You may not know this about me, but I keep a regular journal. I actually started journaling in middle school because we moved to Okinawa, Japan and I thought it would be important to document my experiences there. I probably didn’t record a lot of nuance or interesting things like I predicted, but it started an amazing habit that I’ve kept up for seventeen years. That’s a lot of notebooks filled up with my thoughts!
If you’d like to start a journal or you’d like to be better at it, here’s just a few ways I journal and stick with it.
1. I Set an Established Pattern
Rather than journaling every day, I write every Sunday. Simply put, I write about the previous week and transition throughout the week with phrases like “Wednesday was better,” to signify which day I’m talking about. Since I’m fairly busy, it’s reasonable and easy to just stick with weekly recordings. I’m less likely to fall behind and less likely to forget what actually happened.
I choose to write something about every day because I happen to find interesting things to say about each day; it happens when you plan a pretty packed week, right? If you feel like you live a pretty routine life, you don’t have to talk about those days. If you’re starting a fresh journal, you could detail what a normal day looks like for you, then you could start a new entry when you want to share a specific memory or event.
You’ll notice that I specifically picked Sunday. It’s a slow, relaxed day for me, it’s considered the start of a calendar week for the majority of people, and the pattern is ingrained enough that I always set aside time for it. Maybe Monday is a better day for you; the point is to be consistent to give yourself a chance to succeed.
2. I Reference My Daily Planner
Since there is a lot of different things going on that I want to record, I tend to summarize my day in my planner. Yes, I keep a print planner, so I can write down my to-do lists and list out what I did that day, current events worth noting, or even some small victories or miracles. I like writing positive things because it keeps me grateful and it helps me avoid negative thought spirals.
Then, at each Sunday, I just look back at my mini lists (usually phrases or keywords to help me remember) and record each memory in order. This is really nifty if you don’t want to write every day. It’s also helpful if you want to record honestly.
For example, it’s normal for married couples to fight, and I feel like I should be honest in how I record fights I have with Travis. I think it helps me process what actually happened but also remind myself it’s normal and how we mend hurt feelings. If I didn’t write those notes, I could easily forget what we were even fighting about!
I also want to remember small things that Travis does every day (like how we sing parodies of songs but put each other’s names in and on the spot talk about how cute they are) so the scope is balanced. My journal isn’t just recording my anxiety episodes or only recording my victories like my Insta feed. It’s a mixture of both, and I like that.
3. I Have a “Target Audience”
I know that’s such an SEO/marketing term, but it’s basically what we all do when we write, anyway. We usually write with a specific reader in mind. So who do you write to in your journal? I think the audience has changed over time but I tend to write to someone who wants to know the real me. That audience tends to be people who a) are interested in family history and b) my future kids or grandkids. It’s kind of weird to think that far ahead, but if I imagine a curious kid trying to sneak a peek in my journal, what would I want them to know about me? Simply, I would want them to know that I was just like them as a kid: flawed, naive, happy, sad, determined, creative, curious, and simple.
You don’t have to start off with “dear reader” or ever reference the reader. But like most writing goals, it’s easier to be consistent and genuine when you can feel like you’re writing to a real person. Even if your target audience is literally just yourself.
4. I Journal Differently After Vacations
Depending on how long my vacations are, I tend to treat those entries so much differently. During normal weeks, I talk about Monday, then Tuesday, and so forth. For vacation entries, I just have one big entry where I list out memories in no particular order. To me, it’s easier to get the sweetest and most interesting stories or memories down when I break my own rules for just a bit. It becomes more of a free-write because I’m referring to a list of things from my planner (if I look at it at all during the vacation) but just recording things as the memories come back to me. I like to include everything from small details I noticed about my vacation spot, to activities I enjoyed, to stories about random twists and turns. It could even just be a description of something that a photo couldn’t fully capture.
I’m also a perfectionist, and writing a list is easier to check off the journaling task rather than going through every single day of that trip like I normally do. If the vacation is longer than a week, it’s very easy for me to be behind, and there’s nothing worse that being behind on journaling!
I used to take my journal with me when I went on vacation but that ended up being unrealistic; I hardly write anything while on vacation (since that’s all I do for work and free-time at home), so I ended up bringing it for nothing. Now I don’t let it “nag” me until I get home and I pick up my usual schedule.
5. I Don’t Edit Myself
As an editor, that’s not a normal thing to say, but in my journal, I hardly proofread. If I write the wrong word or present something inaccurately, I will scribble it out and write the correct word down, but I don’t go back and proofread what I just wrote. I also let myself use slang, fragmented sentences, and everything in between. It’s fun to look back at the weird slang I’ve used over the years. When I lived in Germany as a missionary, my slang was CRAZY. It was a mix of German, English, and missionary lingo. In a few years I might not even know what I’m saying. Or, seeing that could take me right back to those memories.
This also feels very genuine to me; if I want to portray the real me, then I’ll keep the words I actually use. This might take some pressure off of you; I think we all journal like someone’s gonna find it and publish it like Anne Frank’s diary. That could seem pretty intimidating! So if you feel a bit awkward or formal as you sit down to journal, just free write and tell your own story on your own terms.
So that’s it on my end. Do you keep a journal? How many have you filled up? Let’s talk journaling on social media or in the comments.
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