My most valuable possessions cost an average of $6. And at the time of purchase, they usually feel a bit overpriced. But I buy them anyways, because I know what they will become. My journals start out as any other notebook, but accumulate their worth as I pour my thoughts onto their pages, store ideas and secrets within their binding, and piece together my emotions into meaning.
I didn’t intend to start a mini library of my life. I never intended to write for any audience other than myself. I simply started writing. And the only reason I allowed myself to write, was under the pretense that no one else would ever read it. But now, years later, I can honestly say that I became the person I am because I started writing.
Most of what I know about the world I learned through writing. Most of what I know about myself I learned through writing. And most of my ideas and the plans that made those ideas a reality began when I was sitting with a notebook and my thoughts. But the process of writing; of turning my thoughts into words and subsequently – sometimes – into meaning helped me (slowly) make sense of myself and my dreams.
There is something about the process of writing, of picking up a pen and organizing the thoughts in your head, of distancing yourself from the internal dialogue that otherwise exists only inside your head. You gain new perspective. You can focus on finding the roots of what your thinking and feeling. You can see new meaning and new opportunity.
I am a huge advocate for journaling/writing/reflecting. I include journaling in every class I teach. I am always encouraging my friends to “write it out”. It parallels creativity in my list of important skills to develop. For me, it was the foundation for developing metacognitive skills. And like I said, my journals are arguably my most valuable possessions. So with that, here are three common questions about this mysterious habit of “journaling”.
Journaling… Is That Like Keeping a Diary?
I get that you don’t want a diary. I wouldn’t admit to that either. And that’s only one specific type of journaling. When I talk about journaling, I’m talking about taking the things in your head and putting them on paper for future reference. There is plenty to write about outside of your feelings (scary subject, I know.) You can journal notes on a book you just read. You can journal about your plans for the future. You can make a list of things that have been influencing you lately (music, movies, current issues or news, classes, conversations, etc.) But also don’t completely ignore those bigger, personal questions like figuring out what you are living for, what your fundamental needs are and what you believe in…
What does Journaling Look Like?
My journaling habits are always morphing. I prefer pen and paper, but if I’m getting picky I like editing my thoughts on a computer. I used to stick to the lines, to one color, to very linear thoughts. Now I prefer unlined, blank pages. I use color and different “font” sizes. Sometimes I make a list of thoughts or ideas. Sometimes I just keep trying to say the same thing in different ways to get it right.
My journaling habits are fairly sporadic. Sometimes I’ll write multiple times a week, sometimes I’ll go weeks without opening my journal. Sometimes I’ll just throw words on paper really quickly. Sometimes it’ll take me an hour just to even really start writing. Sometimes I filter my thoughts, other times they just fall onto the page.
What Am I Supposed to Journal About?
You might think of 5 words/phrases to document your day. Or pick a recent event/article/podcast and create notes about that. Right about things or people that inspire you. Write about the future or the past or some alternate reality where you have a super power.
Turns out other people have plenty of suggestions too… Google “journaling prompts” and voila, endless ideas. But even when you don’t think you do, often there is something below the surface to write about. A small “insignificant” memory from the day before. A silly story. A list of “Reasons Why ___” or “Advice for _____”. Sometimes you just need to sit down and start writing. Aimlessly. About anything. Keep writing until you strike something that intrigues you. Julia Cameron presents this concept well in The Artist’s Way, she calls them Morning Pages.