Saturday, April 18, 2015

5 Rules I Broke to Start Journaling

Keeping a journal, they say, is one of the greatest tools for relaxation and creativity.  It gives you a place to organize your thoughts, to get all those nasty little doubt dirt bags out of your head so you can see how ridiculous they are, and where you can work on finding solutions for whatever problems you're facing. It's really a great tool.
My journals I'm working on filling.
 What  they don't tell you is how to get started.

Sure, they tell you some ideas, like choosing a time to write every day, and sticking to it, and other sorts of things like that.

But those never worked for me.

I have tried, possibly since I was ten years old (I don't remember), to keep a journal consistently. And the only thing I've been consistent about is failing. For years, I've had this pattern of writing every day for a few months, and then giving up and not writing for weeks, months, even a year or more.

Constant struggle.

For a while, I gave up. I figured journaling just wasn't for me, and why bother forcing myself to do it? After all, it's not like there's some most consistent journaling prize to be won. It's just a tool. If it doesn't serve you, it's not worth the bother.

Around the middle of January, I read a blog post over on The Write Practice about journaling and its benefits, and I decided to give it another try. And since then, I've been pretty consistent.

But I've discovered that the "rules" of journaling don't work for me.

I confess, these aren't the only rules of journaling. Maybe there are not even real "rules," but are just ones I tried to impose on myself. But I feel like a lot of advice about journaling starts somewhere with these ideas in mind, and if you're anything like me, they're not going to work for you.

1. "You must write at night (or at a set time)!"

I used to try faithfully to write every night before I went to bed. Problem is, though, I don't go to bed just to snuggle under my covers and muse about my day. I go to bed because my eyes are practically tripping over my eyelids. My psuedo-sleep-zombie-self grudges the time it takes me to put on hand lotion and lip balm, let alone write about how my day went.

It's a similar story when I wake up (except I'm usually not so zombie-fied then). When my alarm goes off, I'm bouncing right into my day. Who wants to slow down and write about stuff then?

So instead I just write whenever I feel like it. Some days it's soon after I get up, some days it's an hour or two before I go to sleep, but usually it's in the afternoon. But never a set time. I write when I feel like it.

2. "Find a quiet place to reflect..."

While I do tend to write in my bedroom, most of the time it is not quiet at my house. And I don't like to sit in silence and ponder. I find I focus better and reflect better if I have some music playing. Granted, most of the time it's something soft like Baroque or Celtic music, but there's almost always some sort of background noise.

3. "Give yourself plenty of time to write"

I set a timer for five minutes. When it goes off, I finish my last line or two and move on. I find this helps me to get out what I need to get out, rather than staring at the page wondering what I should write. I only have a limited amount of time, so if I'm going to get it done, it's going to be now.

4. "Focus on your day, your feelings"

I write about whatever I please. Feelings, day, what I have to do next week...whatever I want to go on that page goes there. Sometimes it's a prayer, sometimes it's a list of stuff I got done that I'm so proud of myself for doing (is it bragging if I'm telling myself how awesome I am?).

Honestly, I don't follow grammar or even spelling or any other basic rules of writing. I write in leetspeak, fragments, whatever. I wonder if I'll be able to read what I wrote in ten years, if the ink hasn't faded by then. Write how you feel comfortable writing, how you can best get out what you need to express.

5. "Write every day"

I do write probably 90% of the days since I started, but honestly, if I don't feel like writing one day, I won't. I went away overnight a  few weeks ago, and I didn't bother bringing my journal. I don't think I wrote in it when I got back home either. Journaling is a tool to help you. It's not a do-or-die ritual.

To be honest, maybe I'm just a rebel. Sometimes I don't even follow my own way of journaling (like sometimes I don't listen to music, I didn't today). Basically, when it comes to keeping a journal, find what works for you. And if you find journaling is not to your taste, then don't bother. Find something else that you enjoy doing that helps you to relax and get your thoughts in order.

I do urge you to at least give it a try. Play around with the suggestions you've heard or read. Get a really awesome notebook and pen, or write on a computer. Whatever works for you. You could even try typing some notes on your cell phone. Give it a few days, and see if it's something you'd enjoy, and if it's not, don't waste your time on it.