What Else Do I Write in My Journal?

You’ve gotten a prompt a day email for the last two years. You write about that every day. You are getting a little bored. You’ve written morning pages. You’ve written lists. Now what?

We fall in love with journals because they are filled with hope and potential. With how they look, with heavy leather bindings and wraps.  We bring them home, write on the first page, and then store them on the shelf. We become scared of our journals because they are empty, and to fill them means writing every day.

You do not have to write in your journal every day. You may want to, and then you may not. If you want to make a habit of writing, you should push yourself (gently) to write every day. Writing every day makes you better at writing every day. When you have written every day for a month, you can decide how often you want to write. It takes a month to break in a new habit.

But what should you write about? Journal pages are a way of thinking out loud–and often not in words. Journals help you create your outlook on life, they are the GPS system of your soul. Write what is important today. The price of a gallon of milk. About your car and what it feels like to drive it. Tomorrow it may be something different–which do you prefer, cotton shirts or those “high performance” ones?

When I was in graduate school, I read the journals of hundreds of women who had come to this country. These women came with very little in the way of possessions but carried a lot of traditions and new ideas. Many of the women were poor and overworked. But they wrote. Writing was their way out of their physical reality into a better world. And once they wrote about that better world, they created it.

Journal page by Patty Van Dorine

In those journals lived the culture and the history of their day. They were not famous writers, they were women who worked or stayed at home with children. They took in washing. They wrote at night. In those journals I found the cost of a pair of children’s shoes in 1895, and a dozen eggs in 1897,  and a pencil.

In those journals I found out what women thought about politics, and religion, and their bodies and the clothes they wore. I read as they changed their minds and the way they celebrated events that were important to them.

I read the journals of the women pioneers who walked behind covered wagons in the 1850s and 60s. They did not think of themselves as brave or changers of history. They were scared and tired. They wrote about the sounds they heard at night, and about the joy they would feel when they slept in a real bed.

What each of these journals had in common was a reality described in great detail. The pages contained the smells and tastes of a dinner, the sight of a field of waving grass, the sound of a tired sigh, the touch of hair and skin. The pages were full of history and culture.

The only thing you need to write in a journal is curiosity. What is happening? What do you feel about it? Discover yourself in your journal. Date the pages, so you will know how you and your world changed as you wrote it down.

Quinn McDonald is a journaler and a certified creativity coach.

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29 responses to “What Else Do I Write in My Journal?

  1. Pingback: My Journals « Pilgrim Outskirts

  2. Pingback: Journaling and Other Writing Pursuits « creativityorcrazy

  3. Pingback: Assigning Art Journals to Art Students | scribology

  4. I used to think that my journaling was just a hobby — not really that important, just a fun thing to do. Then, in March of this year, I lost my jounrnal. I figured it would turn up soon. No big deal. But then I started to miss it. I looked and looked and looked and could not find it anywhere. I considered beginning a new journal — I have tons of blank books that I have decorated to use as future journals. It would be easy to just choose one of those. But then, what if I found the old one with half of it’s pages still empty? Would I stop the newer one, finish the older one, then continue on in the newer one? That would cause a lack of continuity. But could I just leave the older one half empty? (I know I probably sound like a weirdo, but I really do think this way!) I put off starting a new journal because I could not face those decisions. At last, in the middle of May, I could stand it no more. I picked out a new notebook and made it my new journal. I did not really have anything earth-shattering or urgent to write, but just putting pens (I write in many colors!) to the pages was SUCH a relief and a release! Words just poured out of me! Not important words, not big announcements, but just things that needed a “place” to be kept. I cannot describe the pure joy I felt at having a journal again. I have taken it with me every day since then. It houses my favorite quotes, my observations of the day, letters from friends, magazine pictures and articles that I like, ideas for projects I want to do/make, photos I’ve taken…….It is like a friend to me, someone that I can confide anything to. I still have not found my old journal, which IS a bit sad, considering the things that were in it. I really do think it will turn up someday and maybe that will cause me some turmoil. However, I am so glad that I started the new one. I know now that journaling is NOT just a hobby. It is a vital part of my life and my being. Thank you for your article and thank you for ALL of your posts. I do not know you personally, but I really enjoy reading your words and feeling like there is another person out there who understands.

    • I’ll bet none of the readers think you are weird. I certainly don’t. I have an email address on the front page of every journal, so if I lose it, I at least have a chance at getting it back. I love the way you treat your journal as an important part of your life. It is.

  5. Keeping records is important to me. I´ve been writing since before knowing how to actually write (one of my first memories is about writing a doodles letter to Robin warning him Gatubella was up to no good. :D ) and had my first camera at 6 (not at all usual in the early 70s).
    I have three planners, one for life, one for art and one to write what I actually did. I keep the last one every year. I only journal when I´m in a project and burn those pages afterwards. Yes, I´m leaving an edited version of my life. Think about it as the director´s final cut. ;)

  6. When I was young I kept a diary, I suppose like many young girls do. As a teenager, I admired my brother’s girlfriend with her hard bound, black journal and rapidograph pen, and then got both for myself. From then on I kept journals, consistently, year after year. When I discovered Morning Pages about 10-15 yrs ago, I continued keeping journals but not daily as I did Morning Pages .Morning pages were written sometimes in nice journals and sometimes plain composition or spiral notebooks. It didn’t matter. I was in a groove, a habit, a ritual I had created for myself. I truely believe writing in a half asleep half awake state (even if all I wrote was blah, blah , blah) carried me through many tough times through the years . Many a revelation was revealed whether I wanted them or not. MP did not , does not lie. Now I do MP in the shape of hearts or circles and water color them in and am gradually working them in to my art journals.
    I also have kept a dream journal by my bedside for years. I have trained myself to wake up and scribble as much down as I am able to. I can tell what’s really going on inside of me through those dreams. I would like to be able to start creating art based on some of those dreams.
    I also have keep a diary for my twin son and daughter beginnng when they were in utero, writing about significant events etc but then it transformed into an journal/autobiography so I could tell my story,along with theirs. I am a big believer in the gift of story telling, not only in written form but also as an art form. Yes, every one has a story to tell and everyone’s stories are important.
    I cannot imagine not having a writing journal any more than I can not imagine having an art journal. They are overlapping, intertwined with me.
    Sorry, Quinn, if I rambled more than I should have. It’s your fault for opening up a such a good line of discussion. :) Thank you!!

    • You are a journaler and story-teller after my own heart! I loved reading every word and think how lucky you and your children are to have these precious stories about your family.

  7. Quinn,
    It’s really all in the details! Yes, indeed. Our journaling can be full of pertinent, unique, telling details that come from our personal perspective, whether it pertains to culture, family, values, or our creative soul. And they are all important, as simple or mundane as we might think they are. They are valuable and worth the page and ink.

    I have chosen your post, What Else Do I Write In my Journal?, for the #JournalChat Pick of the Day on 5/29/12 for all things journaling on Twitter; I will post a link on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, my blog and website Refresh with Dawn Herring, and in Refresh Journal, my weekly e-journal:http://refreshwithdawnherring.blogspot.com/.

    Our topic on this week’s #JournalChat Live on Thursday, 5/31/12 at 5 EST/2 PST, is Your Journaling: List and Learn (write your stressors and make a change).

    Thanks again for sharing how the details of our lives can be a pertinent part of our story recorded on the page.

    Be refreshed,
    Dawn Herring
    JournalWriter Freelance
    Host of #JournalChat Live and Links Edition on Twitter

    • Dawn, I so admire your consistent and loving advancement of journaling and the journal habit. I loved your newsletter that I read today, as well. Thanks for stopping by and thanks for putting my journaling posts in front of a larger audience.

  8. I was reading the comments and thinking about the extra-ordinary lives of ordinary women. I didn’t start to write a journal until I reached my 60s.

    There were times over the years when I expressed pain on paper – it was a way of releasing it. Now, I write more about hope and also to help clarify my thoughts when I have complex choices to make. I began writing daily however now, it’s a few times a week, just when the spirit moves me.

    • Sounds like the right plan for you. I wasn’t as thoughtful when I was younger, and a lot of my journals were more yammering than thoughtful. Age helps, doesn’t it? The spirit seems to be fully engaged with you.

  9. I love knowing that you keep 4 journals; makes me feel less schizophrenic for having so many. It’s just that they truly are for different things. Great essay today – I love “old” journals.

    • It’s like wearing different clothes for different occasions. I wouldn’t wear a gown to weed the garden. I wouldn’t show my morning pages to my classes. I find it a tidy way to use my tools. And my journals are my tools!

  10. I’ve been journaling off and on since I got my first diary as a little girl. (What is the difference between a journal and a diary?) Most of them are full of complaints and whining. I would like to get to the point where I can write about something besides how crummy my day was. I plan to destroy those before I die—I would hate to be remembered for all my complaints and bad moods.

    • You can do a big switch to a gratitude journal–work hard to write every day about something you are grateful about. It’s very hard at first, but worth it. The difference between a journal and a diary is largely how you define it. Sometimes a diary is an agenda–meetings, dinners, movies. And a journal is an exploration of your thoughts and ideas. And then there are morning pages, the notebooks hold whatever comes up, even if it’s whining and complaining, and that clear our minds to start the day.

  11. I too have always wanted to write but struggled with how it all seems so boring and mundane, thus not worthy of keeping track of by writing it all done. But then I will find some old postcard that is just random and marvel at it, or read some old notes from my mom and smile at the simplicity of her days. And as you say, those old journals of pioneer women describing their days and their clothes and their dreams, it is wonderful to have that now. Perhaps we need to think that it is about leaving something for future generations, instead of what it means for us today. And that it is OK to be boring.

  12. as someone who has journaled for 20+ years and has a trunk full of them – i can’t imagine not having this as an outlet for myself – i don’t take the time as often as i used to – every day rain or shine as they say – while i had my morning tea – what i was thinking about – how i was feeling – what was going on in the world around me – just such a wonderful outlet. Today my journals have evolved just as i have – then include more than just the written word – the special card from my daughter just because – the program from my granddaughter’s chorus concert – along with how i felt attending or receiving it. as well as some of my art – i have moved from the small bound journal because it no longer has sufficient space for what i want to say or create – Can’t imagine lilfe without my journal- the voicet o my soul
    .

  13. I have been struggling with wanting to art journal. i write morning pages every day but don’t feel this writing is important enough to put in an art journal. My ramblings are complaining, exploring, talking about the weather and my generally boring life. I would like to erase the distinction between the two and believe that my ramblings could make an interesting art journal. I think that must mean that I don’t value my life.
    Another thought provoking post – thanks.

    • If I can interfere with my opinion, here, morning pages are to art journaling what washing dishes is to sharing a beautiful meal. Morning pages are about letting go, losing control. Art journaling, well, that can be about many things. Your life is important enough for a journal. You can have lots of journals–I have four. One for morning pages, one for nature notes, one to make samples to show other people, and one for me. You do value your life, but you may value the opinions of others more.

  14. This morning when I woke up I wrote down the dream I’d had, even though I’m not sure I should try to remember it. Just those minutes of writing made me long for another writing session soon, this week.

    • Writing down the dream was important. It helps you capture it, should you want to look at it more closely, and it allows you to forget it, in case it was scary. And writing deeply, not from prompts other that what show up in your life, is a healing gift.

  15. Yes, it’s in the details, the day to day I sometimes think isn;t important. ANd then, I find a journal from a decade ago and marvel at who I was then, what I was doing. I cannot imagine life without journal.

    I recently read of a woman, well known, who is going to Europe for a long stint. She destroyed 7 years worth of daily journaling because she couldn;t bring her journals with her, wouldn’t leave them here. Not to say that wasn;t a better choice for her, but I would find the destruction of so much of my life in words truly painful. (And I was surprised at how strongly I reacted to the destruction of so many of her life journals. I don’t personally know the woman. But I was sad because it felt as if she’d chosen to destroy a part of herself and her journey…)

    • That is an odd reaction, destroying journals because you wouldn’t be there to protect them. Bank vaults, storage units, a friend you can trust—sad that none of those choices seemed right for her.

  16. I love this concept of capturing our own history, or maybe just our story…

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