I don’t know when, exactly, I started keeping a journal. The first one I have still in my possession is from when I was 12. It starts with these words, “Today I am at my cousin’s house. It is very enjoyable.” In these early journals I still write with the cursive of childhood, large and looping. I talk about my obsessions of the moment (it was horses for a while).
But even in these early journals there are hints of recurring themes; loneliness, feeling out of place with my family, feeling like I should be writing more often.
I’ve kept a journal more or less regularly since that journal at age 12. I haven’t always been consistent; there are times when months will go by without a single entry, and there is one chunk of time that is lost because I switched to a digital journal and the disk it was on got corrupted. But for the most part the record of my thoughts is tucked into journals and sitting on my shelf.
The early journals are pink. Some have cartoon characters on the front. There are journals with decoupaged covers. As of the last five years or so the journals are black moleskines, both pocket and full size, my favorite brand to write in.
This practice of journaling has been one of the most vital in my life. In my journals I don’t worry about using the best words or expressing grand thoughts. These pages are simply for me. I use them to complain, to obsess, to be sad and angry. I use them to work out my thoughts and feelings. I use them to worry about money and about people. I use them to ramble. In my journals anything goes. I don’t have to hold back. I don’t have to be nice. I don’t have to worry about anyone else’s feelings. For someone who is a bit of a people pleaser, having this kind of outlet is huge. To be able to have one space where I can say and feel anything I want has been healing for me.
But it’s not all complaining and venting. I write about what I’ve been doing, what my plans are, what I would like my plans to be. I write about what I hope for. I write about who I want to become. In these pages I can start to envision the life I want to work toward and because I have a vision of what I want I know better how to work on it. If you can’t even imagine what you want you will keep doing the same things you’ve been doing.
These journals become a record of theology shifts and life shifts, of dreams born and dreams dead, of friends loved and friends lost.
My journals help me to remember. They help me to make sense of who I was and who I am. They help me to chart the changes. They help me to fill in the blanks on those years that are becoming hazy from distance. Looking back I can see themes and warning signs and hopefulness. Looking back I can see wishes that have since been fulfilled. Looking back I can see the arc of the life that has brought me to know.
These days I try to write three pages a day (ala Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way). Ideally I’ll do them in the morning while I have my coffee, but as long as I get them done in the day I consider it a success. Writing more often helps me to get to the good stuff faster. Instead of the entire entry being a recap of what I’ve done that week it becomes a quick recap of the various day and then a catalog of what’s on my mind. Sometimes I have a problem that I am trying to work out, sometimes I have something that I keep turning over and over and over in my mind and writing it out helps me to make space to think about and do other things.
Sometimes the pages pour out and other times it’s like pulling teeth. The point is it’s a ritual. A safe place.
And it makes a difference.
I can tell if I haven’t written in a couple of days. I feel more on edge. My emotions are all over the place. I’m unsure of what I want or need or how to make myself feel better. If I feel myself edgy and can quiet myself for a moment I usually find that I haven’t journaled. So I sit down. I open the book. I uncap my pen. And I write. And at the end, even if I don’t know the way forward, I at least feel a little better. Cleansed somehow.
Journaling is probably one of the most essential habits I have in my day to day life. It’s the thing that makes the most amount of difference.
Do you journal? What has been your experience with it? If you haven’t, is it something you could try?