfaction that will inspire you to make more long term goals perhaps; or a sense of satisfaction that simply enables you to dive into your own visual journal (your real one) with new energy and a sense of discovery.
Your actions will also have the added benefit of helping keep your internal critic silent. If he pipes up and says, “You can’t draw” it doesn’t matter because it isn’t you doing the drawing. Just finish the job and tell yourself you’ll look at all this in May.
Savor each moment you allow your character to draw. Allow him to speak to you about what appeals to him in his subject and his work. He isn't held back; he's having fun; he always finds something positive to say about his work.
If your internal critic says all of this is boring tell him it’s just daily life “stuff” and you’ll look at it in May, who can tell now?!
Most important your internal critic won’t be able to tell you “This is too complicated, you can’t do this.”
You can do this.
You can take one small step to the side of your life and look at another life, through the eyes of someone else for a few moments each day.
It Doesn’t Have To Be Profound
For month-long projects like this many people get hung up on the belief that each page, each image, each thought expressed has to be profound.
That’s a perfect example of the internal critic working over time to talk you out of the very real value of stepping out of your life for thirty to sixty minutes a day and asking “what if” questions.
We aren’t going for profound.
For consistency you need only ask, is this the type of thing my character would look at and why? And is this the type of thing he would say? Why or why not?
And then sketch and write with your character’s eyes.
Profound learning that you can take into all your other creative projects comes out of this simple action.
Will It Be Difficult?
It’s hard to answer whether it will be difficult to be this simple or not. Some who try it will speed through the month and not realize until months later all the positive benefits of their project.
Others will find it more difficult. It is certainly more difficult to sit and listen to a character than to elaborately plan and decorate his life all while he is trying to get a word in edgewise.
He may in fact get so pissed off at your efforts to control him that he will seem unwilling to speak to you on some days and you’ll have to learn to sit with the discomfort of that silence until the moment he does speak and he has seen something to draw and will speak to you.
Ignore the nagging of your internal critic who says this is boring, this is too simple, this isn’t enough.
Your internal critic wants to bog you down with delay and research and overthinking. He wants to trip you up with grand concepts.
Starting on March 30, as I’ve written above, instead sit and listen to your character.
I believe you’ll be glad you did.
Not only is it enough, it is plenty.
Well What If I Already Have The Plan Of A Lifetime?
“Roz all the time you weren’t writing about how to prep for this year’s celebration I’ve been busy creating a character with a deep backstory and frankly everything including a fake passport. I’m ready and anxious to get going. I’ve got a spiffy journal I bound myself with special art papers I’ve decided I want to try out, and I've splashed my whole art supply budget to get new media I want to experiment with. I’ve cleared my calendar, told all my friends ‘I’m Busy!’ and I am going for it!”
Is that where this post finds you?
Then go for it.
You get to choose how you spend your creative energy.
I realized that in not telling you what the plan for this year was I ran the risk of losing several of you to preparation. You wanted to be ready to go, and boy oh boy, you are ready to go.
I also realized that if I told you earlier about this year’s plan, you wouldn’t have been able to prevent yourself from over thinking and planning. You wouldn’t have been able to let it go.
I know because I love to do IFJM prep myself. I love to pick out the project journal. I love inviting characters to come and chat with me in January so I can “speed date” and see which ones are grabbing my attention. I want to know what type of art they like to do and how this fits into my current obligations and commitments.
I deliberately kept myself insanely busy in January and February preparing a new online course (to be released later this year) and offering a second session of my “Drawing Practice” class in which I’m very hands-on with my students.
I knew if I did those two things I wouldn’t be able to prep. And right now I’ve got more than enough personally and professionally to keep me from even thinking about which paper, which media—I’ll be following the theme. I’ll “Shift in Place.”
But I’ve felt very concerned hearing from people that they couldn’t complete their fake journals in the past years. I’ve been concerned that they didn’t get to experience the fun of the “unanticipated” project that just grows out of necessity—it’s 9 p.m. and I’m going to bed in 30 minutes what’s my character up to right now!?
Most important I want people to end the project with a completed project.
This year’s theme allows people to just show up. And the more experience people have in just showing up, the more they are apt to do that during other times of the year as well—something helpful for all creative people.
It strikes me as more of what creating a fake journal was when I was younger—before I tied it to April for public celebration. It is going back to the sense of an idea that occurs and that I then follow—in the midst of my real life with all the interruptions and disconnections that real life contains. And if I can focus on this other character and see what he likes and is like, then I can focus on anything.
But you get to choose.
Prepare or don’t prepare until that thirty to sixty minute prep session on March 31.
There isn’t a right way or a wrong way to start. You pick a way and go with it. You trust your gut. One method will speak more to you about what you want to get accomplished.
Just listen carefully to make sure that you are listening to your creative self, and not your ego. It’s your ego who wants to hold you in place and prevent you from stretching, and “protect” you from change.
Once you’ve established that it isn’t your ego making the choice, it doesn’t matter which way you proceed.
After you make your choice on how to proceed only the following matters…
Requirements For Making A Fake Journal During International Fake Journal Month
The requirements for making a fake journal boil down to this:
1. You need to make one entry a day throughout April. Each entry needs to be dated. There also needs to be a time on the entry indicating the actual time during the day that the entry was executed.
The reason you are dating and putting a time “stamp” on the work is that it is essential to maintain the “in the present moment” aspect of this journal project to keep your journal as an actual journal. This requires that at the time you create a page you step out of your life and into the life of the character.
Because of this I typically recommend that people keep things simple and keep things close to home. Look for “topics” that can be easily accomplished each day—if the character draws birds you need to have birds nearby to draw, so he or she can go to that location. Transit time adds to the project time and increases the difficulty of completing the project in an otherwise busy life.
2. The keeper of the journal needs to be someone else, i.e., not you. It can be anyone, and it can even be another version of you if you want to cut it really close (an alternate universe self so to speak who acts like you except in some really major ways)—but I recommend against that because the point is to distance yourself from the journal.
3. You need to write in first person. "I did blah, blah." If you want to get your character's name in the journal you can write it at the front of the book, or you can have your character write a note about a conversation in which someone made a big deal about calling him by his name—but be careful it's a difficult thing to carry off.
4. You need to be a PERSON. This is because you need to be able to write and draw—inanimate objects can’t write and draw. And animals, with the notable exception of one of the orangutans at the Como Zoo who paints, can’t write and draw.
5. Some people try to keep HISTORICAL Fake journals. I recommend that they not do that. They still have to date and indicate the time of day they are making their entry on each entry, all the while juggling historical facts and locations and language…It’s too much for most people to do. And to do it accurately would require research. It becomes instead a work of fiction.
And that’s not the point of International Fake Journal Month.
If you want to spend a month daily writing a novel I recommend that you go over to National Novel Writing Month and sign on.
6. You can keep your fake journal private or you can post it publicly. If you post it publicly you might elect to do that on a blog dedicated to your fake journal (or to the string of fake journals you’re creating over the years). You might post it on Flickr or post to the Facebook group I've created for participants.
I’ll write about those options in the next few days.
What you want to do now is decide whether or not you’re going to prepare or not prepare.
If you decide to prepare, read those articles I’ve already written about every aspect of preparation.
If you decide not to prepare pick up a book and read, write a letter to a friend, sketch your dog or your significant other, or go for a walk and enjoy the world around you.
Either way, on April 1, 2016, you’ll be ready to “Shift in Place.”