on the necessity of keeping a journal

For the better part of the last two months I was in some murky territory with my self-image. I was slugging along somewhere between feeling depressed and careless; I dealt with much negative self-talk and acute loneliness. When I finally got my head above water I tried to analyze what I was doing differently that had caused this surge of gloom. The answer surprised me: I had stopped writing. More specifically, I had stopped keeping a journal.

I had filled up the pages of one and moved on to pick out another, but as it was New Years I piled so much ceremony on starting anew. And so I waited for important thoughts, for cinematic moments, for ceremony. I put it off, thinking so much else outweighed it on the “important” scale. And to my surprise I really suffered from not having the outlet. Something clicked; I realized what was missing and finally gave up on waiting for inspiration, and back I went to scribbling random thoughts in my abominable handwriting. When I did that, it was like coming home within myself.

It seems silly that such a simple activity can hold so much sway on a person, but it really rings true for me. The only way I can think to explain it is simply that I am, at the heart of it all, a writer. I have no other word to put in front of it – I’m not any one type of writer. My only thoughts when I realized how much better I felt after starting again was, It must really be deep down in my bones.

Keeping a journal is much more explorative than writing for an audience. It’s a practice that first requires and then allows you to dig down through the soil of your soul to the place where the roots of you reside. When we successfully keep a journal, it becomes an appendage, the extension of ourselves that allows the heart and mind to meet up and figure things out. The difference in journaling, for me, is all about the freedom, which I’ve become addicted to. In a world full of articles telling us how to write to attract readers and grow our audience, journaling reminds us how to be alone, how to write for ourselves, and especially how to think for ourselves.

In my journal I may write a list of things that have made me happy lately; I might write a rambling essay or a short passage; I might write my fears or my joys; I may list goals or quotes or write a poem. The only constant is that I never know what it’s going to be when I pick up the journal, and I never know when I’m going to pick up the journal. I don’t set aside time to do it at a set point every day because I’ve learned the flaw of that: I can’t plan to be inspired, and I can’t put off being inspired for a time when self-expression would be more convenient. So all I can do is keep my journal with me so that, when the desire to write something arises, I’ll write something. And I’ll learn a little more about myself in the process.