Putting Pen To Paper With Laura Rubin
It might seem counterintuitive, but feeling stuck in your life is a means for more creativity. Creativity can help propel you forward to get the outcome you truly desire, whether it be in your career, relationships, or personal life.
We spoke about this topic with Laura Rubin, a journaling expert, creative coach, and the founder of AllSwell, a company dedicated to fostering analog expressions of creativity to support mental well-being. As a published journalist and editor, Laura recognized the power the writing process provides when applied to the self. She initially launched AllSwell with a series of blank write-draw notebooks as an antidote to digital overwhelm. From media companies to consumer brands, Laura now leads workshops and provides coaching to help organizations and individuals become healthier, happier, and essentially become “unstuck.”
Laura’s creativity journaling workshops have been called “life-changing” and are sought out by organizations such as Violet Grey, The Proper Hotel, Soho House, Goop, Design Hotels, Alo, and Athleta, among others. AllSwell has been praised in the media by publications such as Forbes, Doré, Elle Decor, and many more.
Here, she shares why creativity is important for your personal and professional toolkit, how to get over creative blocks, and why you should roll right through and keep writing.
Tell us about your career trajectory and how you found the inspiration to start AllSwell.
I started AllSwell nearly a decade ago, in part because of the stigma associated with journaling. Personally, I knew how much it had given me across multiple areas of my life - professional, physical, financial, interpersonal, etc. Despite the significant range of scientifically proven mental, emotional, and even physiological benefits journaling provides, it was generally regarded as a tool for angsty teens and overwrought poets. I wanted to elevate it, invite more people to the page, make that process feel safe and enjoyable, maximize results, and ultimately show them the way home to their own wisdom.
To be clear, I started this endeavor as a passion project. I had a rewarding career at the time and didn’t expect things to take off to such a degree. Eventually, as market interest and demand grew, I had a choice to make. I picked the less conventional path because it felt like the bigger adventure and I haven’t been sorry.
What does AllSwell offer and who would benefit from these types of workshops?
I lead journaling workshops (both in-person and in digital settings, such as the upcoming MOJO Series), offer 1:1 creative coaching sessions, host retreats, and have a range of analog products to help support the pen-to-paper process. I also work with brands, helping them tell their story through the mediums of mindful writing experiences and editorial content.
Most people think there are only 1 or 2 ways to journal, but there are so many ways to use these basic tools to increase the quality of your experience. I can’t think of anyone that wouldn’t benefit from journaling to lead an authentic, purposeful life.
Why is creativity and finding our voice so important in life and in business?
We are all saddled with so much external programming - cultural, geographical, familial, gender, religious, class, etc. That can show up as what we think we’re meant to do, what success looks like, or what is “good” for us. Some of that programming might be well-intended, but if you haven’t consciously chosen it for yourself, then it’s an internalized third-party expectation.
Once you peel back all those layers, what remains? You. Your true self. And it’s from there that you can build a life that is rich with meaning and rewarding on the deepest levels. A “hell, yeah” kind of life.
In the business context, we need creativity in order to ideate, problem-solve, build coalitions, tell brand stories and effectively manage organizations. It’s a key ingredient in professional success, regardless of the industry. If you want to operate at the highest level, you’re going to need creativity in your toolkit.
How would you describe a creative block, and what are some ways we can fight this?
A block is usually made out of some form of fear, which manifests as a lack of permission you aren’t willing to give yourself. Identify what’s holding you back and what you’re afraid of. Naming the “big bad wolf” often helps a great deal, particularly because the fears aren’t usually likely or rational.
Often it’s the internal critical voice that’s stopping you, and we all have one. Your ego believes the critical voice is protecting you from making terrible errors, but in truth, it’s kind of a jerk. If we met our critical voice at a party, we’d try to stealthily get away from them as quickly as possible because they’re a buzzkill: hugely negative and a whole lot of no fun. So when you hear your critical voice show up, recognize it - “Oh, there’s that jerk from the party” - and keep going. Instead, let’s make some stuff and see what it looks like.
What are some of your top tips to access our own innate creativity if we haven’t found it yet?
I have boatloads of tips and hacks, but no surprise, I suggest you start with a notebook and a pen. Give yourself some space to meet your voice on the page. If you don’t know where to begin, if a blank page gives you the heebie-jeebies, let’s lower the bar. Remind yourself that you don’t need to sound like Joan Didion. Journals aren’t intended to be read by a third party, and you’re not getting graded on its contents. This space is just for you.
My prescription is what I call 4x4x4 - journal for 4 minutes, do it 4 times a week, and stick with it for 4 consecutive weeks. Meet yourself on the page. See what shows up. You’re building muscle memory and providing yourself with the room for your own innate wisdom to float to the surface (trust me, you have plenty of it). If that 4-minute mark arrives and you have more to say, don’t stop. Roll right through and keep writing.
How can journaling and putting pen to paper help with our mental wellness?
Journaling helps curb depression, boost mood, reduce anxiety, and even lessen PTSD. In our current time of widespread emotional turmoil, it’s particularly important to share the good word about this hugely accessible tool. You don’t need an appointment to journal, there’s no co-pay, it’s available 24/7, and no expensive equipment is necessary. Just paper and a pen.
If you want pointers on how to get the most out of your mindful writing practice, you can join one of my workshops, treat yourself to an AllSwell deck of journaling prompts, or reach out for a 1:1 session with me. Alternatively, you can also follow @allswellcreative and sign up for our newsletter (at www.allswellcreative.com), both of which are completely free and regularly packed with tips and journaling exercises.
What are some of your personal daily rituals that help you with self-expression and self-examination?
As you can imagine, I prioritize my own creativity. If that fire goes out, I won’t have much to give to my community. So I’ve honed in on a bunch of activities that support my creative wellness, including:
- Be curious. Learn something new. I try to pay attention to what speaks to me and follow the thread even if it isn’t directly related to productivity. Nothing learned is wasted.
- I generally journal twice a day - once in the morning and again at night in bed. It sounds like a lot, but some sessions are really brief, just a few minutes. For me, it’s more about consistency - giving myself the platform to see what shows up.
- Kinetic activity is healthy not just for the body; it’s also helpful with the creative process. I regularly move my bod - ideally outdoors - otherwise, I’m not a very good version of myself. As much as I love to dive into a warren of research, if I’m parked at a desk all day long, I get stale.
- Looking inwards isn’t enough; I need grist for the mill. Julia Cameron recommends having artist dates with yourself. I love and abide by this concept. I go see art, seek out new music, cruise bookstores, read articles from disparate sources and viewpoints, watch films, listen to an eclectic range of podcasts, and more. Input leads to output.