To be honest, I wasn’t a massive fan of journaling for many years. It felt a bit self-indulgent to sit down and describe what I did over the past 24 hours. Weird, right?
But it kept coming up over and over in various books and interviews with people that I admired. I decided to give it a go, and it was weird. Combing through the whirlwind of thoughts that rages in my head at any given time was uncomfortable. Writing those thoughts down challenged me to process them in a structured manner. It made me dig deeper instead of going around in circles.
It goes without saying that I’ve changed my mind completely. I’ve also developed a habit to record my thoughts in writing regularly. In this post, I’d like to make the case for journaling just like the authors I was reading back in the day had done for me.
Developing good habits
A solid writing routine is key to sustaining a successful career as a novelist. As many a budding scribe will attest, it’s also devilishly difficult to develop.
Journaling can not only give you space to express your frustrations with the writing process that your non-writer friends may not be interested in. It can also become the foundation of a life-long commitment to writing every day.
While writing about your life may not be interesting to others, it’s much easier to do than coming up with a compelling story. You can do this without getting hung up on the details of the story structure. When you become good at writing for yourself, you are only a step away from writing for other people.
Back in the day when I still had free time, I used to set aside 30 minutes every morning to journal. I would start a timer and free-write through, getting about 2,000 words each time. Sometimes they were legible. Other times, I kept going around the same point with barely any structure.
The quality was irrelevant. Nobody except me will ever read any of it. But hammering through the volume of words was a fantastic way to stretch my ‘writing muscle’ before I got to the real writing later on in the day.
Journaling is not the same as writing stories with an audience in mind, but it’s a great form of exercise.
What to write about?
These days, I journal on my phone, almost exclusively on the tube during my morning commute. I start by writing down a list of things that I did the previous day. Then I make another list of things that I would like to get done as a reminder. Finally, I expand on anything notable for as long as it takes the train to reach my destination.
Is that the best thing to do? I don’t know. There are no rules. It’s all I have time for, and I’m sure that this will change again in the future.
If you don’t know where to start, here are a few tips:
- Review things – How did you feel about a film or book you finished recently?
- Who you talked to and what about?
- Make lists of things you did and would like to do.
Capturing your emotions
As writers, we’re good at capturing emotions with words. We should take advantage of it. Describing things is fine, but you may as well take a photo. I like journaling about how the things and people around me made me feel. What was I grateful for? What was I struggling with? All the things that you can’t capture with a camera.
It may seem that those emotions are here to stay forever. But as years go by, all of them will pass. You will forget.
If you write them down, you will be able to read those words 10, even 20 years from now like a novel. You’ll feel all those feelings soar within your chest, and your past self will seem like a completely different person.
Journaling may be the closest thing we have to time travel.
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