September 3, 2013

On Journaling

I've been journaling since I was 13. Over the last ten years, I've filled up six journals of varying thickness and with varying consistency. Or rather, startlingly regular inconsistency. I'll start, write every day for about two weeks and then forget about the journal for two months.

Still, even though my consistency leaves much to be desired (yet one more point for blogging: there is that slight pressure to keep writing) when I do journal I reap wonderful benefit. Really, I count as journalling any time you put pen to paper to help sort out the tangle of your mental confusion. Thus, your journal need not be concentrated in one book (though it is convenient). I probably have three times the amount of writing found in my bound journals spread out over moleskins, school note books, random scraps of paper, backs of receipts.

But I really think the value of journaling is less in having a perfect record of your past years and more for the insight it allows the workings of your mind. My mind scatters and scrambles and flits from point to point like a berserk butterfly. I can't sit down and really think through an issue. But when a pen is forcing me to focus my thoughts, I can reach much deeper levels of comprehension because I don't get distracted by my nails, or what I'll wear tomorrow, or how so-and-so brushed me off, etc. Conclusions I couldn't have reached on my own can be found in journaling. And, if you're more consistent than me, trends longer than the memory can hold can be found. Reading back through past entries over the years, I realized that there was a certain two week period in the fall when I felt horribly down, depressed and exhausted. Now, rather than assuming this was because of classes or relationships, I know that it is just something that happens.

In short, you should journal. Journaling is good. Allows yourself insight. Lets you vent some emotion on paper. Gives you a record to look back on. And here are some tips I've found for journaling:

~ Don't assume that you need an hour. You can get through a lot in ten minutes- or even five. Take a bit each night before bed if you can.

~ Don't write for an audience. Swear. Say bad things about other people. Give vent for your true feelings. Don't worry about your future self reading it or how it will look to historians. This is about you. Right now.

~ Write what is on your mind and in your heart right then. Too often I feel compelled to catch myself up to how I'm feeling and spend a page describing all the past events. When I finally do get to the point I really want to journal, I'm bored of it. So skip the context and the pretext- just write what is on your mind.

~ Journal dreams when you wake up. They are great to analyze later.

~ Make references to conversations you had with other people. You can chart friendships or relationships and it's great to see the first time you mentioned someone and your initial reactions.

~ Make sure you like the medium you're writing with and what you're writing on. I need a broad expanse of page and if my pen skips it annoys me to pieces.

Do you journal? What tips or guidelines do you follow?


  1. I have journaled at various times during my childhood and youth but always in very short bursts. I hate putting pen to paper and write, it is too frustratingly slow. Even writing on a computer feels too slow to caprture my thought processes... When I slow my thinking down to put it on paper it feels false, constructed, not from the heart... I wish there was a way for the words I think in my head to be automatically printed on paper when I so choose. Oh well, I usually manage anyway, I'm good at focusing my thoughts without pen and paper. I write a lot in my mind, I kind of put an imaginary pen to work. It is not frustrating for me and it get's the job done, gives me the focus necessary, in the short term. I won't remember these jounal entries or letters that I write in my mind for very long though.

    That said, I do journal my dreams at times and I find that very enlightening! I'm also trying right now to keep a perfume journal (my interest in perfume is well on it's way towards obsession status), we'll see how that goes. I love my little perfume notebooks, ancient looking, imitating old gilded leather... I also love to use erasable ballpoint pens. Being able to erase something written with ink is a miracle!

    1. If you can focus your thoughts and writing in your mind, that is really good. I sympathize with the slow pace of pen and paper, but sometimes the lag allows me to create new thoughts and connections. If it ever gets too bad, I'll retreat to bullet points and hope to fill them in later. Though I only rarely go back to look through old entries, so not remembering them might not be such a problem.

      Those perfume journals sound lovely!

  2. I'm a fan of pasting things in. Movie tickets, feathers, stickers, that sort of thing. I'll also use markers to write to help reflect how I feel about things.

    It helps both the need to have artistic expression and when my fingers won't hold a pen that day. Markers can be easier.

    I agree with your guidelines. Journals are for the person writing them. Though I'll admit I have fantasies of being famous with posthumous journals published. :)

    1. Hahahaha. Yes. For about a week there,I wanted my journals to be used by historians of the future so I tried to write as much about current events as I could. Then I grew bored and went back to normal writing.

  3. I often stumble upon my old journals and old napkin scribblings and am either extremely embarrassed of myself or extremely impressed. I never view the "current me" as the same person, in any sense, as the "past me" that wrote the journals. They are all different women, foreign to me, and intriguing.

    1. Yep. That's pretty much the exact same duality of reactions I have. Either I am like "Oh my gods- was I a good writer or what! Look at this phrasing- these ideas! Look how clever my little self was!" or else it's "Oh dear god, why would I ever say or think that. I am so glad I've moved on with my life."

      It's funny to think in ten years, we'll be able to go back through our blogs and wonder what the heck we (or they) were talking about and why we (or they) thought that was publishable. (I feel both emotions for some of my earlier blog posts....)