On Keeping A Journal and Journaling

I've kept a journal since I was 11. That was in the mid 80's. I hadn't heard the word “journaling” until about a year or so ago, and lately it appears that giving advice and howto information about journaling is a bit of a cottage industry. I had no idea so many people were in demand of this information, but in a world where you can subscribe to multiple very successful monthly magazines about running, I shouldn't be so shocked.

I should also not be shocked to learn that people have heard some of the benefits people tout about journaling and want those benefits for themselves. But maybe some are skeptical and wonder “is journaling really all it's cracked up to be?” For those folks, let me say this: I've read a few of the blogs myself, and while I'd say the authors are mostly 1 or 2-year “veterans” who don't really get it yet, the benefits they say you can get from journaling are not only possible, they're just the tip of the iceberg.

The key to getting started, though, is probably to completely ignore everything you've read, go get a Pilot v5 pen, and some kind of blank book, and just start doing as you please. Beyond encouraging words and listing the benefits, what the books and blogs are telling you to do is, quite honestly, bullshit. They're either trying to put arbitrary rules around it, or telling you about the process they themselves find useful… for them. Some things I read seemed utterly destructive to some of the benefits. Tread carefully around advice, from me or anyone else.

Journaling is ultimately a personal thing. All of it. Not just the process, but the goals or what you want to get out of it. Furthermore, most of the goals I've achieved over multiple decades of journaling (and they are both countless and priceless) happened not because I willed it to be so and structured my process or writing to meet them, but by happy accident. I was benefitting from journaling long before I even realized what journaling had brought to my life.

So the idea that you can learn to journal strikes me as pretty odd. But I do encourage you to do it. Just find some quiet time, a blank page, and a pen, and spill it. Even if it looks boring. In the meantime, if you have questions best answered by someone who has been doing this for more than a year or two, let me know and I'll be happy to help if I can.

  • Craig Maloney

    Have you tried electronic methods for journaling and how has that worked for you? I tend to be in front of a computer for most of the day and the idea of being able to search through those journal pages is quite appealing to me.

  • bkjones

    I’ve toyed with the idea, but I haven’t been able to commit to it for a number of reasons:

    First, I can’t write as fast as I type, and the act of writing and thinking about what you’re going to write is a lot different than the act of *typing* and thinking about what you’re going to *type* next.

    Second, I’m in front of a computer all day too. I need a break. I also need to be focused when I write, and computers have a lot of distractions these days – even if you use some kind of full screen thing that’s designed to make you “focused”, it doesn’t work for me.

    Third, I had wanted to use my iPad for it, because it’s near the same form factor I use for physical journaling. Sadly, while I think having Penultimate with an Evernote Premium account (so you can password protect the app and get the searching benefits from handwriting) along with an Adonit Jot Pro (so you can actually *write*) is about as awesome a setup as you can get, it still falls flat for me compared to pen and paper.

    I can’t imagine actually *typing* a journal. There’s *sooooo* much that’s not going to be natural if you’re typing, and the written word by itself has a “tone”. I can tell if I was angry or happy when I wrote something before I actually read any of the words. I can underline, bold, insert whatever little symbols I want, lists, pictures, or whatever. I can write in iambic pentameter in a completely different “font”, have bigger or smaller writing, print in block or script, or anything else I can dream up, without having to stop and think about whatever tool I’m using to create the post.

    With regards to searchability, you’d be surprised how much I really *don’t* need that when you write, for a couple of reasons:
    1. The use case: most of the time I want to recall something, it happened some time within the last month, and it doesn’t take very long to find at all. My brain can read one sentence of a post within the last month, and instantly know if what I’m looking for is in that post at all, and whether what I want is before or after it, most of the time.

    2. The way I journal: the books I buy are thin, and they’re all different from each other. So I can generally recall either a year, which maps to a volume (even if some volumes span years or contain multiple years), or I can actually recall the volume I was writing in at the time. I just don’t really miss search a whole lot.

  • Craig Maloney

    Thanks! I’ve had a Moleskine book that I’ve used on-and-off again and I think this will get me to use it more often.

  • js

    Have you considered writing on paper and then scanning? I’m working towards more paperless and appreciate your insights. (great blog on the DRDoS attack, btw)