Friday, September 28, 2012

8 Lessons Learned: Journaling Edition

I have no business telling people how to journal and feel good about journaling. I have never been totally happy with the way I keep or don't keep a personal journal. But I've recognized and responded to a few issues I have with journaling--namely, what keeps me from using them regularly and what keeps me from liking what's in there. Instead of offering some really neat tips on keeping a personal journal, I'm going to share with you my real mistakes and discomforts about journaling and what sometimes helps get around them. Deal?

1. Don't buy a fancy journal*. Plain, simple notebooks give you permission to write plain, simple things. You can get a notebook in a nice color or something that's more durable, but don't get something that screams, "I'm a journal! Full of adventures and deep thoughts!" Plus, plain-looking journals give you the opportunity to decorate them over time with artwork (or not). I once bought a journal that had a crinkled velvet cover. Super fancy. And I only ever wrote about crushes I had on boys. Needless to say, it's history now.

2. Don't make yourself write every day unless you really want to. I used to find it therapeutic to write at the end of the day, and that's better than looking at a TV or computer screen until you fall asleep, but don't pressure yourself to have a daily regimen. Don't worry if you leave your journal sitting around for ages and then you come back to it with a whole different mindset. Your journal doesn't care about continuity.**

3. Don't just write about your everyday life. "Someday, I might want to look back and read about what I had for breakfast," said no one ever. Going back to the problem with a daily regimen, if you write daily about what you do daily, you'll get bored and your writing therefore will also get boring.
  • If you're using your journal to record your daily life for posterity, then try writing in it weekly instead of daily. You'll remember the important parts and you can skip the what-you-ate-for-breakfast part.
  • If you're writing daily to explore thoughts and develop creativity, then have a reason to write: use prompts or some kind of structure. 
4. Don't write aimlessly--have a plan or a goal for your journal. As always, you should be flexible with this and allow yourself to change and grow, but it can be helpful to say, "This is where I'll write down this kind of thing."

5. Don't write on the first page of your journal. I swear, this was such a relief to me. I always felt like the first page, especially in a Fancy Journal, needed to set the tone for the entire journal. It was like I needed to justify my journal purchase and tell the world why the following words needed to be written. Am I the only one who thinks like this? So, in my recent journal (which is still very much neglected), I just left the first page blank and started on the second. No preface necessary. One day, I might do something fun with that first page. Or not. Feel free to apply this rule to the last page also.

6. Lined or unlined? I can't write straight to save my life (I also can't cut paper in straight lines either). So, lined, right? But I like the idea of writing sideways, in huge letters, or diagonally or even drawing something. So, unlined? I told you about the bookstore in Santa Cruz that had the best journal ever, and it has both lined and unlined. That seems like a good compromise if you can find one or make one. Otherwise, I'd say: Lined if you plan to only write, unlined if you want to explore other media.

7. Don't feel the need to hang on to journals. If you end up hating what you've written and the journal only serves to make you feel embarrassed, give yourself permission to let it go. See: Don't buy a fancy journal.

8. Disregard everything I've just said if you've figured out better journaling habits for yourself. What do I know? I'm just a lousy journal-writer who has exactly zero filled journals in her possession. But I hope I've let some of you off the hook and inspired you to keep writing even if it sometimes feels like a failure.

*I'm in favor of physical journals over digital. I believe that computers are great tools for some things and your hands are great tools for others. You will write differently whether you use a keyboard or a pen, and since there's no lack of computer writing in our lives, it's a good idea to explore a different medium.

**In the film 1,000 Journals, which inspired me to write this post, someone held onto one of the journals from the project for a long time. She felt really bad about that, but she just couldn't figure out what to put in there. Eventually, she wrote an apology letter to the journal as her contribution. I thought that was lovely.

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