It is difficult for me to explain fully why I journal, since it has applied itself so usefully for many various purposes. And yet, it is difficult to give specific illustrations and examples. Rather than one big pay-off, the benefits of journaling have found their way into the small little details of my life, and in many subtle ways have added substance to my character. Unfortunately, I think that journaling is an undervalued art. Had I the eloquence of the old poets, with the same capacity to move an audience, I would try to persuade them to journal as well that they too can reap the benefits.
I think the initial problem most people face when journalling is that they don’t know what to write. I certainly had that problem when I first started out. This was because I was under the impression that a journal was where you were supposed to write about your day, and I didn’t think my days were interesting to write about. My life, I concluded, was rather unexciting.
These days, I find the concept that a person could have ‘nothing to write about’ completely appalling. Perhaps writing about their day would be boring to them. That’s fine, I find my days tend to be boring to write about too. But think of when you talk to people. You talk about what you’re interested in. And if your day was nothing special to talk about, that doesn’t keep you from holding a conversation. You talk about a movie you really like, or about your family, or a funny story that happened, or why you’re having a bad day at school. Many topics of conversation would work as well in your journal. If there is nothing you enjoy conversing about, or you find you don’t have anything interesting to say to anybody else, this suggests to me that your life needs some adjusting.
When I journal, I often use it to discuss problems that I am having. Writing about what I’m going through, “venting”– if you will, is theruputic in an of itself. I can express those feelings I try to keep under the surface so that they don’t negatively impact my actions. Putting them down on paper means I can adress those feelings in a controlled environment where no one else need suffer any consequences. But journalling really becomes useful when you move past the “venting” stage, and engage in dialectical thinking, which is examining a problem or situation by question and answer. For instance, the question might be “What am I feeling?” “Why am I feeling this way?” and “What are some possible solutions or plans of action that I can take?”
This takes a more proactive approach to the trial in question. Therefore, journalling can help provide solutions rather than allowing you to just wallow, as people are so apt to do. Or, they take the escape route, and try to get rid of their problems by watching a movie or listening to music. I believe these activities have their place, but they can only get you so far. Journalling confronts a problem, and helps you work your way through it.
Then there are times like these, when I fell I have found insight, or have stumbled upon an interesting idea that I think should be explored. Journalling is particularly important with times like these, and should be used in conjunction with pondering. Meditation or deep thinking on a subject is invaluable, yet our minds are often led to distraction and even cherished thoughts tend to be forgotten. Journalling while we ponder, however, helps us focus, gives us direction, and keeps a record of our thoughts, so they can be reviewed and not forgotten. We are arrogant indeed if we think that our every flash of insight will be deeply recorded in a memory, and we therefore have no need to write it down.
There is one subject about journalling, however, which I still struggle with. Should we jounral for our posterity, our should we focus on our personal reasons for journalling? In the past I have found issue with the idea of journalling for our posterity. For example, there are some who feel they have a tendency to ‘self edit’ when they think that what they write will be viewed by their children and grandchildren. Editing seems to me to completely defeat the purpose of journalling, which ought to be a safe environment where they can explore thoughts and emotions. Censoring what is written may cripple the benefits of journalling, because you’re no longer being open and honest with yourself. For those reasons, I believe that journalling should be a very personal and private thing.
However, I think there are some things that could and should be shared. I’m compiling a record, which takes the best stories and experiences from my journals, the portions that have real value, which I plan to preserve for future generations.