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!”