“I like the idea of journaling, but I’m not sure where to start.”
I was so excited to be asked this question recently by a client. It means they get the benefits of journaling, they just need some help with the how-to part of the process.
So, how to journal…bear with me here…
When my grandmother died her possessions were split amongst the family. I’m not sure who took her journals, but at some point they ended up in my mothers house. Each is a hardback, leather bound book with the year stamped on the cover. Inside the pages are dated. Some of the books are pretty thick and have two pages per day.
Grandma used this space to write about her daily life. She was the mother of thirteen children and during the years that she kept these journals, she was a very busy mom. The daily meal preparation for that many people is staggering to think about!
Her entries are short. Almost none of the pages are completely full. She uses brief language and sentences, which at first might make her journaling seem trivial, but when you know about her life, she was far from it.
She wrote about what they had for dinner. She noted birthdays and described saving dessert for Grandpa when he worked late. She included details about guests coming to dinner.
The details in her journals are the basic record of the life of a large family in the country. Simple and beautiful.
In the midst of Grandma’s journals an unexpected treasure was found. Another journal, this one belonging to my Grandpa. It’s a small volume with no date on the fabric cover. Upon reading it, we discovered that this journal was kept while Grandpa was in the navy. He wrote in this while he was on duty, living on a ship off the coast of South America.
Unlike Grandma, his pages are filled. He includes details about his life as a young man on the ship and it’s fascinating to read. It quickly becomes apparent that at this point in his life he has already met Grandma. He writes about her.
He recorded his feelings toward her, both practical and passionate. He wrote about wanting to marry her and be with her. I never really knew my Grandpa and this peek into his life is amazing. (As you can probably imagine, I soak up family stories and am totally into genealogy.)
Coming back to the question of how to write in your journal, the answer is that you write coming from the place that feels good to you. Grandma’s journals were documenting a time in her life when she likely fell into bed at night. She was kept busy with the raising of children for a large number of years.
I have no doubt that she thought deep thoughts and wondered about life, but she didn’t record it in her journal because that’s not what she needed her journal for during those years.
She needed it to help her grab hold of each day before it passed quickly by. And if that meant writing about the everyday stuff, just to have it documented, that’s what she wrote about. My guess is that her journal was about the process as well as the record that resulted.
Grandpa’s journals represent the meanderings of a young man. Someone who is at a time in his life where he is working, thinking deep thoughts, and doesn’t yet have a whole lot of responsibility. It was before he had a mortgage and a whole lot of mouths to feed.
He used his journal to process his thoughts. He recorded his daily happenings, but spent more time and space on what was going on within as opposed to without. A luxury that slips away when we are in the midst of raising children and taking care of a home.
I’ve noticed this pattern in my own journals too. When I look back at the ones I kept from the time I started journaling up until age 31, they are full of page after page of meaning-of-life stuff and observations that I can’t believe I used to have time to make.
Since adopting the mantle of mother, my journal entries have become more like Grandma’s. They record our daily life. Some days my journal has become the place where I sort out my priorities for the week.
Yes, this kind of documentation feels more mechanical. Less deep maybe, then wondering about the reason the stars stay in the sky or why hair turns gray for some but not for others, but no less meaningful to my life right now.
Where are you in your life? Are you currently processing deep thoughts that could be emptied onto the pages of your journal? Are you weighed down with multiple responsibilities and need to use your journal as a way to stay connected to self?
Or do you just need to write down what you had for dinner?
What I know to be true is keeping a journal works. It doesn’t really matter what you write. Getting your thoughts onto the page is a process and processes serve a purpose. They result in change and growth.
The journal writing process works because you start out with a head and heart full of wonderings, questions, concerns, celebrations, moments you don’t want to forget, and life in general. The act of writing moves them out of your head and onto the page, where you can safely capture them forever while working through them.
What’s your next step? Are you ready to pick up a pen and write in your journal? Leave a note below to share what kind of journal entry you’ll be making today.