Why I love journaling
We’re done with the first quarter of the year already. I had intended to post this on New Year’s but now is not a bad time.
In the last few days of 2018 I was reflecting upon how the year went by for me. I was looking through my 2018 journals. That led me to browse through all the journals I have kept over the years. I seriously began journaling/diary writing in Bangalore (to take in all the new things I was experiencing being away from home).
Before that, my journals from school days were just full of quotes from novels and difficult words I had encountered with meanings scribbled beside them from a dictionary. The practice that began seriously in Bangalore, stuck. My diaries over the years are a mix of transcripts of conversations, reflections, doodles…
If you’re not a writer and generally don’t keep notebooks lying around in which you scribble notes and plot ideas, you might be apprehensive of keeping a diary for fear of being read and judged by someone. That’s a natural fear but that shouldn’t stop you. A friend in school wrote in code so that her parents wouldn’t get anything even if they happened to read it. One way of coding your work is to change names of real people and places. It’s only a suggestion. Journaling has helped me a lot so I thought I would share my journey with you and how it could help you too.
I keep a journal for many reasons. To jot down notes when I’m watching a movie/ TV show or reading. To capture my immediate analysis of the scene/para. It is effective because I’m not over-thinking at that moment. I write the thoughts down before self-doubt comes in and crushes the voice or before other daily stuff makes me forget. I use it for me-time. To unwind at the end of a busy day, what went well, what didn’t. What was mundane. What was interesting. Some bits about what people spoke. Some things I came across on my Facebook feed etc. How I’m feeling, without judging myself for feeling that way…
What I enjoy the most about journaling is that I write my thoughts and feelings down instead of typing them. It is that rare time spent away from any screen. Most of us spend time in front of screens so this is a good way to keep away from them. If you’re not a student and aren’t writing as much as you used to, this could keep your handwriting alive.
My diary is the place I go to where I know I won’t be judged. You might find that the people in your life have become busier or that you have lost touch with some, you won’t have to worry about that with your diary. A diary is a space you can go to anytime. Those who are not comfortable writing by hand can also write on Word Documents, email or blogs (private).
Writing can be therapeutic. At a point, I used to write only positive things (that I considered as my highlights of the day) in my diary which was my way of being grateful for what I had, seeing the glass half-full etc. but it also made me realise that I’m sweeping things under the carpet. I started writing down the lows of my day (it was difficult at first) and surprisingly while it made me revisit the incidents that I would rather forget, it helped me relieve a lot of stress that had been building up. In a way it also helped me gain perspective on the situation and the people involved, including myself, even I was only a bystander.
You need not be conscious, no one’s going to read what you’ve written, no one is judging your performance, your English. You can write in whichever language you’re comfortable in. While we do converse in English and write in English, most of us who are bilingual do first think in another language. Mine are Konkani and English. Yours could be Hindi, Marathi, Malayalam, Arabic, Kannada…
If you don’t want to keep a record of what you’re writing but just want to get the thought or feeling out, a friend suggested something brilliant i.e. after having written the content, tear the page and throw it! Might clear your head and help air out bottled up feelings.
Also, Some of us are unable to express ourselves verbally. Writing might help you organise your thoughts.
Here’s what you could write in your diary, for starters:
The practice of writing down your prayers seemed strange to me when I saw Abiline from The Help do it, but it’s not a bad idea, right?
I used to write letters as a child when we had no internet back then. A few epistolary novels come to mind like Perks of being the wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, We need to talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver and Letters to my father by Franz Kafka. By the way, how many of us write long, thoughtful emails anymore?
Most of us don’t believe in ourselves or ideas as much as we should. We dismiss them the moment it’s in our head, even before it can take birth on paper. Why? Afraid of being laughed at? Afraid it won’t turn out the way you envisioned it or might envision it? How would you know if you didn’t even try? Failed before? Try again.
Why did I do this? Why did he/she/they do this? Why did I say this? Why is that round? Why is that flat? What’s that called? Anything that bothers you, baffles you…
Why didn’t I say this? – You know how in movies/shows, characters find the perfect replies to everything and you end up wondering why do I always think of a perfect reply only hours later, or maybe even days later? This reflection will help you replay the event, possibly prepare you for a better reply next time!
Also, it will bring forward your ‘voice’. You will be more self-aware and might also be able to empathise with others as you try to understand them better.
We all dream, right? My dreams are often ambiguous and surreal. I don’t understand them. What I do is I write them down. Writing them down doesn’t really help me make sense of them but I feel better after doing so. Usually, after a few hours have passed, I forget the sequence of scenes in the dream so it’s better to immediately scribble down what’s fresh in your head right in the morning. This also reminds me of Morning Pages, a concept by Julia Cameron in ‘The Artist’s Way’. Here’s a blogger’s experience of it.
- Things that don’t make sense immediately- like traumatic events
Things don’t always go well for us. Bad stuff does happen to good people. What do you write about something that you’re struggling to come to terms with? That you can’t find the right words for? Just write words. They don’t have to mean anything. Just words. Without punctuation. Without grammar. Just words. On a revisit, it might not make any sense to you but it will help deal with your immediate stress.
The new year is here!. It’s time we set goals for ourselves. We could make a fresh start anytime of the year. Doesn’t have to be the new year itself. It could be today, it could be tomorrow. Just doing it is what matters. A diary will help remind you whether you’re on track on what you set out to do etc. It can help you keep a check on yourself. While you might prefer to announce your goals to friends, family, colleagues etc. While their reminders can help you keep track of what you are set out to do, it also makes you reliant on them to achieve your goal.
If it’s just in your diary, even if you fail to do it, no one will know of it, your sense of failing and self-reflection will only be for you. You would own your achievement/failure. You’d be independent and it will enhance your will-power. You will be in control of you. But hey, if a support group can actually help you achieve your goals, why not? Sometimes when we tell it to someone else, it feels more real. Whatever works for you.
Did an event trigger a memory? Write what comes to you. No matter how hazy it is.
Happy memories. Sad memories. Bittersweet ones…
What you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed- Julian Barnes, The Sense of Ending.
You can do it. You are awesome. You are the best.
These motivational words to yourself can help keep negative thoughts away. You can pat yourself on the back for battling a chronic illness, for dealing with stressful situations etc.
Reading others journals might help you write yours. The journals of Sylvia Plath and Simone De Beauvoir come to mind.
Esme Wang, GRANTA’s Best of Young Novelists, encourages journaling. Do check this out by her: On restorative journaling & Rawness of Remembering. There are a lot of videos on Youtube about journaling to help you start with and maintain the habit. Hope this article motivates you to start or resume journaling. Remember it’s your diary. There are no rules.