I’ve kept a journal almost my whole life. Yep, I was one of those girls, a “Dear Diary” type who documented the most mundane details of my day, from what I ate for breakfast to what the weather was like on June 14, 1997.
Even before I used real notebooks I was writing in and on things for as long as I can remember—scrap paper, coloring books, real books, magazine pages, you name it. I even got in trouble once for writing all over the back of a blank envelope at my Nana’s house when I was about ten (I didn’t realize it was already sealed, addressed, and stamped with a card inside, waiting to be mailed).
The older I got, the more my writing progressed from mundane details about my surroundings to mundane details about what I thought and how I felt. About who I had a crush on that week. About drinking twelve cans of Dr. Pepper during a sleepover with my best friend. About why I thought getting my hair cut like Mary Kate Olsen would change my life.
About my cat. (It’s always about a cat.)
I kept a journal through high school and through college, filling notebooks with pretty covers and thick, smooth paper, relishing the feel of a brand new book cracking open every time I reached the end of an old one. I’m still convinced there’s almost nothing more promising than opening a brand new notebook and seeing that first blank page.
Having studied professional writing in college and creative writing in graduate school, I appreciate journaling for its benefits more now than I did when I was a kid with
bad worse handwriting. When you study writing, you learn a lot about the preparation and the process. Truly great writing doesn’t just happen without some serious behind-the-scenes work on either end (think planning and pre-writing to editing and proofreading).
And it certainly doesn’t happen without loads of truly bad writing, too.
Here’s the good news: there’s a safe place where all of that can happen, and it’s called a journal.
There aren’t many places we can go to get away from everything these days. Even at home, we’re tied to the world at any given moment thanks to social media. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but everyone needs an escape. Everyone needs a place to go without feeling watched, scrutinized, judged, or criticized, a place to unwind and process and think.
A notebook is a fantastic place to do that.
I was thinking about this the other morning. It was dark and raining and I stood on the back deck gripping a cup of coffee—a scene right out of a cozy Prozac commercial—wondering if my time spent writing things intended for only me was a waste. I’m wholeheartedly sure it’s not a waste. It didn’t take me long to form a pretty extensive list of benefits that come with keeping a journal.
Here are just a few.
Benefits of Journaling for Writers:
- A journal is a starting point. It’s where ideas are born for all of the incredible stories, poems, essays, and articles you’re going to write. It’s the soil where you plant those seeds. It’s where you write bad metaphors about gardening (which is where they should probably stay—lesson learned :-P).
- It’s a safe place to foster your ideas, brainstorm, and get creative without worrying what others will think. You can write the worst poem in the world, which I’m sure is a love poem, and nobody ever has to know.
- You can use a journal to create characters from scratch: their personalities, their physiques, the color of their eyes, their worst habits, their greatest desires, etc. It’s where a character can come to life before she ever hits the page of your book. Or, you know, she could die there, too.
- You can use a journal to organize your writing: story ideas, plot timelines, e-book tables of contents, blog post ideas, etc. Sometimes winging it works, but usually, it doesn’t. (Trust me.) It’s much easier to approach anything in life, including your writing, when you’re organized.
Benefits of Journaling in General:
- A journal is a safe place to say whatever the f*@! you want (in any language you want). It’s an opinion-free place to express yourself on any given day, whether that means writing in perfect calligraphy or scribbling obscenities and then tearing the pages out and eating them. (Don’t eat them.)
- Writing is an excellent way to process things, sort through emotions, and make wise decisions. It allows you to slow down and think about every option available to you. I am the Queen of Indecision, but I’ve found that writing clarifies my decision-making. You may find that writing a list of pros and cons will clarify your decision pretty quickly, too.
- It helps you stay grateful. The last thing you probably want to do when you feel like an ogre and life is your cave is force yourself to be positive, but if you can, start by making a list of things that make you feel thankful. I know this advice is kind of old, but people keep recommending it for a reason. It helps.
- Notebooks inspire creativity. Journaling isn’t all about writing, you know. It’s about scribbling, doodling, drawing, painting, folding, cutting, pasting, scrapbooking, hand-lettering, and basically creating whatever you need to create. It can be a place of growth or a place of complete destruction. It’s up to you.
- Similarly, notebooks are a good place to collect things: pictures, letters, cards, bible verses, concert tickets, lyrics, quotes you love, basically anything that inspires you and reminds you who you are.
- It’s an outlet. This one almost goes without saying, but I had to say it. Write the bitter text/email/whatever there and let it rest for a day before you decide if you’ll send it. You might need to call your supervisor a bitch, but do you reeeeeally need to lose your job? (Yet?)
- Journaling gives you a sense of control. I don’t think anyone likes to feel out of control, at least nobody I know. Most of us like to control our surroundings, our relationships, our diets, our jobs, our appearances, our pets (LOL), and our plans…or at least try. But trying to control what we can’t isn’t healthy. A journal is an ideal place to let that go. It’s one place where you do have complete control. What you create and how you create—it’s all up to you.
It’s hard to let go of the idea that journaling is only for moody teenage girls. But I promise it’s not. (Dudes, see “The Pocket Notebooks of 20 Famous Men”.) I mean, George Lucas carried a notebook around constantly, and he created freaking Star Wars.
It’s YOURS. Your ideas, your rebellion, your creation. Go forth and journal!