Tuesday Tutorials : Debbie Hodge : Expressing The Inexpressible


This week Tuesday Tutorials welcomes Debbie Hodge with 5 ideas for journaling tougher subjects or those that you find more challenging to articulate. 

Below you will find an extended excerpt of Lesson #5: Expressing The Inexpressible from Debbie's self-paced online class called Be Real. You can download the full version of the lesson, including her full journaling text here: Expressing The Inexpressible PDF. The entire workshop (six lessons) are available as a self-paced class for purchase on Debbie's site: Be Real.

Here's Debbie:


This is about getting those feelings that are hard to articulate in words onto the scrapbook page. Do you ever have a moment when you stop -- when you almost understand something or you have a fleeting idea but it’s gone in a second? You have a feeling it’s meaningful--but you need to pursue it farther to know. How do you stop and figure out and express thoughts that you can barely grab on to let alone explain in a clear cut way? Read on and try the following ideas.


1. Explore Fuzzy Notions

When you have one of those "gasps" -- one of those moments in which you feel you’re understanding something new or maybe only almost understanding it, follow that impulse with pen and paper. You probably won’t be able to write through it at that moment, but make a note to yourself of what was going on and what your "fuzzy notion" is. You may not even realize you have a fuzzy notion you want to pursue until it’s tapped at your consciousness a couple of times. That’s what happened to me when I had the original seed for "Seeing Me With You." I would see attractive mothers with their children -- looking like ideal, pretty, competent, lovely mothers. Then I would think: Oh my goodness! Imagine how I must look! And then I thought: How do I look? And, what’s more, I thought: How am I doing as a mom? And finally: Why haven’t I made this more important? What am I missing out on?

When you do have time to write -- just start writing. Don’t censor yourself. Don’t worry about where it’s going. When you get thought after thought after thought onto the page, you can get to bigger understandings in a way that’s not so easy to accomplish in your mind. You’ve got a written trail to follow.

How I explored a fuzzy notion in "Seeing Me With You:" 

JOURNALING: The initial writing I did around these thoughts was messy and much longer. Most of the time, I write on the computer because it’s faster for me and I can easily pick out the parts I want to save for the final journaling. You should choose the best method for yourself--perhaps pen and paper. Understand that you’ll revise after you’ve followed what might be a long path to your final comprehension. 

PHOTOS: I used the photo browser on my computer to look through photos and pull up a few (spanning several years) of myself with my boys. I wanted to show and see in print the thing I’d been writing about: how do I look in my role of mother. 

DESIGN: I used patterned paper with images of childhood to support my theme.


2. Tell It Slant

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant---

Success in Circuit lies

Too bright for our infirm Delight

The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightening to the Children eased

With explanation kindT

he Truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind---

Emily Dickinson

Pay attention to the first two lines and last two lines of Emily Dickinson’s poem "Tell all the Truth but tell it slant" shown here. Think about how you can apply this to telling your truths on the scrapbook page. Consider coming at one of your inexpressible feelings from an angle other than straight on. Consider the impact on the reader/viewer when they comprehend your intent from a gathering of images and words that are not obvious representations of your message. 

When you’re “telling it slant” think about all you have at your disposal for creating a page including images,
photos, colors, words, and design.

How I "told it slant" in "10 Years Past:" 

EMBELLISHMENTS:. The embellishments on this page include images of growth and change: a measure, trees, the words “grow and learn,” and an image on patterned paper of an adult man with a boy that echoes the older and younger boys in my photos. 

PHOTO: Tree stickers are placed right on the photo as if they were a part of the woods. 

JOURNALING: It’s not long or necessarily clear, but it makes sense to me and triggers the feeling I’m after.

TITLE: The title, which not a clear descriptor but rather a phrase open to interpretation, sits at yet another angle to the journaling and images on the page.


3. Accept Complexity

When you’re scrapbooking and journaling feelings you’re not able to clearly express, it will not be all clean and clear and tidy. This is not like writing an essay in which you lay out your arguments and then sum them up in an easy way. Everyone doesn’t have to "get" everything all the time. Think about the song lyrics that fans contemplate and try to interpret. When asked about the meaning of the lyrics in "American Pie," Don McLean said, "You will find many 'interpretations' of my lyrics but none of them by me...sorry to leave you all on your own like this but long ago I realized that songwriters should make their statements and move on, maintaining a dignified silence." 

If you like the page and it "means" to you, then accept it as a record of what it is to be you.

How I accepted complexity in "Been There:" 

JOURNALING: This journaling is written as if to my nieces, yet there’s no formal greeting or closing to the letter. I’m not sure it’s even really to them -- but rather the feeling I was trying to express had to do with what I might tell them.
The journaling rambles in an almost stream-of-consciousness style, moving from my childhood quickly through to today and how the land was a part of me on either end of that life so far.
Basically, it’s not tidy. 

TITLE: Because the journaling and my message are a little muddy, I used a more straightforward title that tells you how I feel about the subject. 

PHOTOS: I used the photo of my nieces that was the trigger for these thoughts alongside photos of the land that’s at the core of this page’s meaning.


4. Springboard From The Ordinary

I have said this in almost every one of the lessons for this class, but I’ll do it one more time. When you begin with the ordinary, concrete details surrounding the experience you’re trying to express, you are on your way to understanding more.
The short story writer Alice Munro is known for her ability to "say the unsayable" in her stories, and in “Lives of Girls and Women,” her character Del is a writer and says of her writing, "What I wanted was every last thing, every layer of speech and thought, stroke of light on bark or walls, every smell, pothole, pain, crack, delusion, held still and held together— radiant, everlasting." 

I love that idea of "radiant and everylasting."

How I used ordinary details in "Fortunate:" 

PHOTOS & JOURNALING: I collected photos of my husband and son together from three different times and I wrote the ordinary details of each of those times.
These three instances are my evidence that let me add that final journaling that sits at bottom right on a tag. This is where I sum up my understanding of the fuzzy notion I began with. 

TITLE: There is summation and judgment in this title. You are cued from the beginning that this is a happy story. 

DESIGN: The colors and motifs here all add to the sense of good fortune and happiness.


5. Use A Central Metaphor

Photograph (or find an image of) the trigger for your moment of insight. Put it on the page, and use it as a metaphor for a key part of your story. It was a neighbor’s-shed-turned-hunting-blind that triggered the thoughts I journaled on "Unexpected Destination."

How I used an item in a photo as a metaphor for the feeling I was trying to express in "Unexpected Destination:" 

PHOTOS: I am using a shed’s unexpected final destination as a metaphor for my own landing spot in life at this point. I included a photo of the shed alongside photos that show me and represent the important parts of my life right now: family, housework, writing, my book. 

JOURNALING: I begin with the story of the shed and then clearly connect that to my thoughts of how my life might relate to that of the shed. 

TITLE: The title is the metaphor that I’m working with on the page--and it comes from one of the last lines of the journaling.

Trigger For Exploring Fuzzy Thoughts

For the next week or several days:

  1. Carry a pencil and bit of paper or pad OR a small recording device with you. Make it a point to jot down notes whenever you have a thought--something that pricks at your feelings but that you don’t totally understand--that you’d like to pursue. (If you like doing this, you can continue it indefinitely). 

  2. Every night, put the thoughts on individual slips of paper and put them in a jar or bowl. 

  3. Pay attention to your days and figure out when would be a good time to work in a daily 10 minutes of writing. 

After several days, set aside 10 minutes per day to free-write from these slips:

  1. Use a journal that you can keep all of these writings in.

  2. Draw out a slip of paper.

  3. Copy what you wrote on the slip of paper at the top of your page and then for ten minutes: don’t stop writing; don’t censor yourself; don’t plan; don’t worry about grammar or punctuation.

Use these writings to spur scrapbook or art journal pages. How you do this will depend upon you. You might find you want to scrap or journal a subject immediately. You might find you want to leave your writings unread for several days or longer. However you use these writings, know that if you do them, you’ll have an unending source of satisfying personal subjects to scrapbook.

Download this lesson, along with the journaling text for each of Debbie's pages here: Expressing The Inexpressible PDF


Debbie300x400 Debbie Hodge is the author of Get It Scrapped! and Embellishing with Alphas. At her online scrapbooking website you can find resources for memory keeping that include beginning scrapbooking tutorials, page sketches, challenges, and online classes for paper and digital scrapbooking, art journaling, and photography. This Tuesday Tutorial is an excerpt from “Be Real,” a class by Debbie that focuses on making scrapbook pages from your everyday life and events photos that go beneath the surface and include deeper meaning.

Related Posts

Sign in or sign up to comment.

22 thoughts

  1. Donna VW says…

    Journaling is my weakest part of scrapbooking. Thanks for all the great ideas and encouragement.

    Reply 0 Replies
  2. christen says…

    these are amazing pages & ideas...thanks for sharing them.

    Reply 0 Replies
  3. Ann S says…

    OK. I have no excuse! I need to sit down and start writing. The Dickensen quote is great too. I need to start somewhere, sometime. Why not right now!

    Reply 0 Replies
  4. Mariangeles_Spain says…

    I followed that class :)
    Love it!

    Reply 0 Replies
  5. Linn says…

    Thank you, Debbie...journaling, to me, is the most important part of scrapbooking. Sometimes it's easy to just write the basics but it's the deeper stories that will be treasured someday.

    Reply 0 Replies
  6. Ashleigh says…

    I try to include journaling on most of my pages but it is definitely harder to get the more nebulous emotions down. Thanks for all of the advice. I'll definitely be checking out more info about your class.

    Reply 0 Replies
  7. Kim B says…

    Ok Ms Edwards you are costing me way too much money.. LOL..Yet another fine post & website link with some terrific classes to take.. I signed up for Shimelle's Christmas class so will have to wait a bit but I am so going to check them out soon!
    I Love your blog posts!

    Reply 0 Replies
  8. Kathy Floen says…

    WOW! :) I loved this TT. :) Thanks Debbie and ALi! :) Beautiful way to think about things...gotta remember to have a notebook nearby at ALL TIMES! :)

    Reply 0 Replies
  9. joni possin says…

    A small notebook is going into my purse at this very moment! I need to jot down some of my crazy thoughts that come for my crazy... but wonderful... life!
    Thank you Ali and Debbie for a great tutorial!!!
    joni possin

    Reply 0 Replies
  10. Gale says…

    As always, a another wonderful Tuesday!

    Reply 0 Replies
  11. cindy b. says…

    AWESOME tutorial. My favorite - hands down!! Now I gotta get that class!!! ;-)

    Reply 0 Replies
  12. Nicky from Canada says…

    Thanks Ali - great tutorial

    Reply 0 Replies
  13. MaMay says…

    I think this is the best aspect of scrapbooking. It's cathartic... And also, I don't want to bore my future grandchildren with page after page of happy, happy, wonderful, wonderful. Life is a mix of emotions...our scrapbooks should reflect that. Thanks Debbie and Ali.

    Reply 0 Replies
  14. Carole Hepburn says…


    Reply 0 Replies
  15. Melissa Mann says…

    great ideas! thanks for sharing!

    Reply 0 Replies
  16. tape says…

    Thank you, this is awesome!

    Reply 0 Replies
  17. Elise says…

    I love to journal--the easy part of scrapping for me, but this is a great Tutorial. Thanks for the pdf and for the awesome springboards into future journaling!

    Reply 0 Replies
  18. Jo says…

    Wow, this is fabulous! Thanks for another inspiraing Tuesday tutorial, Jo x

    Reply 0 Replies
  19. Melanie S. says…

    Yah Debbie! What an honor to be featured on Ali's website! I'm so excited for you!
    You know I love your work and learned so much from you!

    Reply 0 Replies
  20. Kristine S says…

    This is probably my favorite tutorial. Thanks.

    Reply 0 Replies
  21. Sarah says…

    I love Debbies classes. Always inspiring and very creative! Thanks for the tut!

    Reply 0 Replies
  22. Kathleen D says…

    Great notes Debbie. It spurred me to stop and get a thought down on paper that had been mulling around in my brain during the day. I love how you talk about "fuzzy thoughts" because that's what mine were and still are on paper. But I know it will get clearer when I got back and reread it in a day or two.

    Reply 0 Replies

Sign in or sign up to comment.