I remember the first journal I ever had. I was in 4th grade, and the journal was a gift for my 10th birthday. Square, slim, and emblazoned with a photograph of a beautiful horse on the cover (I was really into horses at the time), the journal was initially something of a mystery to me. What does one write about in a diary? I wondered as I flipped through sheet after sheet of blank, unlined paper. Is there anything going on in my life that’s worth journaling about?
(Okay, so I’m paraphrasing. My thoughts probably ran more along the lines of: Ooh, horsey! ….What now? Words are hard.)
Either way, my journaling habit got off to a rocky start. I remember my first ever diary entry consisted of a laundry list of what I’d had for breakfast. Snoozers. I also spend an inordinate amount of time naming all the horses I would eventually own in some distant, unrealistic future. But eventually, I got into the hang of it. I started writing about the interesting or funny things that happened to me at school. I discussed my hopes and dreams for the future: professional show jumper; jockey; equine veterinarian. (I was really into horses.) I even penned my first work of fiction in those pages: a tale about an orphaned warrior princess named Jade and her trusty unicorn, who roamed the Forbidden Forest in search of the lost Wizard Bendar. Although the story was repetitive and heavily (and I mean heavily) influenced by Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, it was a start.
I kept a diary religiously from that day forward. Through middle school, high school, and college, journaling provided me with a creative outlet as well as a great deal of emotional catharsis. My long entries about horses were eventually replaced by gossip about boys and school, and eventually that gave way to musings about life, the universe, and the alchemy of love. Diaries covered with horses, flowers, and glitter were replaced by sleek black Moleskines. But still, I wrote, the pen skating across the page and immortalizing my hopes, my loves, and my fears for some as yet unimagined future generation of historians. (Yeah, right.)
But a few years ago (somewhere around the time when I started writing fiction seriously) I stopped journaling. It wasn’t any kind of intentional shift, but when you spend the whole day writing drafts of novels and stories, revising things you’ve already written, and reading other authors’ works critically, the last thing you want to do at the end of that day is write some more, even if it is for yourself. And now, whenever I look at the pile of dusty Moleskines shoved in the corner, I feel guilty, as though I’ve abandoned some key part of myself that was once integral to the way I lived my life.
I’d like to start journaling again. But I think it will be a process–not only will I need to rebuild the routine that used to see me ending the day with a pen and a pristine sheet of paper, but I will need to rediscover how to talk to myself about myself in a creative and useful way. Because for me, journaling has always been about knowledge, and wonder–knowledge of myself and wonder for the world around me–and those two, when combined, are always a good thing, especially for a writer.
Do you keep a journal? How has your journaling habit shaped the way you see the world? Share you thoughts in the comment section below!