This Is How I’m Starting a Journal

updated Dec 17, 2019
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(Image credit: Who Is Danny?)

Last month, I shared my intention to start a journal — as well as my general reluctance toward doing so. It may come as a surprise then, that only a week into my journaling endeavors, I came to the conclusion that two journals are better than one.

Two Goals, Two Journals

Certainly this is not a maxim that applies to everyone. To review: My journaling resolution was driven by two distinct goals. First, I wanted to devote some amount of time every week to expressive writing — to jot down my thoughts (and yes, hopes and dreams, too). My second intention was to keep a detailed record for health purposes. That meant jotting down all the nitty gritty details of my day — what I ate and drank, if I was active or not, whether I took my assorted medications and supplements (and if I did, did I take them on time), and so on — as well as how I felt: my mood, my energy levels, any physical discomfort or pain.

These two objectives, it quickly became apparent, called for two very different kinds of journaling and required two very different mindsets. One was rambling and emotional, the other was precise, concise, factual; one was longhand, the other was shorthand; one could be done whenever the mood struck, the other was best as a daily ritual.

While Bridget Jones made the mash-up work in her diary, it didn’t make a lot of sense to me to include the number of Justin’s mini dark chocolate almond butter cups I consumed in a day on the same pages as my stream of consciousness. So I decided to keep not one, but two journals.

What’s Better: Digital or Print?

I already had one pretty salmon-hued journal in my possession, but now that I needed two, a new question arose: Should I go digital? In the comments on my initial post, many of you suggested an app called Day One, which I downloaded and thought about using, but then really didn’t. I spend so much of my day in front of a screen that just the act of sitting down somewhere away from my laptop or the massive desktop that I have been moving around my apartment in an effort to find it a good home (it has recently taken up residence on my dining room table) or even my iPhone felt like a real breather. Add a nice pen (another recommendation from many of you) and a cup of tea and journal-writing became a mini vacation, although perhaps a frozen cocktail or a glass of rosé would be even better.

I also like the idea that a journal is something just for me. And somehow writing my thoughts in an app felt more public, and less private.

Morning Pages

Once I made the decision to keep two journals, both print, an altogether unsurprising thing happened: I wasn’t sure how to start. The documenting of foods eaten, pills taken, etc. wasn’t the problem — although I did notice I was less likely to keep track when I was feeling tired, low, or sick with bronchitis (which was most of February), and also that when I was feeling tired, low, or sick with bronchitis, I was less likely to eat the recommended foods and more likely to, say, have these absurdly delicious bittersweet brownies with salted peanut butter frosting for dinner.

The difficulty was with the other journal, the one in which I wrote all my secret thoughts and hopes and dreams. Both my health coach and a few of you pointed me in the direction of Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way. One of her primary tools is something she calls morning pages, which, in some ways are fairly self explanatory. “They’re done in the morning and they’re pages,” Cameron explains. You must write three pages and they must be written in long-hand, but otherwise there are no requirements. You can write about things you have to do today, you can whine and be negative if you like. She describes morning pages as a “clearing exercise” rather than a creative one — and for me, that was a huge obstacle.

I have to confess that I’m still in the early days of writing my morning pages, but I’m optimistic about how they will progress. And if that doesn’t work, I wanted to call out another suggestion from one of you: Keeping a correspondence with a close friend as a non-traditional way of journaling. Thanks, @aleec!

How are your journal-writing endeavors progressing? I’d love to know.