You may have heard that writing in a journal daily is a good discipline for the writer. I won’t argue with that; I’m sure it is. If you’ve never done it, I encourage you to give it a try. I say try it, because my sense is that people are either journal writers or they are not. I happen to be one of the “are nots.” I’m sure I could keep a journal if I felt it was important for an experience I was going through, but it doesn’t seem to be in my nature to do so naturally or comfortably. I used to beat myself up over that—saying I couldn’t be a “real” writer unless I kept a journal. I have long since given myself permission not to keep a journal. I extend the same permission to you.
If, on the other hand, you would like to give it a try, I can make a few suggestions for getting started. Find a blank book, steno pad, notebook, or whatever paper source you are comfortable with, but save it exclusively for your journal writing. It helps to have a set time and place to write in your journal, such as before or after reading or having your personal devotions, first thing in the morning, last thing at night, or any established time during the day that works for you. I know some people who even keep it on the computer.
Don’t think you have to write several pages to make it worthwhile. Even a short entry each day, if it reflects your true thoughts and feelings, will have great value. Realize that some days you may only write a sentence or two, while others may naturally produce a few pages. Avoid routine entries like: “Cleaned the house today,” or “Met Mary for lunch.” A personal journal is not a calendar of events, but tracking the events of your life as you see them through your heart and mind. It is an intensely personal experience. For the writer, it is good practice in expressing yourself on paper and helps clarify your thinking. A journal must be kept private, or you won’t be honest. Never tear out pages or edit it once it is written.
Date your entries and number the pages, but avoid printed journals that give you a dated page for every day or restrict you to one page. If you don’t write every day, those blank pages tend to make you feel like you’ve failed. A journal needs to be a “want to” not a “have to” experience, and requires some discipline—especially when developing the habit. I have a friend who types a lot of intimate letters to friends and family and simply keeps copies of those letters as a kind of personal record.
Rather than a personal journal, some of you may prefer to keep a Literary Journal. In this kind, you jot down notes that might later be used in a story or poem, overheard dialogue or speech patterns, news items, unusual phrases, descriptions, etc. In other words, notes that may be useful in your writing. A personal journal may also be used for writing some day. One friend kept a detailed journal through the experience of losing a child, and was later able to use that journal to write a book to help other parents who were experiencing the same thing.