Eat Your Consonants! (Part Two) – How to Keep a Journal

In Part One of this series, I gave some reasons why journaling is good for you. In this part, I will show you how to keep a journal.

Setting up your MoJo – Choosing a particular time and place for journaling sets up a kind of energy. Think of it as a art for Eve's post 1dinner party where the menu and place settings have to be just so, and your innermost thoughts are the honored guests. To start with, choose a place to work. Whether it’s your desk, the kitchen counter or a table at your favorite coffeehouse, it needs to be a setting where you feel safe and unhurried.

Choose the hour. It helps to write at about the same time every day. Just as stomachs start to growl at our usual suppertime, you will soon yearn to write at the appointed time. Plan to spend anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes. It takes at least ten of those for me to stop fidgeting and get down to work. If you’re new at this, it may take even longer.

Another part of MoJo-setting has to do with tools. The hiss and slide of lead on paper gives me no end of pleasure. Thus, my preferred writing instrument is a pencil. Forty years ago I received a three-ring binder made with hand tooled leather. I still store my current entries there on loose-leaf paper. You may prefer ballpoint pen and legal pad or spiral book with fountain pen. Whatever the combination, take the time to find it. In the same way that driving is more fun in a luxury car, journaling ought to bring a sense of physical pleasure.

Analog versus Digital – I strongly advise against using electronics. For one thing, the internet access they provide can take you off-task. For another, most people are terrified by the endless expanse of blank pages provided by a word-processor. There are positive reasons as well: the sense of accomplishment that comes from watching your papers pile up and the opportunity a slower pace provides to find more original phrases.

Now what? – Begin where you are. What’s on your mind or senses? If you want to rail at your boss, feel free. Or describe your aches and pains in excruciating detail. However you start, don’t be surprised if you wind up somewhere else. After I set down the first few sentences, another part of me takes over. The writing starts to deepen or widen and meander. If I begin with how my boss reminds me of my mother, that may lead to observations about sibling rivalry in the workplace. The sooner you surrender to these physics, the happier you will be.

That said, here are some prompts: describe a familiar landscape, paying special attention to the weather; paint a word portrait of someone you deal with every day but don’t know very well; transcribe a funny/sad/provocative conversation you overheard; or describe a recent dream in as much detail as you can. (Hint: the writing might come easier if you use the present tense.)

Comedy DisguiseThe Critic – Ah the critic. Everyone has one. The beauty of a journal is that you can play with yours. If a voice starts judging what you write, call her out. Hold a conversation and write down what each of you has to say. Like all bullies, your critic will likely back way off when you give her the floor. Alternatively, she may have something important to tell you. Whatever comes of your conversation, I can guarantee it will be enlightening.

What You Get – Journaling is a process, not a destination. There is no single right way to do it (which is why your inner critic can become a collaborator). The rewards include insight, healing and a record of where you’ve been. I hope that you’ll start now.

After finding the journal of someone close to you, would you be tempted to read it? Why?




2 thoughts on “Eat Your Consonants! (Part Two) – How to Keep a Journal

  1. Almost two years after you wrote this, Eve, I’ve come across it for the first time, while scanning the RU posts Chris has gathered under “The Writing Life” umbrella. (Thanks for that helpful gathering, Chris!). This post is wonderful in every way from start to finish—re: the timing (so important), the tools (I love a pencil best, too), the critic (especially confronting your inner C), and the reward (ahhhh . . .).
    Thanks for the reminders . . .
    p.s. your question of whether to read someone else’s journals is one I’m pondering right now—having inherited my mother’s journals, though I often heard her say she wanted them burned after her death. My dad gave them to me several years later, saying he had no heart for burning them and that I was free to decide whether to read them. He never did. I haven’t yet, though I’ve had them for many years—boxes and boxes of them. As I enter into the third third of my life, I’m considering the opportunity to get to know my mother as a peer—not as a daughter—but not sure I can separate the two :-).

    • Deb – So kind of you to share your thoughts. Whether or not to read your mother’s journals is a wonderful problem to have. Perhaps you’ll discover another “Bridges of Madison County.” Perhaps you won’t. Main thing is your willingness to view her as a peer, not an authority figure. Plan B might be to pass journals on to YOUR children. They might not have as much to lose. In my case — if I keep my journals — plan to stipulate in will that only great grandchildren can read. Would love to know what you decide to do.

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