Jessie is back! Hooray! A couple weeks ago she gave us some tips on choosing a journal and today she’s picking up right where she left off. Now that you have a journal, you should write in it. Thanks for the pointers, Jess.
first, let’s clear the air. sometimes the thought of writing in a journal can be incredibly intimidating. what if your mom finds it underneath the mattress? what if your posterity find it and laugh at your handwriting or spelling or deepest thoughts and desires? what if your writing sounds a little bit inane? what if your journal isn’t entertaining or awesome or interesting? or worse, what if an english major finds it and corrects all your errors with a red pen?
i’ll tell you a little secret: your journal isn’t for anybody but you. unlike a blog or email or facebook or the myriad ways we communicate with others through text, a journal is just for you. it’s not being printed. no one will pull up one of your entries on a google search. look at it this way, if the idea of actually writing something makes you nervous, just take a minute and ask yourself how many times a day you email or text or blog. you’re already a writer. you’re already comfortable with words as a medium of expression. (you talk to people, right? you call your mom or your sister or your best friend, right?) writing in a journal is just your chance to communicate with yourself. and feel free to communicate any way you want.
a journal is a place where you can’t be wrong. there aren’t any false moves. there’s no such thing as a sentence or word or phrase that you shouldn’t write. with that in mind, i’m going to give you a few guidelines. but that’s all they are. any way that you find to write in a journal that makes you happy is a good way.
1. be specific
it’s much more important to include specific information than lots of information. (just a few lines is all it takes!) let’s take a look at a couple of examples.
here’s a journal entry from a fictional person. let’s call her jessie.
“today was rough. i think my head is going to explode.”
okay. jessie. nice try! i’m glad that you’re writing. but let’s see what would happen if jessie took a few extra seconds to make her entry more specific.
“henry threw a tantrum for 45 minutes in the parking lot of family housing. the baby is getting her front teeth. i have a headache—maybe a sinus infection. probably from the canned air on the flight to houston. i don’t have any milk in the fridge.”
do you see the difference? in the first entry, all we know is that the day was “rough”, but we don’t know why. in the second entry, jessie never uses the word “rough” but it’s pretty obvious that she didn’t have the awesomest day ever. if you find yourself writing general phrases like, “today was great” or “i’m exhausted” or “i can’t take it anymore” or “i’m happier than i’ve ever been”, make sure that you stop and ask yourself why this general statement is true. try to include specifics. this will make your journal more interesting, but more importantly, it will make the journal more of a treasure for yourself. details are the kinds of things that melt away over the years. (fictional jessie really hopes that the tantrum from this morning will melt away.)
2. be honest
there’s no reason to candy coat things in a journal. even if you imagine hundreds of your great-great-great-grandchildren holding your journal in their hands and reading it, there’s no reason to make life sound easier than it really was. call me crazy, but i don’t think it helps anyone to pretend that you didn’t have challenges and confusions and distresses. be honest. lay them out. work through them in your journal. it will help you the next time you face something difficult to remember how you climbed the last mountain. but, remember balance. don’t write in your journal only on the days when you’re so frustrated you feel like skinning squirrels. it’s just as important to be honest about joy. it’s important to remind yourself of those moments when joy is so real you can taste it and feel it and wrap it around yourself. let your journal be true about the good and the bad.
3. be consistent
pick a writing schedule that works for you and stick to it. writing at the same time whether it be nightly or weekly or monthly will get you into a rhythm of writing and it will help you measure your growth. i like to write every night after i pray. (for those who aren’t particularly religious, consider my moment of prayer meditation time.) i find that writing after i’ve taken a few minutes to discuss my day with God, i get little shreds of inspiration and picking up my pen helps me work through the day, remember what i’ve felt that would make the day better tomorrow, and spend a little time in gratitude (and solitude). my husband knows not to interrupt this moment of reflection. take out your calendar or your date book or your tiny electronic whatever and pick a time to write and stick to it. it will change your life.
4. be yourself
obviously, what works for me won’t necessarily work for you. you need to find a way to keep a journal that speaks to your soul, that opens a space inside you for mediation and reflection. if this means keeping your grocery list, don’t hold back. if this means sketching or pressing leaves or reams of poetry, let yourself go. if it means you doodle and write upside down and let your two year old go to it with a crayon, don’t worry. this is your space. and no matter what happens inside that little book, it’s going to mean a lot to you someday. trust me.