We have The Art of War and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, so it’s just about time somebody opened a discussion on The Art of Journaling. So grab some
popcorn and your favorite beverage, and let’s get started!
“Journaling is more of an art than a science,” Joanne Broder Summers says. “There are no rules with journaling.” In a world with freely accessible spellcheckers like
Grammarly and Hemmingway to rewrite your musings, you will find art in anything
you create freehand. Your entries make up you at your worst, best, and most
real all at once. It’s the real deal, a raw portrait of you. And with some of
the things parading around out there as art, how can your portrait be anything
What does it take to become a Michelangelo of journaling?
An artist needs paints, brushes, and a canvas. A musician needs an instrument, an understanding of sounds, and a feel for timing. To reach the vaunted level of Journal Master, you only need two things: desire and a way to record your thoughts. Anybody reading this already has the desire, or at least
the spark that feeds it – interest. And if you have the way to read this, you
have a way to get your thoughts down.
Many journalers prefer pen and paper. They revel in the feel of pen on paper, the smell of ink, the joy of picking out a new book or a new pen. Even micro journalers, who record their lives in bullet points and brief sentences, enjoy the paper, the tools, and the design. In her pocket calendar, Ariel Bisset adds little drawings. “And I’ve also added stickers because I love stickers.” Others of us don’t care so much about the medium. We just want to get our thoughts out. A word processor like MS Word, e-mail, or even dictation works for us. And if you have access to a cell phone, you probably have access to e-mail and a voice recorder.
Joanne points out that as human beings, we feel emotions and get stressed out. And unlike robots, we can’t just shut down without consequences. Releasing our feelings in the form of a journal allows us to unleash our emotions, reduce stress, and build emotional intelligence. “We are entitled to those feelings. Whether it
is anger towards someone, untangling a messy situation, or
self-reflection, a journal is a safe place to vent, blurt out, and brag without
appearing foolish,” she says.
Ready, set, go, go, go!
So, you’re ready to start your masterpiece, to chisel away at the block of marble that is you, and to reveal the David or Venus de Milo hiding underneath. But you don’t feel good about how to start. Never fear! “It only takes one word to start,” Joanne says. She recommends four simple steps for getting the most out of that first word:
- Pick a process. That means handwriting, typing, or dictating. Don’t limit yourself to the first one you pick. Try them all, and use more than one if it works for you.
- Make your journal special. Pick a book with a special cover. If you type, pick a font that you like. Change the font and color to match your mood. If you stick with a simple spiral-bound notebook, find that special pen.
- Use your journal as a buffer. Say what you want without apology. Don’t worry about grammar, sentence structure, political correctness, or spelling. Let loose!
- Keep your journal private. It’s for you and you alone. “Sharing your journal could invite hard feelings and contribute towards more harm than good,” Joanne says. And you don’t want anyone critiquing your raw ideas and dreams.
Tips and tricks
Rose Caiola offers these tips for getting started on your journal journey:
- Find your time and style. Experiment with
different times of day until you find the one most productive for you.
- Fall in love with your journal. Pick a book with
a cover you like, explore fonts, or find the dictation program that suits you
- Shoot the inner critic. Give your inner editor
journal entry time off and let the thoughts flow. If you misspell words, garble
sentences, or spit out things only you can understand, don’t worry about it!
- Make it fun. This point may be the most
important of them all. While dumping your negative emotions on the page and
working through them has its benefits, don’t confine your journal to the
depressing, soul-sucking moments of your life.
“My journal seemed like a faithful friend who could be trusted with any secret,” fiction author Kathy Holzapfel says. “Consequently, as soon as I filled all the pages of a journal and reread them once, I’d burn the journal. Knowing the journal would be destroyed was freeing. I could write anything. I also realized the increasing negativity – all that grumbling, whining, and swearing – didn’t serve me well.”
She goes on to tell us, “About fifteen years ago, I made a decision to start writing more positively and expectantly and, yes, my life became more positive.”
And this leads us into Rose’s last point:
- Treat your journal as a friend. Don’t forget to include mundane things and keep it realistic and exciting to you.
The Art of Journaling: How To Start Journaling, Benefits of Journaling, and More, an
in-depth look at the art of journaling, https://dailystoic.com/journaling/
The Art of Journaling: The Healing Benefits of Keeping a Journal, a nice blog post
about using your journal to feel better, https://www.instinctualwellbeing.com/benefits-journaling-healing/
Fiction author Kathy Holzapfel has taken advantage of
journal writing since the mid-1990s. Her style and content have evolved over
the decades, and the desire to keep a journal and the benefits she receives
doing it have only grown. She took some time in early March of 2020 to share some of the tips, experiences, and lessons she’s learned along her journaling way.
How frequently do you journal?
I usually write first thing every morning as I drink my first cup of coffee. I don’t sweat missed days. If I’m traveling solo, I take it along; otherwise, I leave it at home. I only journal when I’m by myself. I can write novels in coffee shops, but I can’t journal in one.
What do you write about?
I begin with a recap of the previous day – how the day went overall. Did I hit my goals? Any surprises or disappointments? It’s not unusual to mention how I slept, how I felt physically and mentally. I’m always self-analyzing, and many times there are more questions than answers. I’ll write about what I’ve got planned for the day. I write about my writing a lot. It’s my passion and magnificent obsession. Some days it’s about how I’m feeling about the writing in general – are things going great, or are they sucking? Sometimes I’ll start writing about a particular
story problem and have often resolved issues or come up with new story/plot
angles via the journaling process. I almost always end the entry with a pep talk to
myself – and after rereading a bunch of older journals, I realized my signature
sign-off line is “Here’s to a great day.”
Do you journal digitally or with pen and paper?
Always pen and paper. Nothing fancy paper-wise. I don’t care for bound pages as they won’t lie flat. I use the inexpensive, wire-bound, 8 X 10 student notebooks. When a journal is filled, I write the to-from dates on the cover with black marker and pack it away. Lately, I’ve started filing my journals by year, so I make sure and start a new one every Jan. 1st. I’m fussy about pens and make sure they don’t bleed through since I write on both sides of the page.
How long are your entries?
Most days I do a page or two. Sometimes longer. Sometimes as short as a paragraph.
Are you worried about privacy?
Yes. As I mentioned above, I used to destroy my journals as soon as I filled one to assure eternal privacy. I keep my current one tucked away in a private spot, but I am very aware that anyone could find/read them at any time, so believe me, I don’t write anything incriminating, embarrassing, or hateful. Anyone reading them would likely be bored.
Has journaling improved your life?
Yes. When I made the decision to start journaling with a more positive, self-uplifting slant, my life became more positive and uplifting. I recently read this quote by James Clear: “Every action is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.” I basically up-vote my life through journaling, and my aspirations are sky-high. The adage “your mileage may vary” certainly applies. Journaling is something that should be pleasant and satisfying. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t have kept it up this long. You can check out Kathy’s novels and soak in more of her
wisdom at her website, http://www.bodaciouswords.com/, and follow her on Twitter @KathyHolzapfel.
When it comes to the art of journaling, only two things matter: Do it and have fun doing it. And, remember, fun may mean getting some tough stuff off your chest so that you can move along to more joyful times. Just make sure to share the good times along with purging the bad ones.