Over the last few months, I have taught two different classes on journaling, one of which has become a weekly group. The idea was that we are living in historic times, and personal journals have always been a valuable part of the historic record down through the ages.
Now, you’d think with Facebook and Twitter, that would count. Um, it doesn’t. Facebook and Twitter are public, and we tend to put our best posts forward, so to speak. There is something about the private nature of a journal that encourages more honesty, perhaps.
Another advantage of a journal is that it really does help keep a grip on all the insanity around us. Just in the past few days I’ve added a prompt to check for what’s currently bugging me and already I’m having trouble thinking of things that are bugging/worrying me.
My personal process began several years ago – I’ve lost track of how many – and is based in my own spiritual practices and a practice developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola (as in the guy who founded the Jesuits) called the Examen of Conscience.
The interesting thing is that as I was growing up and hearing about authors and being a writer and all that, I kept hearing about how important it is to keep a journal. I will admit, I tried, but it never took. Let’s face it, I am the ADD poster child, and sitting still to write something that doesn’t enthrall me, like what I had for breakfast the other day, is not going to happen. Then I heard a Jesuit priest talking about the Examen of Conscience and how it worked. In short, it gave me a series of questions I could check in with every day, or more accurately, every day I thought about it, and write.
The process this particular priest proposed was putting yourself in the Presence of God, checking in on where you’ve sinned the day before, then reflecting on how to do better and, finally, offering up a prayer of gratitude. I added a reflection on what I’ve done well because I’m really good at beating up on myself.
Believe it or not, I really like the idea of checking in to see where I’ve sinned, and actually, it helps work against the beating up on myself. It’s awfully hard to improve yourself if you don’t know where you’re falling down. To use a writing metaphor, you can’t fix your story if all you know is that it doesn’t quite work. If the actual “sin” is digressing all over the place (an example I used in Fascinating Rhythm), then you can go back and pull out all those bits that don’t relate to the full plot. If I know that I was meaner than I should have been to that tech non-support person, then I can take steps to get less pissy the next time I have to call about a problem.
I’m the last person to tell anyone that if they want to be a writer, they must journal. And if I’m honest, my journaling practice has had little to no effect on my writing that I know of. I guess trying to be a better person may help me be a better writer, and I suppose being able to stay on an even keel makes it easier to plot chaos in my made-up worlds.
Journaling is one of those things that is intensely personal and unique to each person. For me, it took a centuries-old prayer practice to put pen to paper (and, yes, I do prefer handwriting my journal). For you, it make take something else. I know someone who finds it easiest to dictate her thoughts on her phone as she takes her morning walk. And there is the possibility that journaling may not work for you at all.
But it is kind of interesting to think that someone, a hundred years ago, after I’m dead and gone, will look at my journal pages and exclaim, “Ah-hah! That’s what that was all about!”
7 thoughts on “Getting my Journal On”
Good reminder. My journals have been getting more perfunctory, less reflective. I can dig deeper.
Anne, this is a very thought-provoking post. I believe whole-heartedly in reflection, which is what a journal certainly accomplishes. On the blog page of my website, I blogged every day for 75 days when we first went into lockdown. I wrote everything from the mundane to the embarrassing to the boring. It’s only when I began to repeat myself, I stopped writing it. But I try to find personal time every day, even if it’s only for 2 minutes, to reflect on what I could have done better in the day. Self-examination is really the only way to mental, spiritual, and emotional health. Also, it does help keep us from repeating our mistakes (or sins) endlessly. Thank you for reinforcing in me that 5 minutes a day might be even better. To continue with this thought, I will go and read up on the teachings of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. He sounds like my kinda guy. Maybe everyone’s kinda guy. And there aren’t enough of them out there.
Truth be told, St. Ignatius is not everybody’s kind of guy and his writings do reflect the era in which he was born, so be very careful. He could also be a real messed up puppy. Not to mention that his order, the Society of Jesus (aka Jesuits) were responsible for all kinds of atrocities once upon a time. They seem to have gotten past that kind of behavior, or most of the guys I’m known have.
Hi Anne Louise. I tried journaling as a kid and adult. I could never think of every day things or thoughts to write, but I could always come up with a story. 😉
Hey, if that’s what works for you, then that’s what you do. Who’s to say your stories don’t reflect the world as you see it?
I agree, this is an excellent post! Thank you Anne Louise for sharing the practice developed by Saint Ignatius of Loyola ( the Examen of Conscience.). I will be working with that!
Good post, and thank you! I stopped journaling awhile ago but after reading your post am going to start again.
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