It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of creative everything: art, music, dance, words and life itself as art.
What opens up creativity on a deeper level, though, is my greatest interest.
When your creative energy is awake and alive, things flow like magic. And, I notice I’m in my own flow with a giant journal (sketchpad, notebook, you name it) in my hands. It’s how I’ve created life to a great degree, and it’s thrilling to use these tools to expand life even more.
Today, I am excited to share a chat with Laura Rubin, the founder of the journalling experience (and lovely journals) known as AllSwell, with wildly-popular themed writing and drawing workshops that have been popping up from coast to coast to coast and even in BC. The way that a journal (and surf) inspired a growing movement is proof of the journal’s expansive power in itself!
What propelled you to start a company of gorgeous journals and workshops in the midst of running a super-successful business? I know there’s something to be said for the power of journaling (we’ll get to that!) but there seems to be something bigger in the way you set out to not just share the journal but also this in depth writing experience, and that is a big deal that I imagine can take on a life of it’s own.
Laura: It’s actually been a fairly organic process. It was initially meant to be a pretty simple offering — a single notebook that could serve as a platform to help encourage people to put pen to paper in this increasingly digital age. I didn’t set out to create an integrated, multi-prong creativity company, but that’s where I am!
I love my client-serving marketing work but as a lifelong journaler I also wanted to help people access what has made a huge positive impact on my personal and professional life: a regular writing practice. I set out to create a notebook that was gender neutral in design, lightweight for travel and made in America out of recycled materials — with lined and unlined sections for both writing and drawing.
It has evolved into a suite of notebooks and products, an ongoing series of workshops all over the country and international trips to beautiful places. Just goes to show, if you can write it down then you can create it.
The writing workshops you host are so rich and inventive. Can you share a bit of the process of how these have evolved?
Laura: Thank you! It was the marketplace that showed me the need for the AllSwell workshops. I got feedback from consumers that they loved the notebooks but were tentative about the act of journaling. They said they didn’t know how to journal or that they were “bad” at it. But there is no bad, there is just do.
That input gave me the idea to create an experience that would help folks connect with their innate creative voice, give them tips and tools for fostering a regular journaling practice, and embrace their own creativity regardless of whether they are artists. I led the first one for a group in New York City and the feedback was so incredible that I realized I had something pretty powerful. I wanted to share this program widely to help people become more fully expressed, to live their best lives. The next one was in Malibu and the one thereafter was in Tofino on Vancouver Island, BC.
It was been a remarkable, exciting journey, watching the process positively affect attendees as they crack open, embrace their own voice and wake up to how creative and powerful they are. I always have a few “Hell yeah!” moments in each workshop.
Can we talk about the myth that not everyone is a “good” writer?
Laura: Everyone has a unique creative voice that is distinctly their own and that reveals itself through the practice of journaling. You don’t need to be a “great writer” or poet to be a badass journaler. The point is to express one’s self regardless of the end product. It’s specifically between two covers and you don’t need to have any intended audience. It’s personal, just for you without any judgments or “likes.” Personally, I hardly ever re-read my old journals. I don’t want to revisit that toxic sludge!
Not sure how to start? Make a list of the things around you. Use all your senses. What do you hear / see / smell. Drop into the present moment.
Then go further. Try a free write for 5 minutes. No theme, just go. Write continuously without picking your pen off the paper. If you think you have nothing to write about then write about that. Push through and you’ll be surprised at what’s on the other side.
I love that you recently shared the NYT article on Creativity as the new midlife crisis cure in your newsletter. Have you seen people leaning into writing and creativity more as a form of “self-reinvention” or even “detox” or “DIY Therapy”?
Laura: Big time! It’s incredible to see how this concept is taking root in the zeitgeist. Personally I see creativity as a form of the divine, and making stuff is cathartic. In this increasingly digital world we are craving analog expression. I’m not saying you should throw your iPhone out the window and take up wood carving, but being consciously aware of how plugged in we are is important. Make your level of connectivity into a mindful choice rather than a default and add in some analog activities that help you balance out your brain.
You don’t need a fancy meditation cushion or mantra. You don’t have to take a sabbatical or sign up for a course in canoe building in rural Maine. Hey, if you want to that’s great but it’s not necessary. What I love about journaling is how accessible it is. Pen and paper, that’s all you need.
Surfing and art have a long lineage of working together. How has surfing propelled your writing and creativity in general? Why do you think?
Laura: There is an element of bravery necessary to surf. It’s a dynamic environment. You have to build a skill set and knowledge base in order to be able to adequately perform in the ocean. It’s exhilarating. It’s humbling. And it takes a lot of practice. Unless you plan on going pro you’re really just surfing for the sheer joy of it.
All are things that could be said of creativity, as well.
There’s an old adage that a former world champion told me: “The best surfer in the water is the one having the most fun.” It’s not about achievement (unless you happen to be an elite athlete and were blessed to grow up surfing). I consistently challenge myself before each session by asking, “Can I enjoy the process regardless of the outcome?”
Similarly, can you create something without judging it? Because you have to start somewhere. Hemingway said, “Write drunk. Edit sober.” I think he probably meant that literally but I think of it as analogy. Start with something and then edit, refine and polish. Don’t try to sound like William Faulkner (no more than I would try to surf like Kelly Slater). Just try to sound like YOU.
If there’s one ritual of writing that’s helped you the most— whether it’s journal prompts, writing at the beach, having a tea while you write, making lists, free writing anything that comes to mind or anything else— what would that be? And, do you encourage people to start their own rituals?
Laura: Absolutely yes and yes and yes some more. Creating your own rituals is a creative act, as well. What feels good? Do you like structure or do you need a complete absence of rules? What encourages you to stick with journaling, keeps you committed to the process?
I honed my own practices based on what felt right. I tend to journal twice a day, once at night and again in the morning.
At night I use a list format. Get things out of my head and down on paper. Whatever I need to remember, whatever is churning around in my brain, I get it onto the page. It’s like laying down my burden so I can sleep better. I swear I get more nourishing rest by doing this regularly.
In the morning I do a free write. I started with just a few minutes and built it up to 10. I swapped out my iPhone for a small hourglass as a timer so it’s even more analog. I don’t even have my phone in the same room.
When I travel I like to write down moments from my day that I want to crystallize into memories. What I saw, what I ate, what I did, what I overheard, etc. It tends to help me hold on to moments and deepens my appreciation for my environment.
But these are merely suggestions, starting points. You can and should experiment, trying out different formats and seeing what supports your own process. The point of the whole thing is to do it regularly. As little as 5 minutes a day of writing longhand and you will reap the mental, emotional and physiological benefits of journaling.
Where can everyone find AllSwell and the list of what events are coming next?
Laura: We have a beautiful network of retailers (I personally approve all the stores where we’re sold), and you can buy AllSwell notebooks on our site.
To find out about upcoming workshops, trips and special events, sign up for our newsletter and follow us on social media. Some upcoming events…
August 16th: Montauk, NY
August 21st: Venice, CA
August 23rd: Orange County, CA
And of course, if you want to bring AllSwell to your community or business, please reach out. Always happy to explore how to make it happen!
Thank you so much Laura for all the wisdom you’ve shared! I’m so excited to fall in love even more deeply with my own journalling, too!
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