I love questions.
One of my favorite things of all is being with my people and the fun we have when someone rolls out a question and we run with it.
Something unplanned always comes of it- whether it is a batch of chocolate eclairs, a visit to Indian ruins or figuring out something one of us knows about and the other has appetite to learn.
Yesterday, one of my longest time friends, Kathy, told me she’d just returned from a trip to Mexico- one of the places she is happiest on earth. When she is there, she journals daily to keep track of each day, each adventure, each sunset.
And now that she is home, she wonders “How do I start keeping a journal daily? How to keep going?”
First, congratulations Kathy, you already started. You gave yourself the treat of writing on vacation. Some people say that birthing a new habit is super easy on vacation because you don’t have your normal distractions to divert your energy. You are just there, on the terrace, watching the sunset with your own two eyes and your camera. You can’t help but witness and record some of that magic. Then, the next morning, you write about it because you don’t want to forget the way the water looked and the sound of the palm trees overheard.
But now, you are home and the kitchen table is cluttered, the wash needs folding, the bottles need to be returned, the snow needs shoveling and the cheese drawer embarked on a science project while you are gone. So, you tend to all that. You get back to your work schedule. Your little leather bound journal seems as foreign to you in your wintery life as your flip-flops and sunblock. Who needs those things now?
More than ever, you do.
Here is why I think daily journal keeping is a good thing:
1. It is fun. You get to savor favorite moments, list things that intrigued you, catch snippets of intriguing conversations and record your dreams. It is something you do just for you. There is enormous permission in keeping a journal. No spell checking. No other readers. Daily journal writing is your free space.
2. It strengthens your memory. You record what happened. It is no longer just a memory, but you have taken information and put it into a new format. This builds new neural pathways in your brain, increasing your mental picture of a place and time. That is why you do it on vacation. Now, let your normal life fascinate you!
3. Daily writing helps you work out problems. No longer left to the confines of your mind, situations that confound you, weary you, or break your heart get the comfort of your full attention. You can ask questions or state truths that may be hard to do in person. A journal is your safe zone. I keep a black page in my journal for writing my thoughts that I never ever ever want anyone to read. If I don’t have a black page, I do what is called “repatations”- write over and over the same line. This obscures your words, but gives you the intense release and pleasure of getting them out of your head.
4. Daily writing builds great habits of attention, gratitude and understanding. As you recollect the past day, writing about it gives you space to recall the color of the magnolias and the way their perfume entered a room. If I am stuck, I often make lists, and gratitude lists are the best because inevitably, after number ten, I keep going to 20. By that point, I see that by having so many things to be grateful, I am led to a level of self-awareness that opens me to the sacred in daily life- or at least your magnificent life. Noticing builds appreciation. And, as you write, you will begin to notice patterns you have- I always seem to fall apart mid-morning if I haven’t eaten breakfast. I did this last Saturday and here it is again, on this Saturday. Hmm. Note to file- eat breakfast before 9. Simple stuff gets clearer. Difficult stuff gets easier to look at.
5. You begin to honor your self-care practices and this tells your inner life that whatever is going on has a rightness to it, worthy of attention. You build muscles of self-forgiveness and self-love. This makes you a happier person. We all want to be happy, right? Keeping a daily journal builds happiness.
6. Lastly, daily writing leads to more writing. You hear phrases that tickle you and take notes. You hear a song lyric that inspires you and you write about that. You collect quotes, lists of books you read, your new favorite colors. You have memories of people and places that you want to hold on to, so you write about that. And, before you know it, you write a story or a poem that bears the imprint of your unique self on it.
Daily journal writing is more fun, and thus, more likely to become a routine if you take care of these six things:
1. Make a clear spot for your writing. Keep one part of your desk clear just for your journal. Make space for your writing time in a very physical way. Find a quiet spot, clear it off and store your journal there.
2. Find yourself a ruled page notebook, something that is super easy to lay flat when open. No fancy journals that you are afraid to ‘ruin’. I have all my journals. They are spiral bound and filled to the last line. I love them for their rough and readiness. And, Kathy, they pack easily on a bike.
3. Pick a pen with ink that flows easily. I should be a representative for Sharpie Pens, with a fine nib.
4. Write at the same time every day. Let your partner know that you are going to be writing from, say, 7-7:45 a.m. and you’d like to be uninterrupted for this time. No phone calls, visitors or requests for help finding the butter in the fridge. If your family needs you at this hour, then wake up before them. I promise you, after 21 days of writing, you will want to be waking early and writing. Ultimately, 45 minutes of writing lets you fill 3 full pages. It may seem like a lot to you today, but this is what I learned from Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way. 3 full pages allow me to get the details of yesterday down on paper and move on to a few new thoughts. If you don’t know what to write, make lists. But keep your pen moving for 30 to 45 minutes daily. Yes, pen and paper. No computer. This is a life habit that requires your body to participate! Thoughts to hand, hand to pen, pen to paper. Save the computer for writing your novel. At 45 minutes, sign off. Thank yourself for practicing your new habit and get on with your day.
5. Keep a few inspirational items on your writing area, but nothing else- no bills to pay, no homework, no cell phone, no nothing. Find a book of quotes or poetry you love. Place a rock from the beach or a photo of someone who inspires you with courage. These are the qualities it takes to set forth to bring your inner life on to paper. Notice beauty. Take courage. Write on.
6. Let every day be a new day. Try these prompts: Open your writing as if you are penning a letter to yourself or to your best friend. Write as if everything that happened to you was the most interesting event on the planet. Write down your dreams, verbatim. Describe each meal you ate and what you loved. Make lists of your dreams, big ones and small. Then, forgive yourself on the weekend when you have company and can’t get to write. Forgive yourself when you spill coffee on your pages. Forgive yourself when you judge your writing as too lame, too dull, too ordinary. Write anyway. Writing is a habit. It is not a talent. You just have to start.
Kathy, I love you all the more for asking this question.
I hope these suggestions help you get started.
I know you have jewels to unearth.
Before I close, I must note that all this would not be possible if not for my beloved high school English teacher, Mr. Charles Dedic. He is the one who really lit my fire to write daily. And, Mr. Dedic, if you are reading this, I hope you feel my big grin beaming your way.
PS Please comment below and let me know how you keep your journal. Did you find these are helpful suggestions? And, as always, share this post with a friend. xoxo