When I was fourteen, I heard a remarkable story about a woman who had kept a journal from the age of fourteen. She had lived through World War II, and her journal was filled with the details of her hiding in attics and escaping persecution. And, in 1998, her journal was being transcribed to be gifted to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
I thought it was fascinating that a life had been so wholly recorded. So, in May 1998, I started a journal.
I never call it a diary, because diaries are personal and should never be shared. A journal is less about complaints and emotions, more about events and thoughts. At least tat is how I see it. I made the promise I would write every night. Even if I had nothing to say, I would write.
What goes into a journal? For me, it's whatever is on my mind at the end of the day. If I had a big event that day, not surprisingly, it's in there. But sometimes something smaller gets in, simply because it was the most recent thing. A phone call from family. A beautiful pair of slippers. A funny movie. Sometimes short, something long. Sometimes serious, sometimes silly. Anything and everything. And if there's nothing that jumps to mind, it gets "Nothing to say. Good Night."
Recently, I sat down and thought about this practice that is going on its 22nd birthday. I believe it has been profoundly helpful. Here is why:
1. A log of things.
I don't remember everything. When did I first mention a given character? What day did my husband get stuck outside of town and sleep at my parent's house? Sometimes even medical things got into the journal, so I have a record of when my shoulder first hurt, and when my son first spoke. Anything that earned a mention has a date on it, a log.
2. A chance to reflect.
This is part of my routine, a chance to unwind, reflect, and look back at the day. There are times I deliberately do NOT record something, something I feel there is no reason to remember. But usually I can process the day, figure out what mattered and what didn't, and write about it. It's a moment of calm in days that have been too harried. Rough days and difficult emotions lose their power in the words on the page.
3. A prompt for sleep.
My brain knows that, once the journal is out, it's time for sleep. It's become such a routine, it has conditioned me to fall sleep! I may be a bit like Pavlov's dogs, but it's to my benefit. I fall asleep when my head hits the pillow now, instead of staring into space for hours trying to talk my brain into calming down.
4. Better handwriting!
The practice of writing has markedly improved my handwriting. Just looking back at the May 1998 entries proves that! I was one of the last generations to do a lot of my schooling written. But I was taught typing (unlike now when they don't have to teach it; everyone knows how to type). Instead of letting my handwriting atrophy, my journal has kept my writing muscles strong! While this seems trivial, it made a difference when I was looking for work.
5. A means of communication with my mind
Sometimes even I don't know what I think about something. Similar to my 'rant file' (a topic for another day), these entries let me think "out loud", working through something that has been bothering me and helping me find a solution or at least peace with it. It's therapy on a page!
6. A chance to share
I have handed journal entries to my husband. This was particularly helpful when I was working through something. It helped open up a conversation and help him undertand where I was at with something.
And it's fun to flip through to find silly entries to share too! I have the entire West Highland Way trip in my journal. It's hilarious reminiscing about the adventures (and misadventures)!
When I sought counselling after my second miscarriage, the first thing the mental health nurse suggested was a journal. I guess I'm not alone in seeing the benefits. It's a simple thing that takes only a moment.
Don't edit it. Don't overthink. Write what you are thinking, and stop when you're done.
Give it a try. It may surprise you.
D. Lambert, author
Fantasy novels that entice, inspire, and entertain.