Read an Excerpt
Journal Writing An Overview
A journal is a journey, your journey, and it can take you wherever you want to go. You don't have to be a writer. You don't have to fill your journal with literary efforts. You don't even have to write in complete sentences. All you have to do is be willing to start and see where it leads because a journal, like a journey, is about movement.
Just as a journey is about moving from one place to another, a journal is about interior movement on the path to finding your authentic self. The idea of an "authentic self"may seem foreign to you, but it's really quite simple. Your authentic self is the person composed of your most reliable instincts, truthful insights, trustworthy observations, and genuine feelings. It's also your talents and dreams, successes and failures. In short, your authentic self is everything you are and everything you have the potential to become. The purpose of a journal is to help you express this authenticity and to provide a deeply meaningful tool on your voyage of self-discovery. This book will show you the way.
In this chapter and the ones that follow, you will learn about a wide range of approaches, techniques, topics, and benefits associated with keeping a journal. You will be introduced to the work of teachers and the words of journal writers. You will discover that there is no right or wrong way to approach this subject and that there are as many varied, individual approaches to writing as there are people who write. This realization should liberate and reassure you, especially if you have never written before and worry that you must follow one particular style or format.
Whatever the case, use this book as a resource for finding your own voice and expressing it. The best way to begin is to explore the many options you'll find in these pages. Read them carefully and watch your reaction. Does one approach appeal to you more than another? Are there entries that move or inspire you? Do you feel motivated to pick up a pen and let your authentic self come through with some words of your own? If so, remember the following.
A Private Place
Your words belong to you. Unless you want to, you don't have to share them with anyone else. Your journal is a private place. It's a place to explore your creative and physical self and to examine feelings. Your environment, relationships, career, dreams, conversations, and community are also possible topics, as are the deeper issues like your place in life, your role in the universe, and your spirituality.
According to educator and well-known journal expert Christina Baldwin, these deeper issues are what distinguish a journal from a diary. Although the two words often are used interchangeably, there is a difference. A diary is a formal pattern of daily entries that catalog observations, activities, expenses, and the like. It is outwardly focused. By contrast, a journal is an inward journey, a record of internal life written consistently over a period of time but not necessarily day by day. It is a place where you can go one on one with your mind, where you can commune with rarely explored parts of yourself and where those parts can answer back. What are those other parts? Your intuition, your alter ego, your subconscious, and your spirit. We all have these answering voices, notes Baldwin, and through journal writing, we can access them.
But why should we? Paris-born Anaïs Nin, one of history's most famous journal writers, provided an answer in one of her entries.
"We write to heighten our . . . awareness of life . . . to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection . . . to transcend . . . life . . . to teach ourselves to speak with others, to record the journey into the labyrinth . . . expand our world, when we feel strangled, constricted, lonely . . . when I don't write I feel my world shrinking. I . . . lose my fire, my color."
Reasons for Keeping a Journal
Heightening your awareness is just one reason to keep a journal. There are many others. As you'll learn later in this book, you can use journals to study family history, as Alex Haley did in his research for the book Roots; to explain what it's like to live as an artist, as Andy Warhol did in The Diaries of Andy Warhol; or to understand why you're ill, like broadcaster Betty Rollins, who kept a journal on her fight against breast cancer. Whatever your reason for keeping a journal, you're in good company.
Ptolemy, Marco Polo, Samuel Pepys, Cleopatra, Abigail Adams, Anne Frank, and even fictional characters like Robinson Crusoe kept journals for the same reason you're thinking of doing itto make sense of their lives. Along the way, each of these people discovered more about who they really were, even though at the time they may not have consciously known this is what they were doing.
Take Marco Polo. His intention was to chronicle his world travels, yet among the dates and descriptions are personal insights and observations of himself and others. As Marco Polo broadened his horizons, he also broadened his sense of self. Likewise, Cleopatra wrote of her great loves and passions, but she also used her journal to explore political strategies and assess the power of Rome. In her journal, Cleopatra's personal and professional politics cross-pollinated, defining her as a woman and a queen.
Obviously, journals work on many levels. You might think you're writing about your diet, but in among the notes on pounds you lost you might discover references to an old self-image you're ready to shed. Those entries on becoming a mother not only catalog the progress of your pregnancy, they may provide insights on the relationship between you and your parents, and so on.
The point is that a journal helps you communicate more clearly with yourself. As you will learn from the many journal writers and experts in this book, journal writing helps you achieve self-knowledge and self-healing. It guides you as you progress toward who you want to be. It's a way of making your dreams and goals more real. Ultimately, giving these elusive, intangible concepts a physical dimension is powerful medicine.
Why medicine? Because writing a journal is healthy, says Sandra Thomas, Ph.D., R.N., a professor at the University of Tennessee College of Nursing and founder of the Women's Anger Study. Thomas notes that besides diffusing anger, a journal is a highly effective means of releasing stress and frustration. In addition, you can use your entries to respond to a health crisis, such as an illness, a physical challenge, or a body image problem. You also might want to change an old addictive habit, rebuild your self-esteem after a bad relationship, understand your father's death, or find out why, in any given situation, things turned out differently than you expected.
Whatever the case, journal writing helps you identify the issue and seek a solution. It does this by revealing recurrent patterns. A journal kept consistently over time can show you which situations regularly trigger certain emotions and behaviors. These can be behaviors you want to change or behaviors that are working just fine. If they're behaviors you want to change, your journal is the place where you can explore various options and evaluate potential outcomes. In other words, it is a safe place to try on the faces you're not quite ready to show to the world.
No matter what the world says, remember that your journal is not public property unless you choose to make it so. Therefore, in the interest of privacy, think about where you should keep it stored. Anaïs Nin kept her completed journals locked in a safety deposit box. You might use a locked drawer, briefcase, or fireproof metal box.
Any of these precautions might be appropriate depending on the circumstances. If you're leaving your employer or your spouse, working to get out of an abusive situation, have a brilliant scientific formula, or simply want to avoid prying eyes, plan security accordingly. Also, if you carry your journal out and about, you should insert a card inside with instructions on how it can be returned to you if it becomes lost. Include your name, address, phone number, and, if appropriate, offer a reward. If your journal is especially sensitive, you may want to substitute a post office box number for your name and address.