For years and years and years, I’ve been a journaler. I can remember little diaries with locks and keys that my parents gave me when I was a child, with the words My Diary written in gold on their covers. At six or so, I filled the pages with sentences like “Today was good.” “I am sad.” “I love Rosie.” “Rosie loves me.” (Rosie was our dog and the subject of many of my — thankfully brief — early diary entries.)
When I was thirteen, though, I really started to journal. That is, I wasn’t just recording what happened that day — I was delving inward, trying to understand myself.
I have never, ever, had to force myself to journal. It comes to me as naturally as breathing. Anything goes in my journal, so I’m never concerned with whether or not what I write there is “good” or “right.” I have a compulsion to record, to notice, to reflect, to make connections. It’s a practice that grounds me and reveals me to myself.
It is different than, say, working on my novel. When I write fiction, I’m not delving into myself. When I write fiction, “I” disappear. Sure, all my experiences are there for me to draw upon, and they feed the fiction. But my novel is not concerned with my own self. It’s a story coming through me, filtered through my self, but really, I’m not creating it. I’m just the channel.
With journaling, I sometimes get to the place where I feel like a channel too. These are the sessions I call hardcore. As I wrote previously, I can get to a place where I know that if I allow myself to sit down with the journal, the floodgates will open. All the other days of showing up to the journal — maybe a lot of the time I’m just writing something like “I’m not sure what’s going on with me today, but I feel like crap” and going from there — allow for these glorious hardcore journaling sessions, where something I really need to know is moving through me, but I’m not controlling it. It’s usually the culmination of a lot of struggle, a lot of wondering, and a lot of surrendering — having to admit, hey, I don’t know. And then it comes through on the page and I do know.
When I was in grad school, in the awesome writing program at Columbia College Chicago, we used our journals to write about what we noticed in the published work we read, and what we noticed as we worked on our own stuff. There, too, I can remember connections being forged in a particular way on a particular day, and suddenly something I really needed to know about what I was writing would be apparent to me.
But in order to get to this place of connection, of that really cool thing opening up and coming through onto the page, I had to show up for all the days when nothing much seemed to be coming through. “I’m sad.” “I love Rosie and she loves me.” A lot of days, I don’t feel so different from that six-year-old. But it’s still important to show up, to fill the pages.
Sometimes I hear writers (including me) say, “Well, I didn’t do any real writing today. I mean, I only wrote in my journal.” Guess what? That means you did some real writing today. Recognize your journaling for what it is: It’s legit. It’s real writing, and connected to all the other writing you do. Make room for it, learn from it, be totally in love with it. It’s you.
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