Thursday, November 15, 2012

Journaling, journaling, what to do??

This started as a comment on Zoe's post Journals, Planners and Lists...Oh My! and I quickly realized it would be hideously long so I created it as a post of its own. So Zoe, this one's for you babe! Everybody else, please go read Zoe's post and give her some suggestions, come back here and read mine, then for Pete's sake please leave a comment with suggestions for me! I need all the advice I can get here.

I've been messing around with various forms of journaling for the past couple of years now and am endlessly frustrated by it.

My problem is, I don't quite know what I want my journal to be. What is its purpose?  Ok follow me here:

Many moons ago, I used a large daily Moleskine to write things I wanted to capture every day. Mainly cute things my kids did and said. When they were really little, that was easy because they were at that age where they came out with noteworthy stuff every day.

Now they are a little bit older, and while I still want to capture those nuggets to remember, it doesn't necessarily happen every day.

When they were babies my DH bought me a journal for each one of them--lined, undated A5 size, pretty covers. I transferred all the stuff from all my various planners etc where I had jotted those nuggets and consolidated them into each of these books. Grand. But I stopped doing that a few years ago, so now said nuggets are dispersed among however many planners and journals as I've fitfully started and stopped so many, and wrote happy things to remember in whatever book I was using that day. Ugh. So the solution to that is, sit my ass down and consolidate back into each kids' journal. Needless to say that task seems daunting so despite my best intentions I keep putting it off. Meanwhile I'm still jotting things down in whatever planner and/or diary I'm using at the moment.

So journal purpose #1 is to capture memories of my kids. Solution: back-fill the journals I already have, and from that point on get better about writing directly into those specific journals.

Purpose #2 for my journal is to capture good memories in general. This is where things begin to get murky. Often these happy memories get entwined with kids' happy memories, so where do I write them? Into each kids' journal plus into a separate journal of my own? Indecision means they either don't get written at all, or at best they get abbreviated and noted in my day per page diary. But I don't necessarily want these mixed in with doctor's appointments and bills to pay.

When I was younger I filled book after book with pontification, anxiety, events, and whatever else was going through my mind at the time. I never even read those books. Aside from their cringeworthiness ("What should I be DOING with my life???") a lot of it is crap that just doesn't matter now. Also, when I used my journal as an emotional dump, that stuff is not fun to read later. And I sure wouldn't want anyone else reading it in the future. So I know I don't want to use a journal for that.

Another thing I've noticed is that I remember things much more fondly later than I felt as I experienced them at the time. It's easier for me to forget some of the hardships after the fact and remember the good times. But if I had written a journal during that time the happy stuff would have been obscured by my frustration, anxiety, boredom or whatever other negative emotions I was feeling at the time. So in that way I'm better off not recording emotions at all. Just factual reporting would be better.

But now I find myself looking back through my blog and reading between the lines to remember how I was feeling when we moved from X to Y, then from Y to Z, then from Z back to Y again and all the times in between. It's recent enough that I still remember what was going on in my head, mainly. Wouldn't I benefit now from having written some of that emotional stuff down? Wouldn't it be comforting in a way to look back through now?

So there's Purpose Q for my journal. Q being for Question, and the Question being what the heck exactly to I want from my journal?

I want something that's valuable to read back through later. Happy memories, and experiences that I can learn from.  I guess part of the problem is, I don't know what those are at the time and only recognize them in retrospect.

Currently I'm not doing any journaling at all, but I'm considering going back to a blank book to write things out to help me figure stuff out. One thing I am going to do is Ray's genius suggestion on how to catch up in a journal when you haven't been writing for awhile. Read his excellent post about it here.

So Zoe, sorry but I don't have an answer for you. And everyone else who managed to get through this post, thank you for reading!

Does anyone have any suggestions for me?


  1. I can relate to this. I wrote everything that was happening with my kids in one journal until my youngest was about age 5. Then I decided to just take pictures. Sometimes some video. I realized that with pictures, everyone can look at the same picture but remember different details. And they're easy to duplicate and share.

    I do journal everyday but it's mainly for ideas and finding clarity. So I buy the cheapest notebooks I can find and everyday write nonstop for 30 minutes. At the end of the current notebook I skim quickly through to see if there's anything I want to save, record it somewhere else and burn the notebook. I find 99% of my problems are solved doing this.

    If you want to save everything I would guess you're best bet is to write in the same notebook, at the same time of day, in the same place and after the same trigger (for example, brush your teeth at night and then journal EVERY NIGHT).

    I curious as well to see what others have come up with.

    1. Wow that's amazing you burn your notebooks! I can see how that would make you write very honestly, without fear of future judging. I definitely see the value in doing that but I don't know if I'm brave enough to burn my notebooks.

      Writing at the same time every day would be a good way to make it a habit. I don't do well with routines though, and even when I've decided I'm going to write after the kids go do bed for example I have excuses--too tired, etc. Maybe I should set some time in the morning, that's when I do my best writing.

  2. oh god....

    well, excellent post laurie, as always, and now after reading it i have even MORE things to think about. you make some very valid points that i never even thought of.

    what do i actually WANT my journal to be. and holy cow...i have boxes of journals from when dinosaurs walked the earth filled with childish wonder, teenage angst, marriage, divorce, yada yada yada sitting in storage, ripe for whoever goes through my stuff when i die to read.

    um, yikes.

    so i can see i have more thinking to do about the journal part. i am going to go ahead w/the pocket mole for a "gratitude on the go" book, but now i need to sit down and give some serious though to this whole journal thing.


    1. I fear I may have opened Pandora's Box O' Journaling Angst!

  3. My journal practice is working pretty well now. I try to cover both bases - record dreams and hone my writing skills - by doing a weekly review on Word. I write every day in the early morning, and on Saturday night it's edited back to shortest possible (usually 2 pages but sometimes more). Can write my negative spew to the max during the week, knowing it will be purged out later. This format was developed to control my rampant logorrhea. (31 journal binders so far). I also keep a handwritten student planner to record the highlights of each day and weather and health data in the month blocks. The student planner is really recapping most of what I used to put in a planner. So this throws a monkey wrench in the planner situation - I'm going to have a "forward planner" that gets tossed and a "log" that gets kept. Try as I might I cannot arrive at the perfect solution.

  4. I have a five year journal for me and a five year journal for my daughter. In mine, I write what I do that day. In hers, I write what *she* did that day and any super cute things she did. I also have a "quotable kid" journal for when she's older to write down cute things she says, but so far that hasn't been used. I've been doing this for over a year now and it's working really well. The five year journal is small and there are about 5 lines per day, so concise is required. I know there are 10 year journals available as well, and I may look into those when the five year journals are full in 3-ish years!

    I'll comment more later about everything else...that requires more thought. :) I might end up writing a response blog post....

  5. I can't decide what I should be doing with my journal, so I'm doing nothing, and definitely missing the process! You've given me a bit to think about, thanks :)

  6. You have to quit censoring what you "think" should go in there. Just write stuff down! (imho) I do this, I write almost every day--what's happening, decisions I need to make, sized of stuff, things the kids do, just every day drivel. Nothing particularly profound--but it is FANTASTIC when I go back and read what was going on. This is the place I use my fountain pens most often, and I just use fairly inexpensive Leuchtturm 1917 notebooks that can take a beating.
    (Just offering a suggestion, clearly, if I knew anything about anything I'd be fabulously wealthy and living by the beach...;o)

    1. I have to agree with Rori. I have been journaling since my first year of college (and on and off before that). I have to say that I never write anything grand, but the point is to write, to get it all out in a way that helps me process it. So my journal is a reflection of what's going on in my life at that moment - whether filled with profound musings or hatred for a particular event or mere happiness at nothing. For me, it doesn't matter what I write, so long as I write. I don't a think a journal "needs" to be one thing or another, unless you want it to be. But that brings you back to your originally question...and only you can answer that.

      With that said, I don't currently have kids and therefore, I don't have a solution to writing down the things they do. The only thing I can come up with is to write down a little something for you and your kids all in one book, but I don't know how practical that is.

      I don't think I really helped you here, but I just wanted to chime in.

  7. Now see, that is what I want: something I enjoy looking at later that gives me a great image of what my life was actually like. I guess that's why I've thought a day per page book would work for me for this, but I think I need to bust out into the freedom of an undated book so I don't worry about filling or overrunning the page.

  8. I tried doing a journal for my grandkids but I got sick of doing it really fast. I jot things down in my planner. My 20+ years of archives have tons of stuff about my kids and grandkids. I'm so busy that I absolutely don't have time to write in separate books. And as I posted over on Zoe's site, when I go back through and read my official "journals", I find them boring and tedious. I wrote so much detail that it is overwhelming to sift through. I much prefer going through my archive books and reading the snippets.

    Given your schedule, Laurie, I don't think there's any way you'll be able to keep up writing stuff about your kids in separate books. That's a LOT of work! You might do it for a while but it will be hard to maintain and then you'll have gaps. Maybe snippets in one book is all you need. I saw something on pinterest a while back that was really cool. I'm going to see if I can find it and post it here.

    1. I've been writing things in my day per page planner that my kids did and said, but the reality is that capturing that information is also for my husband and for my kids later when they are old enough to read it themselves. I don't want them to have to sift through my daily entries to find things about them. I think if I designated an hour every day for backfilling their diaries, I could probably catch up in a couple of weeks. Now it's just having the discipline to doing my hour a day!

  9. Here it is:

    Maybe something like that would work. I thought it looked really cool.

    1. That is really cool! That's similar to how I used my day per page diary (Textagena) when I was in the Peace Corps. At the time I filled journal after journal with venting, speculation on how exactly I was supposed to be benefiting the country, complaints about the hardships and discomforts, and whatever else. But in my day per page planner I wrote about going to the bazaar on Thursdays, what I taught in the classroom that day or teacher training preparations, when I went to visit a friend at her post, etc. I never read my journals from that time, but I do read my planners.

  10. Every year I start a journal and fail to keep it up. The problem is I also don't know what I want it to be and I am a perfectionist so feel uncomfortable if it's all over the place. I have bought a day per page Moleskine and my resolution is to write in it all next year. I think I do need to discipline myself to write every day even if it's only a sentence. I want to keep a journal for several reasons:

    1) The emotional stuff. I wouldn't write anything incriminating, but my mum recently died and I have found writing about it so helpful. I only wish I had kept a journal when my dad died as I would have found it so useful to re-read that recently.

    2) To record information about places I have been and reviews of plays/concerts/films/exhibitions I have seen. I work in a library and one of the most common enquiries is from people who have forgotten something from their past (the name of the restaurant where they met their husband, the name of a book they read that they want to read again). I'm in my 30s & find my memories are already fading! Friends will say to me, "Oh Wow! I can't believe you saw so-an-so's legendary performance of Hamlet!" and I'll be thinking that I remembered loving it, but can't remember why.

    3) I also want to record goals in my journal as I find I make goals and then kind of forget them because I don't write them down.

    I think I am going to try and be more relaxed about journalling and not care if my journal is a mix of profound entries, anecdotes from customers, film reviews etc. A friend of mine says she finds journal prompts and writing top tens really useful. As she says writing a top ten of current favourite songs or foods will seem silly now, but will actually be interesting to read in 30 years time.

    1. pennywhistler I'm so sorry about your mum, and your dad too. I'm glad you find writing about it helpful.

      I want to keep a journal to be able to remember details too, because I never can remember stuff like that. Now when I look back at what I did manage to write about cute things my kids did and said, I'm so glad I did because I don't remember those little phrases or things later. If I hadn't written them down, they would just be gone.

  11. Well I keep everything in my FC 2ppd, if I need more paper I just insert more and keep going whether its cute/ depressing or whatever. It's part of life. I think it's great to record all ye happiness in life, but our kids need to see that we struggled and overcame as well. As for writing everything in different places, I know I would never go back and sort it out-- to much work. I would say pick one place, write your heart out and then you can just make copies for each kid.

  12. Here's an idea so the family wouldn't have to read through everything - I've actually thought about doing this myself. Color code each person. Then at the end of the week or month, highlight the notes about each person in their assigned color. That would make it easy to find entries about specific people.