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Processing, Recollection, and Inspiration: On Keeping a Journal

“Perhaps it is difficult to see the value in having one’s self back in that kind of mood, but I do see it; I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.” (Didion 5).

For years, I struggled to keep a notebook because I never could “keep up” with it. There was always this lurking idea that I had to write in one every day or else it would be useless. I also thought I had to keep one journal for one kind of writing and have a new one for something else. I would always lose my journal and purchase another, just to find the original lurking somewhere close and out of sight. However, my mom surprised me one day with a journal she bought at Conner Prairie. It’s dark green with a very cute pig on it (I like pigs, okay?), and it has been the journal I’ve kept up with the longest (5 May 2012-present), simply because I don’t write in it every day. I use this journal to keep track of the things that happen to me and who I used to be. Over the years, I have had a lot of really horrible experiences. I don’t exactly know why, but I use my journal to process these events. Sometimes, writing it out seems to physically remove part of the stress that I was holding in. The problem and negative feelings don’t go away, but I feel somewhat better after writing through something.

I picked out the quote from Didion because it really hit home with me. If I don’t write down what happened (especially if it’s negative), I will dwell on those thoughts, and they always find a way to jump in at the worst moments. When I write it down, I alleviate most of the worry and the thoughts that would have come knocking, but if they still come, I can go to my journal, reread my entry, and satisfy my negative thoughts. If I don’t feel satisfied, I will simply write an entry to process why I might still be dwelling on those thoughts.

I use my journal to process happy events, too. Generally, when I experience something good, I forget the details and my feelings much faster than with the negative experiences. So, when I experience something good, I try to write down my feelings and what happened quickly (days, weeks) so I can look back on those moments later on to remind me that I have had good, even wonderful, moments in my life.

There are some entries that are more “controlled” when I write them, simply because I want to be able to look back at those entries and understand what went on. Other entries, which are generally more stream-of-consciousness, are less comprehensible to outside readers, but I still write in such a way that I can remember my thoughts when writing. If it’s something I know I will forget why I wrote it, I will simply state my purpose for the entry.

Lastly, I used to keep a journal especially for writing down ideas and memorably random quotes I’ve heard so I could later use them for inspiration. However, when I started my latest journal, I decided to write down these more random thoughts and quotes in there. The thoughts tend to get a full entry, and the quotes will generally be written down and later written about (sometimes).

I think journals are a very personal object, and they really are what you make of them. I think my success with keeping a journal comes from how I don’t feel pressured to write daily. My journal might be nothing like your journal, and I’m quite all right with that. I think it’s fascinating to go over my past entries and my past journals (which are barely filled). It gives me a good sense of who I was and how that might’ve influenced who I am today.

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