The Virtues of Journaling

Obviously writing is a big part of my life. And I’ve taken steps in the past year to help other people bring more writing into their lives too. The workshops that I’ve been teaching so far are mostly about overcoming your internal barriers that are keeping you from writing, and the focus is generally on writing that you one day intend to share with others.

But recent conversations have led to a new series that will focus on writing just for you.

Since I can remember, I’ve kept a journal. Most of these were real, physical, paper journals. There were also years and years where I journaled on computers, and sadly most of these years were lost. There is one particular summer of fervent journaling in an attic of my first real home away from home; I was 19, and I journaled each and every day. I think about these journals often, and am so sad that I didn’t make more of an effort to preserve them permanently.

Journaling is a lost art. But I think that it’s making a comeback. Journaling might at first conjure images of a pre-teen girl scribbling , “Dear Diary…” in a flower covered book with a tiny gold lock on the cover. And this is a 100% valuable experience for that girl, which should in no way be diminished. But journaling is also a whole lot more – from helping with creative thought, to mental health issues, there isn’t a lot that journaling can’t help with.

If you dig back in time, you’ll find that most, if not all, great writers, inventors, runners, academics, and dreamers kept journals. Albert Einstein kept a journal. Virginia Woolf kept a journal. Earnest Hemingway kept a journal. Obviously and famously, Anne Frank kept a journal. Google “famous people who kept journals” and you will find list upon list of famous journals, and words of wisdom from famous journalers on the virtues of journaling.

A journal is a way of documenting the present, but it is also a tool for reflection. It’s a tool for working through the backlogs of your subconscious mind, but consciously and on paper. It’s a way of sifting through the fog of your dream state and turning it into something real.

“’There is physicality in reading,’ says developmental psychologist and cognitive scientist Maryanne Wolf of Tufts University” (via Scientific American). And so, there is to writing as well. I’ve tried different journals over the years, of varying size, and level of fanciness, but my go to favourite is a 5 dollar hard cover 5 ½”x 8” sketchbook that you can find at pretty much any art supplies store. It allows for writing, or doodling, or whatever. There is no imposed format. It’s big enough to write a full page, but not so large that it’s cumbersome. My go-to pens are the Classic Poppin Ballpoint and the Staedler Triplus Fineliner. There is nothing worse (ok, there are a lot of things worse, but whateveeeeeeeer) than trying to write with a pen that you hate, or in a book that you have no desire to keep writing in because it’s not quite right. Find writing implements that you love. This doesn’t mean that you have to spend hundreds of dollars on a custom, monogrammed, leather-bound journal, but don’t feel like you need to use a Field Notes or MoleSkine journal because they are “cool” even though you don’t derive joy from them (full disclosure – while I don’t write in Field Notes, I DO use the Field Notes Original Plain Memo Books for my every day ongoing to-do lists, and they are great).

ANYWAYS. If you’re stuck on an idea at work, or in a creative project that you’re working on in your own time; if you are going through something personally and need somewhere to vent; if you’re trying out writing again for the first time in years and years, and you feel rusty as all hell and just want to practice; if you’re planning out your dream trip/project/life, and need somewhere to document your thoughts on how to make it happen – give journaling a try.

Even if it feels awkward at first, keep at it; after a time, you just might find that you love it.





Leading a life of leisure

The other day, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine and she mentioned that she recently made an effort to start learning Japanese again. It’s something that she’s always wanted to do, and though she has no immediate use for it in her daily life, it makes her feel really happy. Building on my last post, and the idea of physical activity just for the sake of being physical, I challenge you to make time to take up one hobby that you’ve been thinking about forever and ever JUST BECAUSE YOU LIKE IT.

Just because you take up writing, doesn’t mean that you have to be working on a novel, or posting to a blog. It doesn’t matter if you’re terrible at drawing if it brings you pleasure; you don’t have to have a show one day, or even ever share it with anyone if you don’t want to; just do it because you like it. Do you like crafting? That’s great! You can do it without ever making an Etsy store. Do you like cooking fancy dinners? Do it just for you! You can have a dinner party if you want; or don’t. Have you always wanted to learn the cello? Take lessons! For fun!

Too often, there’s the expectation that every hobby we take up, or activity we partake in, has to be associated with a goal, or outcome, or has to turn into a side hustle. And there’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what you want. But it’s also important to remember that it is completely legitimate and valid and NICE to do things just because they make you feel happy. It’s good to have goals – goals can give you a sense of purpose in life, and help you to feel accomplished and like you’re contributing something to the world. But it’s also good to do things without any expectation that they have to be productive.

You don’t even have to rationalize your ‘just for fun’ activities if you don’t want to. You don’t need to share an article about how painting in your free time makes you a better parent because some study found that it increases your ability to empathize with your children. You don’t need to justify learning a new language because actually you noticed that your industry is expanding into this market and it could be useful in the future. You don’t need to do crosswords, because you read somewhere that it will help you to stave off senility by increasing cognition, and also will somehow enhance your sex life through self perceived increase in intelligence and therefor projected confidence. You can take up activities for those reasons if you want to and that’s fine. But you can also just forget all of that shit; every last bit of it; and do something because it makes you smile. That is absolutely fine too.