It’s a question I get asked all the time. “What’s the difference between a journal and a diary? A diary is a report of what happened during the day—where you ate, who you met, the details leading up to the kerfluffle in the office, and who took whose side. It’s a bit like a newspaper about you.
A journal is completely different. A journal is about examining your life. It’s a GPS system for your spirit. “I’ve made this mistake before. . . and I always make it when I rushed for time and feel panicky. But I feel panicky because I know I’m headed for the same mistake.” Journals lead to insight, growth, and sometimes, achieving a goal.
You don’t have to set a goal to have a journal, I have a tendency to live in my head and like goals. You can just muse. You can put down the shifts in emotion, the goals you’ve achieved and how, to remember them. The shortest pencil beats the longest memory, says the proverb, and writing down your motives, successes, emotional pratfalls, helps you remember how you got there and why, not just that they happened.
You can keep a journal in anything that feels comfortable and that’s portable–a spiral notebook, a rollabind book you’ve put together with lokta paper, index cards held together with a rubber band. You can use a computer, keep a blog, although that doesn’t work as well for me. I believe things on the internet are simply not private, password protected or not. And I like the feeling of flipping through pages.
To keep a journal on paper, pick a time of day to write. Keep it regularly. It makes it easier. I never stuck to an exercise program because I never nailed it into my schedule at a certain time. Writing works the same way. First thing in the morning, last thing at night, while eating lunch at your desk. Write with a good pen that feels good and whose color you like.
In the beginning, you may have to set a time limit. Three minutes is good. Just write whatever comes into your head. No editing, no crossing out, no reading it in your mind in front of the committee who lives in your head and judges your writing.
Journal prompts are ideas or thoughts to get you started writing. They help you focus on a topic. You can use one over and over for a week, to see your different answers, or you can use a different one every day.
That’s it. It’s not complicated and it doesn’t take a lot of time. And yes, I teach journal writing courses. That’s how I learned about the GPS of the spirit idea. From my own journal. My website contains a schedule of classes and events on the tab at the top of the page.
Meanwhile, some prompts to get you started:
I couldn’t start my day right unless. . . .
If I could change one thing about my job, I would. . .
Before I get too old, I’d like to . . .
You can also read about Commonplace Journals, 10 Ideas for a Commonplace Journal, or Five Things You Can Put on the First Page of Your Journal.
–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach. (c) 2007. All rights reserved.