As “the journaling chick” I get to hear a lot of pretty amazing stories about putting pen to paper and see some beautifully full, margin-busting journals. Conversely, I am always a little astounded when people tell me they don’t know how to journal or that they’re bad at it. They seem to be guiltily admitting they aren’t following the rules. But I promise, there are no rules. The only wrong way to do it is to not do it.
Sure, we all get stuck occasionally, me included. We are in excellent company. There’s a rich history of world-class writers (Mark Twain, Maya Angelou, Norman Mailer, William Falkner…need I go on?) talking about their writer’s block, their hesitance to make stuff. To paraphrase Elizabeth Gilbert’s highly readable book on creativity “Big Magic,” legendary musician Tom Waits struggled with his creative process but through watching his children create freely he had a breakthrough. “I realized that, as a songwriter, the only thing that I really do is make jewelry for the inside of other people’s minds.”
You don’t have to compete with Shakespeare or Jonathan Safran Foer, or ___ [sub in name of whoever’s work you respect.] You don’t have to compete with anyone.
Let’s take this a step further. The purpose of a journal is that it doesn’t even have an intended audience. It’s just for you. How’s that for permission? No need to make it perfect. Don’t trust me? Trust Margaret Atwood. She said, “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”
Then there’s the issue of feeling like you don’t have much to say. My go-to way of addressing when I feel like I have nothing to write about is why I feel like I have nothing to write about. Answering that question can actually be a good vein to tap.
“Why didn’t I want to take time to write today? I’m annoyed. I’ve got too much to do. I’m really, really busy. I have nothing interesting to say. How did I get so busy? It’s another addiction, almost a badge of honor - but an utterly false one. Unscheduled time is the real luxury. Doing nothing should be the new busy. I want to RSVP for the no-plan plan. I’m going to schedule unscheduled time. Silly? Maybe, but fuck it, it’s better than not having proper downtime.” And, boom, I have a theme. I’m suddenly writing about a pervasive cultural norm to which I am (wildly) subject and trying to address.
It’s not a draft. There’s no intended reader, they’re just words on paper. It’s the kernel of an idea, a moment of creating consciousness for myself. The very process of journaling reveals its rewards.
If you create something that you want to share with someone else, great! Bonus points and high fives. But it’s not a required part of the bargain you’re striking by opening up a notebook and putting pen to paper.
If you’re reading this you probably have a healthy respect for the written word. I hope you’ll also show your own words the respect of showing up so they can emerge. No rules necessary.
Photo credit: Trina Yin