Keeping a journal can be a wonderful experience. It can serve as a friendly “ear” when you need to vent about something in the middle of the night, and it can keep track of things, like children’s illnesses and immunizations, as well as their funny sayings and various achievements. You can use a journal to record family events, memories that resurface, to work through problems and for many different purposes.
Many people resist keeping a journal because they think they can’t write, that their lives aren’t that interesting, or because they don’t know where to start or what to write. If any of these apply to you, try thinking of the journal not as a diary but as a way to express yourself, to get to know yourself, to explore who you are.
Types of journals can include the following:
- Baby journals: a record of your child’s life from birth, or a record of illnesses/immunizations
- Health record for you: keep track of your illnesses, medications, and the like; this could be helpful to your children as well, in terms of inherited health issues.
- Writing journal: a receptacle for writing ideas, notes, character sketches and so forth
- General journal: anything goes; a record of your thoughts, concerns, conversations that intrigue you, goals, activities, plans, hopes for the future, fears, and so on.
- Blog, or online journal: these can be public or not, and you can have categories and tags to mark entries for easier access later
- Travel: you can use a journal to keep track of memories from trips, travel expenses, and thoughts on the various places you go
- Work: A work journal can be useful in tracking progress on multiple projects, keeping track of your time for a particularly demanding boss, keeping track of ideas for work improvements, tracking various miscellaneous notes rather than putting them on sticky notes, and general organization.
Benefits of journals are numerous. I’ve found mine useful in working out solutions to problems and in recognizing when I’m overreacting to something or missing the point in a situation. I have also found it helpful to write about things that I’m not comfortable about confronting someone about; for example, I have had family issues over the last year and I’ve found it helpful to write out my stresses rather than confronting the others involved. I may need to confront them later, but until I’m ready, this has allowed me to release some steam and to think more carefully about what I might say. I also keep a version of an exercise journal, a food journal (I’m trying to eat more fruits and vegetables), and I used to keep a work journal. The work journal came about because I had a boss that wanted an almost-minute-by-minute account of my day; I basically started logging my work. I have actually used a work journal to demonstrate that accusations against me were unfair.
I’ve also thought that journaling about my relationship with others has helped me come to a better understanding of others and my relationships with them. Mind you, it doesn’t always work – I’m not sure I’ll ever understand some ex-boyfriends and some family members – but overall, I have found that I am more conscious of my interactions with them and of other, non-hostile possible reasons for peoples’ behaviors.
What do you need to keep a journal? Well, some of that depends on the type of journal you want to keep. Obviously, if you want an online journal, you’ll need access to a computer and a site to keep the journal (or blog). You will also need computer access if you want an electronic journal (not online, just typed instead of handwritten). You could keep that in Word, another word processing program, or any number of specialty programs. If you want a handwritten journal, then you have to determine what kind of book you want for your journal. Some suggestions to consider:
- Blank books: some people find them intimidating because they are so beautiful. I found some really appropriate books with children-type themes that I use to keep track of my children’s immunizations and illnesses.
- Spiral notebooks: I have used these for years. I like finishing a set number of pages and I find spiral notebooks easy to carry around and kind of self-camouflaging. Few people really notice spiral notebooks sitting around.
- Loose-leaf notebooks: I have also used these in the past. There are several nice features to using these. First of all, you can move pages around. If you want to reorganize into categories (like work, personal, spiritual growth), it is certainly easier to do this in this format. Secondly, you can add to it after the fact. If you think of something you left out, you can add a page where needed. Third, you can add art on unlined paper, letters, and so forth; you can even add them in page protectors.
- Online: There are a number of free places to blog. I’ve used LiveJournal, Blogger, and wordpress with varying degrees of success, and there are others. I recommend taking a look at them and trying them out. What didn’t suit me may make you blissfully happy.
I also make sure I have a nice, smooth-writing pen for my handwritten journal. The type of pen (or pencil) you use is entirely up to your preference. I like colored pens that don’t bleed through – not necessarily an easy combination of qualities to find.
When should you write? Well, I’ve tried both morning and night for my personal journals. I tend to prefer morning; I feel like it helps me clear my head and organize my thoughts for the day. However, right now, morning isn’t good for me, so I’ve been writing at night. It too allows me to clear my thoughts and summarize the day before bed. I’m hoping that it will allow me to sleep better by calming my mind and letting me make note of anything that’s bothering me before I head to bed. Write whenever you feel comfortable. Try different times of day to see what works for you.
How often should you write? As often as you feel the need or urge. Many people write daily – or almost daily. I’ve found it’s pretty natural to miss a day or two here or there. Some days I simply feel like I have nothing to say, or I cannot put my thoughts into words. If you only feel like writing once a week, that is fine. If you are recording events in your life, I would try to write as often as you can and as soon as you can after an event, so that you can capture the details that you will want to remember later.
What should you put in your journal? Ask yourself questions about why you are angry, what you need to do the next day, what is uppermost on your mind, and so forth. You can find a lot of journal-writing prompts online. Some examples are found here and here. You can also include unsent letters – letters – that you write but (obviously) never send. They can be to people that have hurt you in the past, people who have passed on, or anyone that you have a need to “confront” or just express yourself to…without confrontation. One suggestion is to create a list of “topics of the day”; you number a sheet of paper from 1 to 31 and then put a topic by each number. On each day corresponding to the number, you write about the topic. That way you can look at each topic by month and see the changes you are making in that area. You can include current events and your reactions to them, if that appeals. It could be fascinating to read later in your life, or your childrens’ lives if you allow them to read it.
That raises another question: do you share your journal? That is entirely up to you. Writing in a journal with the expectation of privacy will lead to a different kind of writing than if you are writing with the expectation of an audience. If you wish to keep your journal private, then you will need to find a way to keep it safe. I’ve just used a spiral notebook that I’ve left on my desk; my husband understands that that is my personal notebook and would never read it. Now that I have children, I may reconsider my storage of my notebook; I have to give that some thought.
Well, that is about it for journaling. I wish you luck on your journey. I’ve found my journal to be a wonderful friend, a friendly ear at all times of day or night, a terrific way to vent and get rid of unpleasant baggage. I hope you enjoy yours as much as I enjoy mine.
If you have any suggestions on things I should add to this, please feel free to comment.