A psychotherapist thinks out loud about Being Human, and stuff…

On Keeping a Journal

I’ve been keeping a personal journal since the day, in 1978, my friend Loren gave me my first blank book and taught me her rules, such as they are, for journal keeping, the which I now pass along to you:

First, a journal is different from a diary. A diary is likely to have dated spaces, which create an obligation to write something every day, whether you feel like it or not. I have no hard research on this, but I suspect that the primary reason most people discontinue diary keeping is because they start missing days, for one reason or another, and then feel as though they’ve failed, accused by those blank spaces. A journal, on the other hand, is there to be used whenever, and only whenever, you feel like it. You cannot fail with a journal, since it has few expectations of you, and those easily satisfied.

 Secondly, a journal is not just for writing. You may choose to use it that way, or you may use the undemanding space to try a little soft pencil still life, or a water colored landscape. When you do write, it needn’t be a matter of neat handwriting in black ink with even borders. You may feel like experimenting with different colored pens or pencils, to suit your mood. For that matter, you may feel like scrawling big, nasty words across both pages, with a red crayola clenched in your fist! With multiple  exclamation marks!! Your journal won’t take offense; it’s on your side.

So, a journal is there to be used, whenever and however you choose, with no demands or expectations about regularity, frequency or content. Fine. That’s neat, but this raises the question: why bother? I mean, if you’re just looking for a cathartic experience, you can scrawl away on a stray piece of paper or even go punch the proverbial pillow. Fine, as far as it goes, but only in a journal can you can express yourself so fully, poetically (if you wish) and, yes, permanently.

 Because a journal serves more than just the purpose of feeling heard in a sometimes distracted world (although that can be a comforting experience). It also, as you write (or scrawl) over the months and years, gives you a reading on change. I frequently suggest to clients, beginning therapy, that they begin journal keeping too, as a way of establishing a kind of baseline: here is where I was, and this is what I felt, then. Where am I, today, in relation to the goals I set? What do I want to tell my therapist, and what am I not ready to tell anybody but my journal? You’ll find, if you give it a chance, that your journal will become your closest confidant, and an invaluable life tool.

 A journal can be made out of almost anything that has pages; a spiral notebook or a bound, hardcover book. Lined or unlined pages. Big as an album or tiny enough to fit in your pocket or purse. I carry a shoulder bag, most of the time, and I prefer a bound book, with unlined pages, but I’ve used a variety of styles. See what works for you. You can find blank books in any well stocked office supply store- preferably a local, independently owned store that will welcome your business. They are surprisingly inexpensive. Buy one you like the looks of, and leave it lying around with a pen on it. Sooner or later, I bet, you’ll pick it up, sit down, and start telling it things you wouldn’t tell another soul.

 Boon companion, heart’s ease. Who could ask for more?

Happy trails……..

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Comments on: "On Keeping a Journal" (2)

  1. I got a degree university in journalism, and I didn’t really understand what journalism was until I started keeping a journal. Duh!?! They should ask the kids before they sign up. Can I see your journal?

    Julie Cameron’s Artist Way books finally got me started. I sure do like your rules though… Nice and easy just like your posts read, nice and easy.

    • DA, I’m so pleased that that’s what’s coming through- the “nice and easy” part, that is. Generally speaking, in a stressful and reactionary world, I try to maintain that way of being, lest I (as the ageless pitcher Satchel Page put it) “angry up the blood”. Certainly seemed to work for him. I’m aware of the “Way” journaling, of course- I’ve had a few clients who have done it, but it does include the injunction to write daily, and at a certain time. I’m not about to argue with the value of conforming to the plan, but it does set up the kind of expectation that, personally, I know will lead to non-conformity. (Non-conformance? Help me out here, Journalism major.) My journal is pretty easy going, too. Not surprising, eh?
      Be well-
      John

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