I surprised myself by realizing something this week that, like a lot of realizations I have, feels like it should have dawned on me years ago. Specifically, I realized how extremely vital personal journaling is to both the health of my mind AND (interestingly) the health of my writing.
(In fact, I just described journaling to a friend as “a gym workout for the health of my mind”. The creative mind is a muscle too and it needs a good workout, just like your body does, to operate at peak efficiency.)
A few years back, I was journaling regularly—even though I didn’t think of it like that. I was recording what was going on day-to-day through a “conversational tone”, which (at the time) didn’t strike me as the same thing. A journal gives me more squirrelly visions of a 12-year-old girl, a colored gel pen and doodling her name with all her boy crushes: “Dear Diary, today Joey talked to me” . . . and such. But what I was doing was in fact, more like journaling than most other forms of communication.
(Well . . . maybe some girlie!doodles! Don’t judge me.) 😉
But, what I’ve discovered now was that it provided a lot of benefits to keep my mind and my communication skills healthy that I didn’t even realize until after I stopped. It was “stretching and working out the kinks” in my mind—like how when I was swimming laps and doing yoga regularly, all my muscle cramps and spasms seemed to disappear. It doesn’t take backbreaking effort to keep those muscles toned—but it DOES take consistency!
As all this dawned on me, I began (daily!) journaling last week (just a hour or two at night) and already I’m seeing a profound difference! I feel like the “shape of my mind” is different—pretty soon it’s gonna be lean and fit and ready for the summer brain-bikinis! 😉
Here are a few of the insights I discovered as I’m getting back to my own personal journaling . . .
- There’s no “wrong way to journal” (or “to eat a Reeses” LOL!)
When I went to redevelop my habit of journaling, I found myself trying a few styles to find something that worked for me and made me feel comfortable enough to establish a daily discipline. So I feel like “there’s no wrong way to journal” per se; it’s all about finding a style that works for you.
For me, what I feel works best is what I call “a conversational tone” of sharing my day. That is, I write it like it’s a dialogue between myself and a close friend, so I get that sensation the reader is enthusiastic and engaged by what I share and really want to hear the details (even if the reader is only me, a couple years later!! 😉 )
Why this style works best for me (I believe) is because it’s the closest to how I usually communicate written narratives, both in emails and in my books. So its good daily discipline because chronicling my day or other things I may share as a written narrative is easy (a built-in topic to write ABOUT, as it were) but it’s also done in the style of how I write everything else.
Plus, there’s a plethora of ways you can record your thoughts, whether its by mobile app, blogging software, numbered index cards or a giant leather journal and quill pen!
(Yes, rainbow unicorn diaries and gel pen doodles are appreciated, ah, acceptable too).
- It’s not the same as blogging.
The kind of topics I share in my blog and in my journal sometimes cross with each other (and sometimes they don’t) but I have more freedom to openly work them out in the context of my journal.
My blog topics tend to be more “conclusions after the fact” such as, “so this happened one day and here’s what I learned from that. What do you guys think?”
But my journal is often where I either writing out a situation which happened before I’ve formed any conclusions, or a safe place to examine my conclusions and work them out for myself, as in, “so this happened and I’m not sure how I feel about that. I kinda thought this, and maybe this and could it possibly mean this?” Depending on the situation, sometimes I even need to get very emotional about it first before I can discuss it with anyone else or learn any kind of life lesson from it.
Again, the journal is a safe place for all that.
- It’s a private place to share and vent your emotions
As most of you probably do, I spend about 9am-5pm weekdays behaving both polite and professional. Although I do have those friends whom I feel safe venting about that traffic jam or how the unexpected rain shower drenched my Easter dress, for the most part work isn’t an environment suitable for sharing. Sometimes even on this blog, I have to censor what I say or how I express it.
When you journal, you can always say what you want and how you want it, and feel comfortable doing so. No one will hear those screams, tears, emotional outpourings and furtive secrets but you.
- It’s a way to “be heard”
We’re all a bit wrapped up in our own lives sometimes. I’m sure we’ve all called/emailed/texted/wrote to that friend or family member (and probably sometimes even been that friend or family member) and felt like they just weren’t hearing us.
Maybe their response wasn’t sensitive or what you were looking for, or they passed judgement, or tried to give useless advice or even hurt you when you were down. But when you journal, your voice is HEARD (even if only by you, but you can perceive a sympathetic ear for your woes as you spill them into words and phrases). Your personal journal will never judge you, try to give you advice, condemn you, criticize you, shame you or further depress you.
It especially won’t charge you $60 per hour to occasionally ask, “so how do you feel about that?” so frankly, journaling is a lot cheaper than therapy. 😊
- There are no content or length requirements
For us authors, a flurry of chapters and word counts, good editing and careful grammar, appealing to genre, or intended audience or age groups —I think there is a glorious release to journaling just for ourselves.
You can pen a few random paragraphs, or a whole essay if you want. One entry might just be a lolz!cats picture or an interesting quote from Facebook, while another could be an entire rhapsody on hairstyles. Mostly, I look at it as just recording what’s interesting to you today (which might not be tomorrow.)
It can be reserved to one topic that’s bugging you, or a million small topics that crossed your mind as you digress madly to your heart’s content. It can store secret ideas, observations and inspirations that you may not act upon for years and rediscover to use later.
And sometimes, if you just want to scream at the world that the entire day sucked from beginning to end and you should have stayed in bed—it’s a perfect place for that too!! It’s not like to have to save every entry you ever write either (that’s why the Dear Lord invented the shredder, ya’all!)
- It’s a glorious record of your achievements/&/a lesson plan of the steps that brought you there
For those of us who tend to be “big dreamers” and “big picture” folks, I think it can be a struggle to remind us that its slow, persistent steps that bring us to those big dreams. I love how a personal journal is a step-by-step reminder of exactly how I got from the beginning to the ending of my past achievements.
It also helps the process go faster next time as I can review the recorded missteps and help avoid them with my next novel (or whatever project I may be working on). We learn from our experiences, no? And a personal journal is a great place to review those A-to-Z building blocks when my memory grows fuzzy.
- It’s a discipline so consistency is key
Stay with it! It might not be easy at first. It takes time to become comfortable with it or find a method that works for you. Even remembering daily can be a struggle for me, with other life, work, writing and blogging obligations on the docket. But it is definitely the gentle daily workout that helps keep my mind, emotions and writing skills all healthy and to me, that means it’s a priority.
Have you ever tried journaling? What method works best for you? Is there something else you do to help keep your mind healthy that works as well as journaling?
Please share in the comments!