Interview with Lisa Shepard Stewart

Interview with Lisa Shepard Stewart
1. How long have you been journaling?

I began journaling around age 12, when it was called a "diary". I didn't plan to begin one, it just came about when I began recording the day's events in one of those pocket sized date books published by Hallmark. (the freebies that were available at the register in the card stores!) Yes, I recorded a day's events in each day's 1-inch square, so I wrote VERY small.

I did this until about age 15, when I no longer had the time to write every day, which began to frustrate me, so I stopped. I would go back to journaling on and off, starting again around 2001, this time I used a regular sized book. I started it when I was on overdue vacation at a holistic spa in Jamaica. I took this trip after writing my second book, Global Expressions. I've been consistent since then.

Check out Lisa's place for conducting creative retreats at

2. What kinds of journals do you have?

I keep a generic journal with life events and my reactions to them, in the front of the book, and a dream journal at the back of the same book.

For a short time in 2003, when my husband (fiancé at the time) began suffering from tinnitus (ringing in the ears), I also began a food journal for him to help pinpoint possible causes for his illness. Right now I'm just into to my main combination journal.

3. I recently read an article about your Mudcloth Journal Kits?. Can you share a little bit about these? How you got started using these? Where our readers can find these on the web?

I started a company called Cultured Expressions, Inc., which promotes the creative use of African fabrics for decorating, quilting and crafts. The workshops, kits and fabrics we offer reflect my personal interests and lifestyle, so I developed a class where students cover a ready-made journal with mudcloth, a handwoven cotton fabric from West Africa, similar in weight to burlap and usually in earth-tone colors. The fabric's traditional name is bogolanfini, and its bold patterns are created in mud-based dyes. I used my own personal journal as the class model the first time, then made up samples in other mudcloth colors. I received requests for a journal kit from people who lived outside of the NJ/NY metro area, and the Mudcloth Covered Journal Kit came about in the summer of 2006. The journal kit includes the mudcloth fabric, hardcover journal, fusible adhesives, lining, tab fabric and complete instructions for just $14.95. It can be ordered online at

4. How often do you journal?

I wish I could say daily, but I realized a long time ago that isn't realistic for me. Rather than get frustrated about it as I did before, I just commit to writing when I can. Which is generally about 3-4 times a month in the main journal, and I record dreams of note whenever they occur. Sometimes I'll write the details of the dream during the day on scrap paper, then transfer them to the journal later so I don't lose the important details of the dream as the day wears on.

5. Why is journaling important to you?

I find value in recording events and feelings as things happen, but even more important for me is the ability to go back months or years later. It lets me see patterns, ways I have changed and ways I haven't, which helps me to navigate my actions and reactions to life events in the future. I also have an interest in handwriting analysis, so I take note of subtle shifts in penmanship, based on what is going on at the time. I still keep the same small handwriting when I journal - it's just slightly larger than the size of my writing in the mini date books I began with.

6. What are your other hobbies?

Travel, sewing & fabric collecting, home decorating, yoga & holistic living, entertaining, cooking, handwriting analysis.

7. Do you teach journal making?

I teach the Mudcloth Covered Journal as mentioned. Right now the workshop includes a general discussion of journaling, its benefits, etc., but I do intend to develop the workshop to focus more on making the journal from scratch, and incorporating more "how to journal" ideas and inspiration. This would let me combine my interest in holistic health with the African-inspired crafting more directly.

8. One of the main questions writers ask about is discipline. Do you think discipline is important in journaling and could you provide a few tips on improving one's journaling discipline?

I've learned that the important thing isn't to dwell on making daily entries, but to understand which things are most important to record. This will change according to what's going on in your life at any given moment. Everyone I know has a hectic schedule, and it seems like it's gotten more intense as time goes on. The act of journaling is supposed to be relaxing, not another item on the To-Do list that goes unchecked - the added stress of having missed a daily entry kind of defeats the purpose! There are times I've gone about a month without making an entry, but when I can, I reflect back on the "unrecorded" time and fill in the biggest happenings. I've stopped feeling guilty about it. I think that the need for discipline also depends on your reason for journaling. If you're keeping a food diary for medical reasons, every bit of food should be recorded to make it accurate and useful. But if you simply record your wishes & dreams, lofty goals, etc, discipline is less of an issue.

As you see, I don't beat myself up about it, but if you want to increase your discipline, it might be helpful to assign a time of the week to catch up on journaling, maybe a Tuesday evening, Sunday morning or whatever time is relatively quiet for you. Assign a time in your datebook or PDA like anything else important in your life - make a ritual out of it - and leave the house if you have to. Treat yourself to a snack or favorite beverage and music while you catch up on your journal. If you consider it as much of a necessity as work, errands and everything else, it will be easier to carve out even 20 minutes to journal, and you'll probably find yourself doing it more often.

9. We would love for you to share one journaling tip with us today that has impacted your journaling?

I gain a lot from the combination journal (real-life and dreams in the same book) because it helps me to interpret the subconscious information that my dreams contain. It's very interesting, especially when recurring themes in my dreams reflect similar real-life situations. One simple example: at one point, every now and then I would dream of being in an amusement park (reflecting the need for more "amusement" in life, more leisure & fun activity), and whenever these dreams came up, I was in particularly intense workaholic modes (writing books, or relocating to a new house, or building the business -- at times, all at the same time...) The dreams were telling me to lighten up on the work as I was jeopardizing my holistic health.

Also, sometimes I'll interject little "time capsule" entries in the margins of my journal. It could be a mention of anything that makes me smile or laugh at that time, like favorite songs, expressions, activities, people, clothing, foods, or TV shows at that particular time. When I go back to these pages months or years later, these entries are fun reminders of the little things I enjoyed at that time. I still have the mini date books ; )

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Creative Retreats

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