Monday, July 7, 2008

Journals, Journaling and the Journey

Melissa at Writing Forward is spotlighting journals and journaling at her blog this month. Journaling is a tool that can benefit anyone if it’s used consistently. Consistency though is the part that trips up most would-be journalers. Consistency is generally described as seven days a week but is that really consistency and more importantly is it really useful.

Starting with what journaling is at its core, it is basically keeping a record of a journey. The journey may be day-to-day life, or summer vacation, or your first year of marriage, or a career change, or learning to hear your own inner voice, or any number of different kinds of journeys we take through our lifetime. It is not uncommon for people who use journaling as a tool to keep more than one journal and keep them concurrently.

I have been a consistent journal keeper for the past eight years. Over those eight years I have had several kinds of journals from generalized to specialized. I don’t write in every journal every day and some days I don’t write in any of my journals. But it hasn’t always been this way. When I first started seriously journaling at the end of 2000 I did work up to a full 30 days with no misses. This was a teaching and habit tool I imposed on myself and not my ideology about journaling. New habits need reinforcements and journaling can be confounded by fear about one’s own voice and thoughts; writing daily for at least 30 days forces you to deal with rather than avoid those issues.

These are some of the major journals I have kept, or am currently keeping, and how I use them to move my life forward:

General life journal – This is where I started in 2000. I already owned several blank books and even made a few rudimentary entries in 1999 thinking I would “journal into the new millennium.” It was a nice idea without a plan to succeed. But moving forward almost a year an issue came up in which I found myself placing a past event into two opposing contexts and my self-concept and ability to plan my future was being influenced by which of these contexts was holding sway from day-to-day. Getting it down and sorting the beliefs broke the zigzag pattern. I keep up a general journal because it helps me see where I am sliding back into non-useful patterns. I document my process for making changes in thought and behavior patterns here so it is also an accountability tool.

Goals journal – When I was starting to move away from full-time parenting and homemaking (2002) I started a separate journal for thinking about and tracking my goals. I also kept my personal mission statement in this journal and articles I would find about how other people started their lives over. Frequently the goals journal is a thumbnail entry of an issue I wrote about in the general life journal. It’s a summary of five or six years in one book rather than scattered randomly across 10 books.

Learning journal – I blogged about this in early 2007. When I was trying to figure out blogging I was trying to round a huge learning curve and it seemed like I was going backwards rather than forwards. So I took a small notebook (I expected this to be short-lived but also serve as a memory jog) and wrote down every time I learned something. Sometimes it was how to format a photo before uploading, or how to hack a hover label, or commenting courtesies. It was a reminder that I knew more than I used to but I could find something if I hadn’t used it recently instead of needing to ask again.

Retreat journal – I can’t endorse retreating enough. I had this epiphany at Christmas of 2004 that a silent retreat should be a part of my graduation preparation. The retreat I found while minimally invasive did strongly suggest recording the weekend in a separate journal since often life-changing decisions are made and retreatants would want to have ready access to those as they acted on those decisions in the future. Retreats are a process to learn, but especially silent retreats. You have no idea how unquiet you are on the inside until you do one; and it can be scary at first. My first year entries are mostly about my fears and questioning why I went but I also found a couple of inner truths to hang onto and re-reading those entries has made it worth the work. My second retreat also fit into this journal and comparing the years’ experiences was another reinforcement of personal growth in a specific context.

Sketch book – I started sketching again in the summer of 2005 and I bought a quality (but way too big) sketch book to track my technique and progress. I probably don’t sketch enough since I only do one 2-4 times a month but the lessons I learn about perspective and lighting and what can be seen definitely apply to my writing process. So I continue find a few minutes to sketch whatever is at hand, but I will never rival Elizabeth at woolgathering.

So these are the kinds of journals I have or am currently keeping to record my journey beyond motherhood and into the realm of becoming a writer. I find that as I have been journaling more I miss when too many days go between entries. It is not about doing it everyday like a rule nor is it about getting on a guilt trip for the infrequencies. Internalize the habit of consistently meeting yourself for a chat and getting over yourself when you don’t. Join in and tell us about your experiences with journaling and its role in your journey.

The series:

1. Mommy tracking

1a. Exit strategy

2. Dreams

3. Net worth

4. Women and Self caretaking

5. Second-life Woman


Melissa Donovan said...

Ah, I think I have a better idea about what a silent retreat is now! Thanks for the link love!

I've kept all different types of journals over the years and recently decided to lump them all together in one book moving forward. We'll see how that goes. I just can't have all these half-filled notebooks all over the place!

Melissa Donovan at Writing Forward

G's Cottage said...

@Melissa - I see your point and from time to time I have debated my system but it comes down to how I use the information recorded; and so far the scale tips to the current system.

I have not begun a new goals journal for two reasons. My goals for my various enterprises are in those notebooks so that part seemed redundant. My goal-oriented thinking and behaving I write about in my general life journal as my accountability resource.

Charlane said...

I have just discovered your blog and Melissa's Writing Forward. I am so glad I did.

I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I have been journaling on and off for years. Journaling is healing.

Thanks for starting your blog and writing. I look forward to following your journey.