On Journal Writing

I think I’ve mentioned somewhere on the blog before that I write in a journal, although I sometimes wish I made more time for it. I don’t write anything too earth-shattering, no haikus or secret love affairs, just my day to day and whatever thoughts I’ve managed to keep in my mind by day’s end. I don’t know what will happen with my journals, but I’ve told Jon that if I die before I’ve had a chance to censor out all the juicy bits, he should burn all my journals so Caleb will never read the sordid stories of his childhood, like how his parents may or may not have used some of his Chinese New Year money to buy hot dogs from a stand because we didn’t have any cash, or how I may or may not regularly encourage the dog to lick Caleb’s wisps of hair across his head because it gives Caleb a comb-over which I think is hilarious.

But journal writing is something that I think is a thing that’s good for you, like drinking enough water, or stretching. I’ve been thinking about writing a series of blog posts on journal writing for a while, but it’s been a bit on the back burner. It sometimes feels like I have a lot of soups on the back burners, and some of them take a bit more simmering than others.

I’ve got a few library books kicking around that have been buzzing around my brain to get me started on the series, but it wasn’t even the threat of late fines that finally got me going (I think I’m basically completely desensitized to late fines, since I make Jon go in to pay them for me so the librarians will never know my shame…) – I came across this Instagram shot from Humans of New York. I don’t know if I should make some comment on the irony of finding this inspiration on social media, rather than doing some reflective thinking to inspire myself.

Humans of New York (@humansofny on Instagram) typically shows a picture of a person or a couple of people and shares a bit of their story. The stories are anything and everything: funny, sad, surprising, thought-provoking, silly. It’s kind of just a peek into someone else’s real life, just a slice.

Humans of New York

And check out those red pants! One day I hope to be fabulous enough to pull off pants like that.

The complete description, from the words of the woman in the photo, says:

“I’m writing in my journal. When I was in 11th grade, I had an English teacher named Ms. Lois Bricklin who required us to write in a journal every day. Then at the end of each marking period, we were supposed to turn in our journal. For the first two marking periods, I wrote all my entries right before the journal was due, and then backdated them. But for the third marking period, I actually made an effort to do it every day. By the fourth marking period, I was hooked. I haven’t missed a day in over 30 years. It’s like brushing my teeth. I turned 50 in January, so my latest entries have been very reflective. I’ve been questioning whether I’m living the life that I wanted to live.”

I mean, of course as a former teacher, how could I not love the fact that this woman is sharing this deep impact on her life that one of her teachers has made on her. I also want to point out that as a teacher, I know when my students have done all their work at the last minute and post-dated it. Yes, even when you use different coloured pens and try to crumple up the sheets.

But also, what I’m writing about in this post is this idea that writing every day has helped to shape how this person is going through her life. This is a meditative and reflective practice that can you sane and positive and focused.

There are all sorts of reasons for keeping a journal – to help you think and unwind and reflect and re-live the good and the bad, these are probably the most obvious, and I think more than enough reason to do so. To learn from our mistakes and to grieve and celebrate and wonder. To be able to go through life a bit more thoughtfully. I think there are enough online articles that surface and re-surface every once in a while that discuss some of the mental health benefits and boosts to creativity and the inner peace that the reflection of journaling has, which is all well and good, but I think writing in a journal as a regular habit is one of those things you just have to do to understand.

Maybe it’s because people who use and like to use fountain pens know that there’s an intrinsic link between the act of writing and the act of thinking, but journal writing is one of those completely personal and subjective and reflective things in our lives. It’s you and the paper and a pen or pencil, and maybe a cup of coffee, or maybe the view from your front porch, or maybe the last few minutes at your desk at night. 

I’m hoping this will be a series of blog posts on journal writing and the how and the why and the nitty gritty, but also on how the great thinkers and authors and just ‘ordinary’ people used or use their notebooks and journals as a record of their lives and the times they lived in, and as a way to understand the world around them. 

I have read quite a few diaries and journals over time, and I even taught a few when I was teaching. For some reason, in my personal reading, I’m always a bit hesitant to start reading someone’s published memoirs or diary because I have this idea that it might be boring, but once I start, I find them fascinating. You read about a different time, and a different reality, and you also hear a person’s voice in a very real way.  

But a lot of these journals have become an important piece of history, and the times lived in the situations that the authors were a part of or witnessed. I’m not necessarily talking just about the extraordinary situations, although I think each of our lives has a bit of the extraordinary in it. I’m talking about witnessing and living in the world as it is at that time. And while I’m certainly not saying that we should be writing in a diary for the sole purpose of establishing our eternal place in history, I do think that we should view our writing as something that’s important and lasting.

I think for us today, the insane speed with which technology is changing how we live and communicate and do business is one of the most important things that we in these times can record. Jon and I often talk about how businesses are getting bigger and fewer as big fish gobble up all the medium fish, and the small fish are sometimes just barely afloat (we would be a minnow, in this scenario). I think Best Buy and Future Shop, two already massive businesses, are now just Best Buy, can you believe it?

I mean, huge changes from technology are coming everyday – Canada Post is stopping door-to-door mail delivery (does this count as a huge change??), you can hardly find a person who isn’t on social media in some way, people are creating entire communities with other people they’ve never even met or seen, the death of the physical book and the local bookstore (and maybe also the pen..) has been predicted again and again…and all of these changes that are massive are lived every day in the tiniest of details by all of us.

But even aside from technology, the cities we live in, and the issues we are passionate about, and the cafes we sit in and the dreams we have. Each of the diaries and journals we write in preserve our humanity for the period of time we have here. And our humanity is important.

I hope that’s not too morbid. Having the baby and seeing him grow so crazy fast even though he’s less than a year old has made me a little morbid some nights. Jon says I should just have some more wine. But I think what I’m trying to say is that there’s so much that we could each write and record about each of our worlds and how we live and interact with each other. And in this world that’s moving at warp speed all the time, we should take a few minutes, and make a note of just where we are.

 

 

17 thoughts on “On Journal Writing

  1. julie

    I love this post! I think some more posts on journal writing would be fantastic! Are there any great published diaries or memoirs you would recommend?

    Reply
    1. Wonder Pens Post author

      Thanks for reading! I will be sharing much more on the published journals and memoirs I’ve been reading over the next few weeks, so stay tuned. I think even writing this blog post has given me a few more ideas on what will be coming up 🙂

      Reply
  2. franje

    Wonderful post!
    Right now, I’m reading 2 books on journal writing. One of them, “Opening Up”, is written by a psychologist from U of Texas, Austin. It describes how writing the details of a traumatic event and how you deeply feel about it, for 15 to 20 minutes a day for a few days, will help one to gain insight and relief. It will also boost your immune system a lot!

    The other book is Journal to the Self. It has many different ideas for journal entries.

    Caleb is such a cute kid!

    Reply
    1. Wonder Pens Post author

      Thank you for reading!
      Those both sound like really interesting books! I will definitely be adding those to my reading list, thanks so much for sharing. I’ve also heard that there are benefits to your immune system and how there are many physiological benefits to writing regularly. You will be hearing more from me on this topic soon 🙂

      Reply
  3. Carolyn

    I beg to differ with you Liz, when you call yourself a “former” teacher…you still are, you write to inspire and motivate, a heart and soul teacher..you are gifted.

    Reply
    1. Wonder Pens Post author

      You are too kind! Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to write. They say once a teacher, always a teacher, but I must admit I miss some of those days in the classroom 🙂 I hope you are enjoying the blog! 🙂

      Reply
  4. Susan W.

    Excellent and insightful post! I really enjoyed reading this and look forward to more of your series on journal writing. Thanks for taking the time to share with us.

    Reply
  5. markbee

    Journal writing is an invaluable tool. By the time I reconnected with fountain pens, the world had moved into the brave new digital realm. I had tried my hand at blogging, on more than one occasion, but I never found it very satisfying. When I started using pens and paper again, I realized why blogging wasn’t for me. I was trying to write for the wrong audience. When I started journaling I found my proper audience: me.

    From there I started pouring my thoughts and ideas and problems on to the page. Immediately it provided a release from the stress and anxiety of modern life. Not to say my life is perfect, but by setting things on paper, instead of my phone or iPad, I engaged with it in different ways. I found I was more prepared to think deeply or carefully about what I was writing, and I was better able to take action or make a change. I’ve also found that journaling for a short time every day has helped me organize my time more effectively – giving me more time to explore new pens, inks, and papers!

    Reply
    1. Wonder Pens Post author

      Thanks for reading!
      Yes, there’s such a huge difference between blogging and writing for yourself in a journal – I know especially as someone that tries to do both! Simply the thought that someone else could be reading it radically changes your own personal thinking process and filtering.
      I can really appreciate what you mean about thinking more deeply or carefully when you are writing on paper. Journaling forces you to slow down a bit as well, and I think this regular “slowing down” helps to regulate our own constant buzzing with all of the instant gratification and floods of information flowing around us.
      Although I think journaling helps me to organize my thoughts and focus, I’m still working on organizing my time more effectively! 🙂

      Reply
  6. kara mcintosh

    wonderful post and thank you. i think that journal writing, long or short, scribbled, in point form or long, eloquent sentences helps us to be more mindful and present in our everyday lives. it’s like making a conscious choice to take a few minutes out of a hectic day to reflect and record.

    it’s not something that i do often, but i now feel inspired to (try) and make it part of my everyday.

    i look forward to more posts on journal writing!

    Reply
    1. Wonder Pens Post author

      Thanks for reading! I’m glad to hear that you’ve found some inspiration for your own journal writing! It is exactly this act of making a conscious choice to reflect and record that I think helps bring our minds into a focused and present state. More to come! 🙂

      Reply
  7. s.e.

    I am a journal writer, haven’t read that much about it but I have been writing every single day on paper or more than a decade, possibly for closer to 2 decades even though I have 5 kids ranging in age from 29 to 18. I do sometimes write with a fountain pen but sometimes with gel pens. This practice has been invaluable to me over several very difficult years. Choosing the type of paper, and the size of the notebook is very satisfying and an important ritual. I also keep several other journals to record things like my knitting projects and when I was homeschooling my kids I also kept a journal about that. I also journal online. I would love to hear discussion about the differences between journalling online and on paper in terms of needs, satisfaction etc. I am not talking about blogging but about journal sites like live journal (I also still miss the now defunct open diary).

    Reply
    1. Wonder Pens Post author

      Thanks for reading! I admire your consistency to keep the practice of journal writing over so many years! I imagine you must have quite a collection of old journals. I will definitely think about the differences in styles of keeping a journal, especially online, but I may have to do some research first 🙂

      Reply
  8. inlovewithjournals

    Yes! Totally agree with so many points you make. Journaling for me keeps me calm and helps me focus on what’s important. I can acknowledge and stare down the big stuff and analyze and foster the little stuff. I would really enjoy anything else you have to say on the subject. Thank you for such an inspiring post.

    Reply
    1. Wonder Pens Post author

      Thanks for reading! I am an over-analyzer, and I think journaling has helped me to get some of the analyzing out before I drive Jon crazy 🙂 I’ve got a few more ideas to come, so I hope you’ll keep reading! 🙂

      Reply
  9. Pingback: Monday Miscellany | inlovewithjournals

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