3 Reasons Why You Need to Start Documenting NOW

Emily Mills
Oct 25, 2016 · 3 min read

This post originally appeared on emily.carlton.com. Subscribe for updates.

No matter where you are in your illustration journey, it’s important that you start documenting everything you do NOW. I recommend having a “struggle journal.” This could be a notebook, evernote notebook, word doc, or whatever works for you.

You have struggles. There are things you don’t know, concepts you have a hard time understanding, ideas you haven’t thought through yet, and techniques you haven’t mastered. Struggling through things is perfectly normal, and you need to learn to be ok with not knowing everything. Having an open mind that is focused on learning is all you need.

What do I document?

Every week, write a journal entry outlining 1) your struggles and 2) things you want to learn. This can be personal, professional or both. I recommend both personal AND professional because you’re a whole person and the lines between personal and professional knowledge can be blurry.

3 Reasons Why You Need to Start Documenting NOW

1) Documenting helps you become more self aware.

Learning about yourself is extrememly valuable. Discovering how you see things, how you react, what you feel, where those feelings come from, what you enjoy, what you dislike, what you get stuck on… all of this is information you can use to become a better person and a better artist!

Having a reference of everything you struggle with helps you identify patterns and see progress.

2) Documenting helps you see how far you’ve come.

The funny thing about learning is that once you learn something, you can’t remember what it was like to NOT know it. Scientifically it makes sense- a new neural pathway has been formed that did not exisit before!

Perfectionists often have a hard time with thoughts like “Argh! I should be better at X by now!” or “I am so terrible at X!” but in reality, you’ve taken numerous tiny steps forward to get where you are, and those small steps are not insignificant.Progress is rarely made in large leaps. Documenting your struggles and what you’re learning will help you see how far you’ve come, because it’s easy to forget about those small steps forward. You can flip back to the very beginning and see all of the things you struggled with and all the progress you’ve made since then. You’ve probably accomplished a lot without realizing it, and documenting will help you see that progress. Give yourself a break!

3) Documenting helps you teach

You need to document your struggles now because you WILL forget what it feels like to not know something.

They first step of teaching is being able to communicate what you know, and that van be really difficult! You might not know where to start because you don’t realize or remember what it is like to NOT know what you know now. Maybe you’ve known it for so long that you don’t know how to teach from the beginning, or where the beginning even is! This is where your struggle journal comes into play. You’ll be able to look back and see your own learning process, identify patterns, and relate to your audience who is in the same place you used to be. Teaching is all about going back to the beginning of a journey and guiding someone along the way, helping them avoid wrong turns and hazards.

You might not feel like an expert now, but you ARE to someone who knows less than you do. When you teach, you need to know what it’s like to be at the bottom. How can you relate to your audience or your students if you don’t know what they’re going through?

Start today! Begin documenting your struggles and what you want to learn. Your future self (and anyone you teach) will thank you.


  • Document 1) your struggles and 2) things you want to learn
  • Start today! Keep a weekly log.
  • Don’t give this up! Your future self will thank you.

This post originally appeared on emily.carlton.com. Subscribe for updates.

Emily Mills

Written by

Freelance illustrator and designer based in Nashville, TN. I teach sketchnoting online at SketchnoteAcademy.com.

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