I believe that if you’re not keeping a journal, you’re doing it wrong. This statement is mainly directed at creative-type people (whether you’re a writer, visual artist, or whatever), but it can really go for everyone.
Journaling is great for self-analysis, helps get your mind working, and is just an overall amazing tool to keep you focused. In fact, my journal has become a cornerstone of sorts in my efforts to be healthier and happier. So, it’s not just for angsty teenagers, or “sensitive” adults trying to get in touch with their feelings.
Here, rather than write up some kind of abstract pitch as to why you should keep a journal, let me show you how I use mine. (The entries I’m sharing here have been narrowly-selected and lightly-edited.)
The Obligatory Early-Morning Entry
Every morning, as soon as I have enough coffee and nicotine in me to hold a pen, I crack open my journal and write. I start with the date and time, how I slept, and usually follow this with a gripe about my deteriorating body. After that, I write down any appointments or tasks which must be done that day, and round it out with whatever I want to do or should be doing.
Here’s an example:
4/14/17 – 6:20am
Slept like shit last night. This pinched nerve in my shoulder/back/whatever needs to chill. Whatever. Have an appointment at nine. Awesome. Need to get Alex off to school, hop in the shower, then see if I can get at least some work done on my novel. Need to be gone by like 8:40. Weather’s supposed to be good, though. Maybe I’ll just grab my camera and head downtown early.
Dunno. Sounds like a good idea, though. Sure. Okay. Shower, take off early, walk around downtown, then appointment. Get back around ten, grab something to eat, then depending on how I feel I’ll work on the novel for an hour then read. That’s a good enough plan for now. Time to get another cup of coffee and a smoke.
The hardest part of keeping a journal is actually keeping it. That’s true for everyone. So, planning out my day, every day, forces me to write something. If the only entry I manage to write is the date, time, and “Slept like shit. Got nothin’. Gonna watch Netflix,” then I consider it a success.
A first entry like this is also helps me organize my thoughts, and focus my energy in the most effective way I can. That bit above where I start out thinking I want to work on my novel, but decide I’d be better off shooting photos? You’ll find stuff like that cropping up in these entries all the time, and it’s one of the main reasons why you should keep a journal in the first place.
The Less-Obligatory (Though Still Helpful) “Check-In” Entries
As I go about my day, I go back to my journal and note how I’m doing, or jot down a thought or idea that seemed interesting.
Christ, that appointment sucked. No energy. Took a lot of photos and got some exercise walking around, but now I’m wiped. Don’t think I even have enough brain to read. Gonna make another pot of coffee, grab a smoke, then see how I feel.
These check-ins are usually much shorter than my first entry of the day, and follow the pattern of: what I did, what I’m going to do next, and why. This helps me re-focus, in light of any distractions, and that helps to keep my creative energy and inspiration flowing as the day goes on.
The Slightly-More-Obligatory End-of-Night Entry
I round out my daily journal habit with an end-of-night entry. It’s basically a recap, with a specific focus on what I did, not what I didn’t do. This is another reason why you should keep a journal: it gives you a place to review and celebrate your accomplishments–important stuff for staying positive, which can be hard sometimes…
Tired. Looking forward to curling up under my blanket. Hopefully I sleep better than I did last night. Today sucked, but I got some stuff done. A bunch of photos, a blog post. Took another walk. Exercise-wise I’m doing pretty good. Just so mentally drained, and I’m not sure I ever fully woke up today. Here’s hoping tomorrow will be better.
I rarely get everything done that I set out to do (especially when I have an appointment in the middle of the morning), but I almost always get something done and that’s what I write down.
And Finally, Some Tips!
Here’s a few tips which help me. Maybe they’ll help you.
- I use a physical journal and a pen. For journaling, I much prefer the feel of actual writing, as opposed to typing. Other people are totally the opposite. Try both and see which works.
- I don’t share my journal with anyone, nor do I intend to ever do so. It’s not that I’m writing state secrets, but I don’t want to feel like I’m writing for an audience–even subconsciously. I want every letter in my journal to be honest, so it’s off limits to everyone but me. (Hence the “narrowly-selected and lightly-edited” disclaimer at the beginning of this post.)
- Related to the above, I don’t take my journal out with me. It stays in my house. I could toss it in a bag and be reasonably sure I won’t lose it, but my brain’s not always reasonable about things like that.
- Also related to point number two–in fact, the whole point of that point–is that your journal should be a judgement-free zone. Not that you won’t use it to judge yourself (a journal is great place for self-critique) but that what you write in it doesn’t have to be profound or even good. My journal is full of hastily-made grammatical and spelling errors, as well as full-frontal nonsense. I once wrote a three-page rant on how terrible season eight of the television show Bones was. And a few entries before that? A paragraph on how I should eat fewer onions because of how much they make me fart. We’re not trying for a Pulitzer, here.
- Ultimately, there are only two rules: write at least one entry every day, and what you write should be honest. It doesn’t matter if you follow my format or not (though I do think it’s a good place to start), it doesn’t matter if you begin with “Dear Diary,” or if only manage to write “Don’t feel like journaling today,” three days running. Just write something, each day, and make sure it’s the truth.
Now go forth and journal.