On how to keep a journal
18 November 2016
- Get a notebook. You know, one with actual paper and all that.
- Do not get a fancy notebook. Leave the ones with thick creamy paper and rich leather binding on the shelves. Do not pick up the expensive ones with inspirational sayings or modern art on their covers. Go to the nearest drugstore and buy a composition notebook with a mottled black and white front and blue-lined paper inside for around a dollar. I prefer college ruled, but here I’ll allow you your choice. The more unassuming, the better.
- Get a pen. Or pencil. It doesn’t matter. It can be a nice one. It can be a cheap ballpoint you bought in a package of three hundred at that same drugstore. If it makes marks on paper and you like holding it, you’re good.
- Find a place where you can feel alone. I’m partial to early mornings before dawn at my desk, but it can be whenever and wherever works for you. It can be late at night. It can be during lunch. It can be in a crowded cafe at 3:36 pm Tuesday if you know how to focus. It is easier, however, to feel alone where it’s quiet and you’re by yourself and no one will bother you. Lock yourself in. Lock everyone else out.
- Write in your notebook with your writing implement.
- (That last one is the important one, by the way. If you’ve got that down, you can skip the rest. Chances are, though, it’s not that simple. It rarely is.)
- Don’t think too much about what you’re writing. Just write. Don’t go back to reread it. Don’t stop. Don’t look out the window. Don’t check the internet. Write whatever that comes into your head.
- Set yourself a minimum goal to reach. For example, commit to writing at least three pages in your notebook. Write until you get there. No excuses.
- Seriously, do not think about what you’re writing. It can be about anything. How you feel that day. What you did that day. What’s going on in the world. What’s going on in your head. A list of your grievances. A list of your enemies. A list of your blessings. A list of your heroes. What you’re reading, watching, seeing, hearing, smelling, wondering, questioning, hoping, believing. It can be poetry, it can be prose. It can be sentence fragments. It can be long, complicated run-on sentences without punctuation or proper spelling. Just put words on the page. And keep doing it.
- Stretch your fingers once in a while. Roll your shoulders and your neck. Sit up straight.
- Write until you at least reach your minimum mark. If you feel like writing more after that, keep writing.
- Your handwriting is fine. Trust me. Don’t worry about it.
- When you are done, put your notebook away. Don’t read what you wrote yet. Give it at least a week. Preferably, never look at it again. You are not ashamed of it. You simply don’t need it anymore.
- You see, “keeping a journal” is not creating an artifact. It is not a process you undertake to end up with an immediate result. Rather, it’s more like exercise, or meditation. You do it for the moment, for the space you create. And you will have a moment, you will create space. It’s both grounding and expanding. It’s practicing having power. Whatever happens in your life or the world as a whole, you now know you can write about it. You now know that you have a place to go, a space that you control, and a way to think, feel and assert. No judgment, no censorship. Nothing is too much or too slow or not enough or not slow enough. It is exactly how you write it. You don’t keep a journal just to have a record of your past. You keep a journal to make a new world.
- The next day, write again. And the day after that. And the day after that. Repeat.
- Don’t let anyone else read your journal. You are not ashamed of it. But this is yours. It belongs entirely to you. Keep it just for yourself. It is for no one else.
- As with most things, it will get easier the more you do it. The words will come quicker. The meaning will get clearer. You will get more and more skilled at taking what the world has given you and making something of it.
- Because no matter what happens, you know you can turn a new page, and start again.
See all essays