The 46-year-old novelist and French translator, whose own journals are beautifully handwritten and illustrated, says journaling for her is more like meditation, helping her sort “uncomfortable emotions” at times.
“It’s so good for one’s mental health, and to manage the confusion and anxiety that we all go through at some point in our life,” she told The Epoch Times. “Writing a journal helped me stay honest with my emotions, my thoughts, my vulnerabilities.”
“I love to make every page different, it’s very meditative to me,” she said. “There are so many classic paintings I enjoy, and so many vintage botanical illustrations. I feel that adding visual elements helps me explore some new areas of my psyche.”
Originally from a small town in Québec, Canada, she is now married to an American and currently lives in her husband’s hometown of Milwaukee, but plans on moving to Vermont in summer, to be closer to family and “live the mountain life.”
Mesmerized by books before she could even read, Lafrance-Balian discovered the magic of journaling at a very young age. “I was maybe 5 or 6 years old,” she said. “My mother was reading the Journal of Anaïs Nin, and I asked her about it. My mother was a teacher, so she took my interest quite seriously; she explained to me what a journal was, that one could write whatever private thoughts they wanted in it, and that it was often meant to stay secret.
“I just knew I was going to have one.”
The first journal the young Lafrance-Balian’s mother bought her, as soon as she was old enough to form sentences, was red with a lock and key. She started writing in it almost every day, and never stopped.
Good handwriting can make any notebook so undeniably pretty, and it’s a skill that Lafrance-Balian says she owes to her father and grandmother.
“My dad had very neat and elegant handwriting as a child, so much that my grandmother kept all his school notebooks,” she said. “I remember being at my grandmother’s house after school, doing my homework at the kitchen table. She was praising my penmanship, and she said, ‘Wait, I want to show you something.’
“She went down to her basement and came back with a pile of dusty, yellowed school notebooks, belonging to her eldest son, my dad. I opened them and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Someone my own age could have a penmanship that was so incredibly perfect?”
That day, Lafrance-Balian says, she realized how beautiful simple notebooks could be, and how neat handwriting could impress people—so she started making effort.
“I went to Catholic schools all my life, and my teachers seemed to love and reward neat homework,” she said. “So I found a lot of validation for my efforts. I also started using fountain pens as a teenager, they make it easier to improve your handwriting.”
Lafrance-Balian’s journals are lovely to look at, but at the same time, they are about so much more than the aesthetic.
She said: “The beauty of journaling is that you can write about anything you want, so I indulge! I go from the mundane, what I’m cooking, studying, reading, watching… to some serious existential questioning, about my purpose, my legacy, my beliefs, and the meaning of life.
“I explore every topic in my journal. From current affairs to gossip, rants about some people, old memories that just resurfaced, hopes for the future… Sometimes I just need to figure out my own opinion about something, or I need to have an ethical argument with myself, and I do that on the page.”
Also using her notebooks to research topics for the novel she’s currently writing, Lafrance-Balian transcribes poems, quotes, and excerpts from books. For Lafrance-Balian, journaling has become a practice, like meditation or gardening. The time she carves out for it is precious.
“I try to limit the time spent on social media,” she said, “because journaling takes time and I need to protect the few hours a week I spend reflecting and contemplating my life on the page.
“I try to journal every day, even if it’s just a little bit. I tend to write longer on weekends, reflecting on the week and planning the next.”
However, up until 2019, Lafrance-Balian never thought she would share her innermost thoughts and feelings with the world.
“I still keep the more personal pages to myself, of course,” she said. “I think it’s important to write for yourself, without giving any thought to what other people might think. That said, it’s been wonderful to find a community of journal writers on Instagram.”
While the process is obviously cathartic, the artistic element also feeds her soul. Lafrance-Balian says she never decorated her journals until 2018. Before that, it was “only words on paper.” But after coming across a few illustrated and decorated journals on social media, she felt like trying out decorating the pages.
“I had been writing in my journals for so many years already, maybe I needed something new?” she said. “My life had achieved a calm stability, I felt that I had less to write about, compared to the years of my youth when there was always some drama.”
Already a master of the art of beautifying her journals, Lafrance-Balian is clear on her goal: to keep journaling as “a daily habit.”
“I see myself as a very old lady one day, having fun reading my old notebooks, being able to relive and remember most days of my life,” she said. “My grandmother is 100 right now, so if I have her genes, that’s a lot more notebooks for me to fill, and nothing could make me happier.”