I really do mean the ART of journaling. This isn’t to imply that you need to draw or paint in your journals–I certainly don’t!–but that there’s a difference in style and approach between a journal and a diary.
A diary usually connotes daily basics: “got up. went to work. Traffic horrid. Squid for dinner.” This is why diaries that are sold for little girls usually have pre-dated or divided pages; there’s not much you’re going to cover in these.
A journal, on the other hand, can contain those elements, but it usually expounds upon more things–or it might not have anything to do with your day. In my journal (and yes, that’s it, pictured above) I’ve written about movies I like, books I’m reading, something in particular I saw on the news, evenings out with friends, how yoga class went. Essentially, anything is fodder for your journal. You can write as much or as little as you want, and you don’t have to write every day.
I’ve kept a journal since I was about 12 years old and my Aunt Patty sent me a Hallmark diary for my birthday. Even then, I didn’t stick to the pre-planned page layouts, and just wrote as much or as little as I wanted. I don’t write every day, and I’ve gone months without journaling (like immediately post-transplant, when I really couldn’t write–my right arm was covered in dressings for the burn I received, and even when it was removed, it took me a long time to make my handwriting legible again!). But in general, there are multiple entries a week, and I feel better when I’m journaling regularly. Research shows that journaling is a great stress reliever, and it’s certainly been that for me. But I also like the record I’m keeping of myself. Since I keep all my journals and date them, it’s easy for me to go back and find my college journals, or even my high school ones, and see what was important then, and how I’ve grown and matured in many ways since I’ve written then (my handwriting has gotten remarkably better, for one thing).
I do keep a paper journal. I can’t seem to keep an electronic one, unless you count blogging, and I don’t. That brings up an important distinction: a blog/facebook page/twitter is not your journal! This seems to be a problem for folks who grew up with Facebook and social media in general. Allow me to ‘splain it to you, Lucy.
Journals are private, unless you choose to share them (one reason I like the book form–easy to hide!). No one else reads my writing there. It is totally private. A blog/Facebook update/tweet is not. I don’t care if you only have five followers. Nothing written on social media is TRULY private. Do not bare your soul and share intensely private things unless you want everyone you know to read it. That’s also a good rule of thumb for blogging, by the way. When I first started working for the state senate, our legal counsel told us not to write anything in a work email that we wouldn’t want posted at the corner of Broad and High (Columbus’ equivalent of Times Square). Please, people, keep some things private. We really do not need to know everything about you.
But in a journal? Write away. Write whatever you want. It’s private!
So I keep a plain journal, preferably lined, although I’ve used unlined journals. I like moleskines the best because they travel really well and are made to take abuse. I use pens (I’m very picky about my pens), and I like to use sharpies for some color. I generally journal at the end of the day, but I have my gratitude journal in the morning, which I write in after lauds. If you’re artistic, feel free to doodle/draw/paint in yours (Moleskine does sell journals for watercolors). I like to put in quotes I find funny/profound, or comic strips I’ve cut out of the paper, adding to the “commonplace book” aspect of my journaling.
It doesn’t have to be elaborate, and it doesn’t have to take long, but journaling is a habit I recommend for everyone, not just writers. Virginia Woolf said that “Nothing has really happened until it has been described,” and a journal is a great place to do that.
Do you keep a journal? How long have you done so? Or does the idea of journaling overwhelm you? Let’s talk about it in the comments!