I’ve kept journals on and off since I was about eleven. Even my Patient Husband’s patience is tried by the sheer number of journal books in storage at Casa Philangelus.
Ivy mentioned journal writing in her recent WritingCast episode, and I thought I’d address some of her points.
1) the blank first page syndrome. She mentions the many people who get a blank book and then are afraid to start writing because they’re going to mar the book’s complete perfection.
This explains, to me, why it may be that I always leave the first page blank. I go back afterward and put my name and contact information plus the dates the journal covers, but really, that’s more a “use this space” than my initial intention. If that were my intention, I’d do that first. Instead, I have always instinctively left a blank first page on my journals and gone on from there.
2) she says to put your date at the top of each entry, in part to combat “blank page syndrome” and also to keep a good chronology. I do this, and also when an entry breaks over different days (ie, I’m not done on Tuesday but I finish on Thursday) I insert the new date in at the appropriate place. (It gets confusing if I refer to “today” in both segments of the entry, so the inserted date helps.)
3) she tells you to use a nice/pretty journal. Nope. I’m doing that now, but I’ve heard of more people getting “blank page syndrome” from a pretty book than a sixty-nine cent marble bound notebook. It’s as if they’re afraid to offend the book or “waste” it. Someone once wrote, “When I had a pretty journal, I tried to use pretty words to fill it.” And that cramped her style. So she went for a spiral bound and found everything flowed freer.
Now for one other thought:
4) Have a focus for your journal. Ivy says to keep it free-form, but then make that your journal’s purpose. It’s easier to get off your duff and write in the thing if you see something and think, “That fits my journal’s purpose.” My current journal is a spiritual journal. I don’t record my kids’ milestones or “my feelings about moving to Angelborough” except inasmuch as they affect my spiritual life. The journal exists only to record my thoughts about and interactions with the spiritual side of my life.
It’s also not for anyone else to read because if you did read it, you’d think I was a religious fanatic since that’s all it talks about. The same thing with the past: if I’ve kept a “writer’s journal” you’d look at it and think I was only a writer. For a year, I kept a “mother’s journal” where every day I tried to write one good thing each child had done. That worked well, but I’ve fallen off the wagon. What I really need to do is keep two journals: one spiritual and one motherhood. The writing has to fit in between those things.
As for the form: for a while it was letters to God. Recently I’ve shifted back to just talking to myself in the journal. Whatever feels most natural to you the writer.
Whatever form it takes, if you find journaling to be helpful, go for it! And every so often, when you can, go back and revisit the “old you” from time past, because sometimes you’ll find things that truly startle you…