I’ve recently come to believe that keeping a journal is one of the most important things a writer can do. Over the years I’ve been on and off about writing in a journal – I kept a journal in high school, abandoned it, picked up it back up in college, started to think it was incredibly lame and dropped it again, and so on…
I wrote a bit about keeping a journal in a post from a while back, but thought it was important to expand upon. I’ve been keeping one for a little over a year now and it’s something I plan to continue doing for as long as I still want to be a writer. And for all of you who don’t necessarily want to be a writer, you should consider it anyway.
So, you might be asking, a journal? Really? I’m not one of the girls on a CW TV show, so why should I keep one? Hell, I’m not even one of the dark-brooding-writer types who has to keep a journal for definition’s sake. I mean, sure I can be dark and broody when I want to be, but I’m generally more of the smile your ass off, party hard, live large, and write-during-every-free-second-you-have types. So what are the benefits of keeping a journal?
Without waxing too poetic about writing in a beautifully creased leather journal (just kidding, I actually have a Scrivener doc that serves as my journal – what is this, the Stone Age? I’m a millennial; sue me. Computers rule), there are three main benefits that I can think of. One is about being a person, one is about writing, and one is about creativity.
Being You: There’s nothing that can help you be more like your true self than journaling. Writing something down every day can really teach you a lot about yourself. Sure, sometimes you’ll just write down all the events of the day instead of spewing out a bunch of idealistic ramblings about how the world should be, but that in itself can teach you more about who you are. What did you think was worth recording? What did you like so much about your day that you just had to write it down so you can reminisce about it later? What did you hate so goddamn much that you had to rant about it? Who are the most important people in your life, people so great that you just had to put the fact that you saw them today into your journal?
The rambling parts are great, too. Maybe even better than the events. What do you write about when there’s nothing to write about at all? What do you care about? What are your hopes and dreams?
Writing all of this stuff down, even when it’s just one sentence on a particular day, helps you get more in tune with who you really are. For me it’s had an incredibly positive effect on my life: I’m much, much happier, realizing that it takes just the tiniest thing to put me in a good mood and that wasting a single hour not loving whatever it is that you’re doing is just that, a waste (some exceptions here of course); it’s made me a nicer person. I’m a better friend. I still fuck up sometimes but I always apologize afterward. In general I think it’s something everyone around me has noticed; and it’s also made me more attuned to what I want in life, so that I can focus my efforts around what really matters to me.
Author Voice: There are a lot of definitions out there for author voice, but my definition for it is pretty simple: Author voice is what your writing sounds like when you’re in the zone and the words come pouring out. Sure, some sentences take longer to craft, and some things need to be revised or changed, but in general that’s how I think about it. Nothing helps you find your voice or get into your zone like journaling. When there’s zero pressure and zero guidelines around your writing, you can slip much more easily into the flow of writing, and the act of practicing that every day helps you bring it to every other project you’re working on.
Idea Factory: Journals have more creative potential than any other medium. I come up with a new creative idea every other day when I’m writing in them because I’m totally unencumbered by anything other than my thoughts. These ideas are also informed by real life experiences, which I think makes them even more powerful. I tried to keep a list of all the ideas I was coming up with but gave up – there are too many, and the ones I really care about will just keep popping up anyway.
So don’t be lazy. Keep a journal. If you don’t you’re wasting a huge tool to help you with your life and your writing.
I put ‘And Other Stuff’ in the title mostly because it sounds cooler to end a title with ‘And Other Stuff’ than to have a title that’s just a two-subject list. But on the topic of other things – if you haven’t seen Californication (all 7 seasons are on Netflix), do yourself a massive favor and start binge watching it. It’s amazing.
What about you? Do you keep a journal? Have you found it helpful? What do you like most about it? Do you write by hand or on the computer? If you don’t keep one, why not?