Writing Tip: Journaling

A brand-new journal, all clean and crisp, is such a weighty thing. It holds such possibilities for discovery, creativity, and the all-important record. What would our modern society be without a record of events? We spend so much of our time reliving events in our talk, in our prolific online musings, in our dreams, even in our nightmares. Once it’s set down, it’s real. It’s permanent. (Or so we like to think.) A journal, then, can be our own personal record of what really happened. Or, more precisely, how we viewed events through the color of our emotions. Our journals can be a place to discover who we really are, a place to work out issues, to dream big and in living color.

Why, then, did it take me two years to fill 234 pages?

I recently filled my old journal. It’s a refillable journal, with a beautiful rust-colored leather cover and is filled with a 234-page lined book:

I’ve always tried to match my journals to my personality, to encourage me to write (you can see how well that worked). In 2007, I was very focused on using fewer resources. I sprang for the leather because I love the feel of it. But I liked that it  is refillable. OK, so not too many resources are saved, but a few are and that counts for something. At some point I had tucked inside two pictures of my kids from 2004. Here’s the one of Duncan:

Not sure why they are in there, but I still love those pics. So I glued them in. Maybe with the new one, I’ll glue one in the front from 2010 and one in the back at the time I finish. It’d be neat to look back and see how my kids changed in the time it took me to fill my journal.

My first entry is on October 19, 2007. It details the migraine I had that day and what I did for it. It also lists the exercise I took that day. For the most part, that’s what I put in my journal: a record of my migraines, which can be severe, and of my exercise, which can be scarce. Both keep me aware of new patterns, like the fact that I’ve barely worked out since mid-December (sigh), and of how programs are working. Not very helpful as a writing tool, though excellent as a health tool.

There are other entries as well. Resolutions made and broken. I often resolve to watch less TV and workout more. And I always break them both. When I travel, I keep detailed notes. What the trip was like, how I felt about it, and so forth. I only recently started travelling alone and it was a new experience for me. I wasn’t sure I liked it at first, especially since most trips were to NYC for business. New York is a very large place compared to Haverhill. It was overwhelming for me and not a lot of fun. After all, it was all work. But I got better at it, which I can see through  my journal entries. And there were fun trips too, mostly with the family. It’s nice to read about those times; I may even share them with the kids some day.

I lived my Cursio in the fall of 2007, so that experience is recorded here. It was a wonderful growth in my relationship with God and it’s lovely to revisit that weekend as I experienced it rather than as I remember it. There are other entries, too. Those that show me working my way through a depression, coming to the realization that I wanted to work for myself, working through troubled relationships. There’s even an entry that is a rough draft of a flyer for a fundraiser that never got off the ground. Maybe I’ll retread it sometime. Occasionally, I’ll add a powerful dream to it. But mostly, I go to my journal when I’m overwhelmed, when just thinking won’t do. When I’ve prayed and talked with others as much as I can, and I still need to order my thoughts or change my thinking about it.

Now there’s a new journal in town, waiting to get to know me:

Writing this blog has me in the habit of writing more. Perhaps I’ll journal more. Perhaps I won’t. I know what I use journaling for, and that at least will continue.

It’s often suggested that writers keep a journal, one in which they can practice their craft, open themselves up to risk in their writing. Your journal can be used to develop story ideas and characters or try out new writing styles. You should write in your journal regularly, even every day. Don’t follow my example of taking two years to fill less than 300 pages! How long should you write for? In a podcast about journaling, Grammar Girl suggests writing for 15 minutes a day. If you’re writing an hour or more every day, ask yourself if you’re procrastinating a writing project you should be doing.

If you’re going to keep a writing journal rather than any other type of journal (all are good IMHO), there are lots of creative writing exercises that would suit your journal. You don’t have to do one every day. Try one once in a while or when you’re feeling stuck. These sites offer some good ideas:

And there are lots more. Search on “journal writing exercises” or “creative writing exercises” or something similar.

Do you journal? What kind of journaling do you do, and how has it helped your writing (or has it)? Share your experience in the comments section!

UPDATE: Send me a picture (or URL to a picture) of your journal, and I’ll post it here. Show the world what your journal looks like!

About Erin Brenner

With a BA and an MA in English, Erin has been an editing professional for 15 years, working on a variety of media, especially online. Her niche is business/marketing and online. In addition, she has experience teaching editing to non-editors and coaching writers. In 2008, Erin was bitten by the social media bug...hard. Follow her on Twitter, @ebrenner, and get a daily vocabulary word, a link to the article of the day, and much more. You can also find her on Facebook and LinkedIn.
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