The Outside

I love writing, though it’s a challenge for me to share my thoughts. It feels like I’m leaving part of myself out on the porch during a cold night, exposed and vulnerable. When I do share things, I have a tendency to try and make sure they fit into a specific mold. I want people to like them, so I play it safe to ensure that they will.

I remember the first journal I ever had, given to me when I was seven years old: it was flowered, with a lock on it so that no one else could get in and discover all my secrets. I loved the feeling of having a place to go where no one else lived, where it was just me and my thoughts and dreams. It was warm and familiar, and it was home.

The thing about all that safety and warmth though, is that they can produce stagnancy. It’s like staying inside all day; it’s cozy for a bit, but you eventually realize that you need light and fresh air and some friends to run around outside with.

Every time I finish a journal, I go to Barnes & Noble to look at new ones. I like to mix things up, so I always get a different kind—sometimes it’s colorful, sometimes it’s simple, and sometimes it’s just plain silly. But the common theme among the many journals I’ve had throughout the years is that they’ve always been lined.

A couple of years ago, I was over at my best friend’s apartment and I noticed that she had gotten a new journal. Being the curious person that I am, I grabbed it and started flipping through. The cover was really pretty—simple light brown paper with a white border. It was clean, orderly and elegant. But when I opened the journal, there wasn’t a line in sight.

I was appalled. “You bought a journal with NO LINES?!” I asked my friend incredulously. “Why?!”

She smirked at me and said, “I just don’t like to be so limited.”

We both laughed, but it seemed impossible to me that someone could write straight without lines, and my friend didn’t understand why anyone needed to write straight in the first place.

I think what’s so comforting to me about lines in a journal is the fact that they give me a sense of direction, of structure. And they prevent me from facing the intimidating concept of a completely blank page. Lines impart a kind of automatic order to my writing, and give me the confidence I need to feel like my words are worthwhile. Even though my journals are just for me, I’m afraid to unleash whatever is within without some guidance, maybe because I feel like whatever comes out might be a little too messy.

I wrote a lot of music in college, but it was always a struggle to transfer the lyrics I composed in my mind onto paper. Sometimes I would feel the inkling of a song in the back of my mind—in the shower, while I was driving, or during class—and it would sort of whisper to me that it wanted to be written. But I would procrastinate, sometimes for weeks, because I was afraid of what would happen when I started writing. What if the lines floating around in my head turned out to be cheesy and weird? Or what if someone listened to something that I recorded and didn’t like it? I was constantly living in the tension between fear and creativity, afraid to unlock the journal and let my words and thoughts spill out for anyone to hear them.

But creativity is more powerful than fear, and I forget to be afraid when I become completely immersed in what I’m creating. As soon as my pen meets the page and I find the rhythm, all my worries dissipate and the song begins to take shape. I stop wondering whether people will like what I’m creating, and I allow myself to create it simply because it’s a joyful task. I let myself get lost in the process of putting together words and melodies and metaphors and rhymes, and everything else fades away.

Strangely enough, the songs and pieces I’ve written that have been the best-received are the ones I wrote without worrying much about what anyone was going to think. I just wrote because I knew something needed to be said.

I don’t buy journals with locks anymore. I’ve even tried ones without lines a few times. I’ve realized the value of taking risks and embracing the mess as part of the process, and while I still hesitate to share my work, I know that keeping all my creations to myself would be like spending my whole life living inside—safe, warm, and completely boring.

Instead, I’d rather let them outside into the light, where they can breathe.

Samantha goes by ‘Sam’ for short. She is a Hamilton fanatic, loves 30 Rock, and is about the grilled cheese life. You can read more of her work in her blog, Bold and Underlined.