As an English instructor, I’ve always been an advocate for journaling. It’s something that was forced upon me in college, and perhaps for that very same reason I’ve fought to instill its importance in my own classroom. More often than not, my students will bemoan its practice, treating it like busywork. Their reaction, which I totally understand, prompts me to harp about all of the benefits journaling gives toward critical thinking, which they usually don’t understand, along with the plethora of personal revelation journaling allows us to uncover, and so on. However, I hardly keep a journal myself.
I’m the world’s biggest friggin’ hypocrite.
My latest project is an essay about my three-year-old daughter’s autism diagnosis. The past eight or nine months of doctor visits and developmental therapy sessions have been rough, and branching out into creative nonfiction, which I’m not well-versed in by any means, has been a great outlet for a lot of my joys and frustrations. It also has me thinking more about journaling. I’ve always kept a notebook (like a lot of my friends, I have an unhealthy obsession with Moleskines), but that practice is different, I think. To me, journaling is geared toward the outpour of freethinking. My notebook is much more utilitarian. It specifically contains any ideas or information that seems pertinent to a current project, like my novel or essay, for example. I have a separate notebook for each. I also keep a different set of notes for any observations that I think will prove useful down the road. Journals aren’t necessarily designed to serve this purpose.
Virginia Woolf has famously said, “The habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments.” I think the word “practice” is key. Journals can function in a lot of ways, such as tools for personal therapy, or ways to kick start memory in Alzheimer’s victims. For writers, they’re good practice. It’s an easy way to stick to that mantra, “Write every day.” David Sedaris, one of my favorite essayists, said, “I’ve been keeping a diary for thirty-three years and write in it every morning. Most of it’s just whining, but every so often there’ll be something I can use later: a joke, a description, a quote.”
Recently, I happened upon this blog called Courage 2 Create. It’s authored by Ollin Morales, and it was initially kept to chronicle his journey through writing a novel. Although it’s all written in a public forum, the idea itself is very journal-esque. It’s inspired me to keep a day-to-day journal, one I hope I can be faithful to as the years go on.
Plus, it’s an excuse to buy another Moleskine.
– Aaron White