With a glass of dry white wine in hand, I’m sitting in a hip little cafe by the name of Loosie Rouge in South Williamsburg. It’s a rainy night, and I can clearly hear the tap, tap, tap of the raindrops exploding over the translucent ceiling above. I have a good friend by my side (Hi, Sarah Rose!) and am surrounded by about 20 other new faces, all of whom already feel like family. As two shared salmon bowls get passed around, we collectively crack open our fresh AllSwell journals sitting on the table in front of us and start writing; We write for 6 minutes straight about anything and everything to a soundtrack of pen-on-paper and the soft drizzle of the night’s rain. It was one of those surreal New York moment.
This was the night I attended Laura Rubin’s, founder of AllSwell notebooks, eye-opening journaling workshop. I won’t lie to you- before I attended the workshop I thought to myself, ‘Journaling? Doesn’t everyone know how to do that?’ In fact, yes! Laura created AllSwell to inspire people to journal their hearts out. Throughout the workshop, she gently reminds us that there is no wrong way or right way to journal- there is only doing it, sharing it, and then soaking up the mental and even physical health benefits of doing so (of which there are many). Laura is so passionate about the power of journaling that she created her own unique line of notebooks that offer lined space to write and unlined space to draw so your notebook works for you. After going around the table taking turns reading our poetry aloud, we all left the workshop with a newly broken-in notebook and the feeling of fulfillment that only comes through creativity, community, and introspection.
I’m so excited to share my experience of this night with you, as its influence has been something I’ve been carrying around with me ever since. With AllSwell, Laura reminds us how to fall in love with journaling, be it for the first time or the nth time. Knowing that you’d want to have the same transformative experience as I did, I sent Laura an email after the workshop with my rave review of the night, and a few need-to-know questions to inspire your journaling practice too:
Kendall: Hi Laura! Can you introduce yourself to our community? A little bit of background on how you started AllSwell?
Laura: A few years ago I was in Costa Rica on a surf trip and was taking a midday break. I was on the porch journaling in my lined notebook, sitting next to a friend that was drawing in his unlined sketchpad. It occurred to me that there should be one lightweight, travel-friendly notebook with room for both activities since creativity doesn’t occur in silos. Sometimes I like lined paper, other times I prefer to have the open expanse of a blank, unlined sheet for drawing or writing. I didn’t act on it, just noticed the thought and put it aside.
A few months later I was in Montauk doing my morning surf check and got skunked. No waves. I grabbed my beach bag, sat in the sand and journaled instead. I wrote “Swell or no swell, all’s well.” Those two moments connected in my head and I started researching the market, looking for half lined and half unlined notebooks. I couldn’t find any, so I made some. I printed them up in Maine on thoughtfully chosen materials. The first and second printings sold out. Suddenly, I had a brand.
It’s not an accident that both moments happened by the ocean. I’m usually my most inspired when I spend time outdoors. I need a hit of nature to feel my best. It fuels my creativity.
Kendall: Surfing and the ocean are such an integral part of your brand. Why do you feel so connected to the ocean? What can someone gain from a connection to the water?
Laura: Being in nature is how I recharge and center myself. It’s my therapist, my church. We’re all so plugged in these days and the truth is we really don’t know yet what effect technology is having on us. Maybe in 20 years, we’ll have the data but for now, it’s important to self-regulate. An intuitive way to be offline is to get in the ocean. No Apple Watch, no Go Pro. Just you and the sea. The ocean specifically throws off negatively charged ions that have a positive, calming effect so even being on the beach is good for you. Pay attention, drop into your senses. What are you smelling, hearing, feeling? Take a few moments to be where you are.
Depending on what she’s doing that day, being in the ocean can be euphoric or humbling (or both). As a surfer, you have to be present otherwise you’re putting yourself at risk. There’s something infinite about the sea that reminds me that no matter how challenging the day, there’s something far more vast in this world. It provides a welcome shot of perspective and gets me back in my body, out of my head.
Kendall: Your notebooks feel comfortable and pliable in the best way because there’s room to write, draw, and express yourself freely. What does your personal journaling practice look like?
Laura: Thank you! I’m so glad you like them. I tend to journal twice a day. At night in bed, I get all the things that are banging around in my head out on paper. It helps me get more nourishing rest because I’m not trying to remember them and I have a to-do list ready to go the next day which ramps up my productivity.
In the morning it varies but tends to be more of a free-write, sort of like Julia Cameron’s “morning pages” exercise but I tend to time it rather than count pages. I like 4 minutes as an easy base. Sometimes I flip open a book of poetry (Mary Oliver and Hafiz are two of my favorites) to a random page and use that as my prompt. I also like what Dana James called “Nine Minutes of Nourishment” – 3 minutes of cat-cow stretching, 3 minutes of a gratitude practice and 3 minutes of visioning.
I mix it up based on what feels right that particular morning. I like some variety. Ultimately the writing practice that you enjoy is going to be the one you stick with, and that’s what will serve you best.
Kendall: What is your personal history with journaling? What does it add to your life?
Laura: I was given my first journal at age 8 by a family friend and I haven’t stopped writing since. As a lifelong journaler, I always knew that putting pen to paper was valuable. It helps me process, plan, dream, be present. I’m less anxious and more centered when I’m writing regularly. I’m mapping out my life rather than just going from task to task.
Journaling helps me slow my roll and gives me a form of connecting with my internal compass. A gut-check is a powerful tool in creating a life you love.
Kendall: Why should more people journal? What are the benefits?
Laura: It wasn’t until I began AllSwell that I discovered the significant body of scientific data around the positive benefits of putting pen to paper. It’s mentally, emotionally and physiologically good for you. This isn’t my opinion; it’s fact. It curbs asthma, speeds wound healing, helps cure PTSD. The list goes on.
Interestingly, in 2018 a study came out of UCLA finding that the positive benefits of journaling are 50% greater for men. In our culture, there are so few acceptable forms of self-expression for men that a regular practice is of even greater value. Love a man? Buy him a notebook.
Kendall: The journaling workshop was the best event I’ve been to in such a long time! Can you tell us more about the workshops? How often you host them and what can someone expect?
Laura: I started the workshops because I was getting feedback from consumers that they loved the notebooks but they already had an unused stack of notebooks or that they didn’t know how to journal, or they were “bad” at journaling. But there’s no bad, there’s just do.
I decided if I could make the act of putting pen to paper fun, create a beautiful setting and give people a nice glass of wine and a little bite to eat, provide them with the facts about why it’s worth prioritizing keeping a journal about some tools and tips about how to do it, I could inspire them to create or deepen a daily writing practice. So that’s exactly what I’ve done — and it works. People have break-throughs, we laugh, we explore and at the end of the two hours people walk away with a tangible skill set.
Kendall: For someone inspired to get started right now, what brief would you give them to get journaling?
Laura: For someone just starting out I suggest 4 x 4 x 4: 4 minutes of free-writing a day, aim for 4 days a week and stick with it for 4 consecutive weeks. Set a timer, put pen to paper and get a good flow going, try to write continuously without picking the pen off the page. Feel like you don’t have anything to write about? Then write about that. Feeling voice-less is actually an incredibly powerful vein to tap. Notice if 4 minutes feels long, short, annoying, freeing.
Adjust the timing and exercise based on what feels good for you. Is there a particular place in your home or time of day that feels conducive to writing? Is there a topic you want to workshop for a week or so? Make the practice your own.
And please, no guilt. If you miss a few days, just get back to it.
Kendall: How do you stay in the moment?
Laura: Being outdoors + putting pen to paper. Ideally at the same time.
Special thanks to Laura!
Photos courtesy of AllSwell
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