How to "Break a Page"

Why do so many of us find it so hard to start writing in the first page of a new notebook or journal? Or, as some say, to “break the page” - to make that first mark on a beautiful blank piece of paper. That’s why we got the dang book in the first place, right? To write in it? So why then can it feel so daunting to make that first stroke?

When we really love a book, it feels special. When we first saw it, something about it drew us in and we couldn’t resist taking it home. Perhaps it was the smooth paper, or maybe it wasn’t smooth at all but had an old-world parchment paper feel about it? Or maybe it was the gorgeous leatherwork or design on the cover that infatuated us?

Our books are personal. Consider for a moment how intimate we are with our books, especially the ones we cherish. We hold them in our hands, close to us. We embrace them. We bring them to bed with us. Sometimes we fall asleep with them. We laugh with them and cry with them. We often take them with us everywhere. They can be very powerful. In fact books have sometimes been so powerful that many of them throughout history have been burned, so fearful were the people about what was inside them.

But no one can fear a book with nothing in it. Think about it. What's the point of having a beautiful book, an almost sacred book to you, if there's nothing in it - if you haven't given it life? Books need us to activate them, to bring them to life. Otherwise it's like never flipping the electricity on your Frankenstein. It will never be alive. When we don’t write in our books and journals they just become beautiful dead things that sit on our shelves. Lifeless.

Our books can house our thoughts, our dreams, our history and sometimes our most intimate secrets. Those personal messages that we write belong in beautiful books, filled with velvety smooth paper and written in colorful, saturated inks in exquisite, perfect flourished cursive handwriting. Don't they? But maybe that’s part of the problem. Maybe they’re too pretty. I'm going to suggest something radical. Don't buy a nice book! You could still get a nice-ish book. Maybe a spiral notebook with Clairefontaine paper in it? Nice paper, but pretty inexpensive. No worries about messing up a pristine, bejeweled, leather-bound journal with hand-made parchment paper in it.

So, now you have a less expensive journal but you still find yourself hung up. What more could be holding you back? Perhaps:

- You're uninspired

- You don't know what to include

- You're afraid you'll want to change the order of things later

- You think it won’t be beautiful enough or that your writing isn’t good enough

- You’re afraid you’ll make a mistake

If you don’t know what to put in your journal the internet is a great resource, oh, and that old forgotten brick-and-mortar building, the library! Or, you could go to a discount book store and see what jewels you could discover there. Maybe you have a theme in mind, gardening, personal reflections, family life, whatever. Do a search and see what others write about. Look in the antique section of the bookstore or search for personal journals in the library. It’s OK. You’re not plagiarizing anyone, you’re just looking for ideas. A really great internet resource is Pinterest. Just go to and type in a topic you’re interested in. You’ll be busy for hours!

Maybe you’re worried that you’ll get started and then later you’ll want to change the order of everything. You’ll decide instead of by date, you’d like to arrange the pages by topic, for example. If that’s your worry, maybe a three-ring binder would be a better solution for you. You can still get some nice paper. Just get single sheets and 3-hole punch them if necessary. Mark that roadblock off the list and start writing.

If you’re concerned about your writing not being beautiful enough I say this: This is your book. Unless you’re planning on publishing it or passing it down to a family member, why worry about what your writing looks like? Even if it does end up in the hands of a loved one after you’re gone, what fun would that be for them to try to decipher what the heck you were writing about? There may be one exception to this, however. If even you can’t read your writing, you may have a problem. If that’s the case, maybe your first journal should be one on improving your handwriting!

A lot of us are concerned that we’ll mess up our journal and then wonder what we’ll do. I mean, once you’ve screwed up a page, that’s it, right? Game over? Might as well chuck it even though it has 143 blank pages left in it! Well, I have a few ideas for you. You could do the old-fashioned fix and just use some white-out, assuming you have white paper. If you don’t have white paper do what I’ve been known to do often, buy a gel pen or felt tip pen whose color matches that of your paper as closely as possible and use it like white out. Once it’s dry, simply write over it. Other possibilities include pasting something over it. It could be a cute sticker, a quote, a memento from something that happened that day that you glue to your page, or it could be a picture you took or found that you really love. Again, simply glue it over the fatal error and write around it. You could also paint over it. Cover it with a little gesso and then get creative with your artwork.If none of these ideas appeal to you, here’s another radical suggestion – tear out the page! It’s OK. You’re generally not going to ruin the entire book by tearing out one page. If the book is constructed of sewn in signatures, the worst that will probably happen is that you will lose another page on the other side of the signature. No biggie. If it’s glued in, even easier. Just rip it out carefully, and if you leave some straggly pieces behind, just take out your trusty exacto knife and carefully cut them out. See? – like it never happened.

So there you have it. No more excuses. Take out that beautiful journal, pull your dusty notebook out of your drawer, or go ahead and buy yourself a book and ‘break the page’. I am confident that you can do it and once you get started you’ll wonder what the big deal was in the first place.

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