I’ve never been one of those “professional journalers.” You know the ones. They started recording their thoughts and experiences from the moment they could string letters together into something remotely resembling words. As a kid, they had those cute little diaries with unicorns and butterflies on the cover and a lock with a key they wore on a chain around their neck.
Then, as they got older, they graduated to “real” journals and continue to this day recording their life and experiences regularly. They have cartons of those journals in a closet somewhere and start a new one at least every year.
You would think that, as a lover of books, literature, and all things written word, I would be one of those people, right? Wrong!
I love the idea of it. I even had one of those cute little diaries with the lock and key. (By the way, as every little girl finds out, that lock does NOT keep your brother out!) I had notebooks with lined paper and grid paper. I had journals with felt covers and leather covers and pretty images on the cover and on the pages inside.
What I did not have was the self-discipline to fill out more than 5-10 pages before I got distracted by life and forgot about the whole thing.
What, you may ask, does this have to do with writing, editing, and publishing? After all, I was a child with a fairly normal, nontraumatic childhood. What did I have to write about?
Stick with me!
Then, in 2004, I left my cozy little world in the rural Midwest to spend my junior year of college in Barcelona, Spain. On the way, I stopped over in New York to spend a couple of days with my Aunt Beth on Long Island.
While scanning through the books on her shelves, I ran across this slim volume, forgotten among her other books. It was such a simple thing: brown faux-leather cover, a simple design of flowers embossed on the front, and simple leaf drawings in the corners of the pages. But she had this lovely little untouched journal just sitting there, forgotten.
Neither one of us thought much of the gift when she gave it to me, but that little journal has stuck with me through 16 years and more than 3 countries. And while I’m still by no means a prolific journaler, I’ve learned some things along the way.
Benefits of Journaling
Create a Record of Your Thoughts and Feelings
I know you think you’ll never forget a single detail of that trip to Rome. Or the time you had dinner with the US ambassador to Panama. Or how you felt sitting on your porch watching the hillside across from your house slide into the valley below. But trust me—time has a way of erasing and blurring the details.
Don’t believe me? Think back to a significant event from your childhood. Recall all the details. The sights. The sounds. The smells.
Now, ask someone else who was there to do the same, and compare notes!
Then, what about future generations? Think of the stories of people finding their great-grandmother’s diary one day and then writing a book to share with the world the fascinating life and valuable lessons found in it!
But my life is boring!
That’s what we all think! Until enough time has gone by to give us perspective. I bet you have funny childhood stories.
Like how you and your brother used to sneak the outside cats into the house and dress them in doll clothes.
Or the time your mother decided to take a nap between baking your birthday cake and decorating it, and you got impatient and pulled all of the odds and ends of frosting out of the fridge and ended up celebrating your birthday with a cake that looked more like a patchwork quilt!
Is it all literary gold? Of course not! Quite a lot of my journal entries are a mess of emotion and angst in a semi-intelligible mishmash of 2 or 3 different languages. But looking back, I wish I had been more faithful about recording all those experiences that seemed so unforgettable at the time.
Work Through Confusing or Overwhelming Emotions
You maybe noticed that I said I have been writing in the same journal for 16 years, did the math, and figured out that I am by no means a prolific writer. I’ve gone for months or even years without making a single entry. However, those periods where I did write tended to be times of high stress.
During those hard times, my journal served an incredibly important role: it kept me sane!
It pulled all those fears and worries that—like many of you, I imagine—I would find spiraling around and around in my brain.
When I was feeling lonely because I lived alone and my introversion and social awkwardness made it difficult to make new friends. When I felt like my life was ticking away and my career going nowhere.
And now, amid the whole COVID-19 fiasco, when I get so angry I can’t see straight, much less go about my life in a responsible and productive way.
Worry and fear can steal your peace and rest, but the simple act of getting them out of your head and laying them out on paper is often enough to calm your mind so that you can get to sleep at night and get up and function the next day.
Organize Your Thoughts
One of the reasons I’ve been journaling so much lately is that I’m trying to start and grow a business. That’s a lot to take on! So many ideas to come up with and tasks to complete! All while working a full-time job.
I’m a visual person; I may have a thousand ideas throughout the day, but if I don’t write them down, do you know how many I’ll remember by the time I get home at night?
So, I cart my journal around with me and jot things down as they occur to me. Some are great ideas, and some are sure to be rubbish when revisited. But they’re recorded in ink and there for me to come back to whenever I need them.
Think back to school, when you had to write a paper. What was the first exercise the teacher had you do? Brainstorm. You would write your ideas out on paper where you could examine, reorganize, and adjust them to create a brilliant end product.
A Great Exercise for Aspiring Writers
Do you know what is the most common piece of advice professional writers or anyone in the publishing industry gives when someone asks how to get started writing?
Just start writing!
Anything. Everything. Just write something! If you wait around for that brilliant, earth-shattering bestseller to just drop into your head and onto the page, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you’re going to be waiting a really long time. Like the rest of your life!
Get started. Write something. And if you’re stuck, a journal is a great place to start.
Do you know why?
Anyone Can Do It!
That’s right. Can you form sentences? Form coherent thoughts? Congratulations! You can journal.
You don’t even have to be literate. With today’s technology and speech-to-text and voice-recording apps, you don’t even have to be able to write! (Though, if you’re reading this, this one probably doesn’t apply to you…unless you also have a text-reading app.)
Journaling is such a versatile and easily accessible activity.
Don’t like to write? See the reference to speech-to-text or voice recording apps. Or try your hand at video journaling!
Have a love for the classics? There are some amazing moleskin and beautifully bound options out there, along with a whole array of pens and pencils in every shape, size, and color.
Always on the go? Journals come in so many different sizes. Get a small one to keep in your purse or car. Or type it on your phone.
Don’t have the money to spend on some fancy handcrafted journal? You can get spiral-bound notebooks from the school-supplies section of most stores for just $.25 or less!
And journaling requires no research or special knowledge. As an added bonus for those of you who struggled through college papers, no citations or references are required!
This is the best part!
Unless you allow it, no one will ever read what you’ve written. So, you’re free to write whatever your heart desires without fear of judgment or recriminations.
They’re your thoughts and beliefs. You don’t have to worry about offending or hurting someone else. You can be as brutally honest as you want. Your journal is the one place you can truly be yourself. Think of how freeing that is!
Your words don’t even have to be profound or coherent. And if you decide to share it with the world, great! You can always go back and edit and revise later.
Also, you decide what you journal about. Sure, thoughts, experiences, emotions, and story ideas might be some of the more common journal subjects, but like I said, it’s your journal. You decide what goes into it.
That means, if you want to include drawings and artwork, recipes, or quotes, great! Dreams, aspirations, goals, and plans for the future? Go for it! I’ve seen gratitude journals and contentment journals and even journals that include letters to the writer’s children.
Mine has a page dedicated to the interesting foods I’ve eaten during my travels: everything from paella and tortilla española to termites and tripe! There’s even a page for the different cities I’ve visited around the world.
What will your journal look like? Only one way to find out!
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Just leave me a comment below.
Rebecca has a passion for helping you fill the world with great literature and making sure said literature doesn't get passed over for the lack of a little editing.