Monday 17 September 2012

Journalling School Session 9: Frequently asked questions

Welcome to the ninth session of Journalling School. In today's session we'll be looking at some of the questions that have arisen so far and that often come up in relation to journalling.

So, let's have a time out and look at some questions that have come up. I'll give you my view, but there is scope for argument and you are welcome to add your views in the comments.

What sort of book or system should I use for my journal?
There's no one answer to this, but it might take some trial and error before you find what is right for you. Here are the characteristics of a journal I'd advocate for someone new to journalling:

  1. Bound. I advocate a bound book rather than a loose-leaf system, mostly for psychological reasons. When you write on a loose page, you are less likely to take care about what and how you write, because the page can easily be discarded. In a book, though, you will have to live with mistakes and misjudgements, which means you are more likely to take care not to make any. Spiral binding is a bit of a compromise, but I'd always go for a fully case-bound book.
  2. Small but not tiny. Your journal should be portable. That is not to say it should accompany you everywhere, but when you take vacations, you'll want to take it with you. Even when you go somewhere just for a day, if you know you'll have spare time, you should take the journal with you and write while you're there. I always find the nature of my writing changes with my location, and I like the variety. But your journal should not be so small it can fit in a back pocket. I find anything smaller than about A5 discourages proper writing with grammar and structure. 
  3. Free format. I'd strongly recommend you don't buy a dated diary to use as your journal. You might well not write every day and empty pages will taunt you. It is better to just start again after a gap in time without a gap in the book. Pre-dated pages also limit the amount you can write in any one day, whereas I don't believe you should be limited in any way; you should be able to write as much or as little as you want or need to.
  4. Inexpensive. Once you are firmly in the habit or journalling, you might decide to spend good money on an expensive journal. That's fine. When you're starting, though, it is likely to cause you problems. When you're so worried about sullying those expensive pages, you can end up writing nothing at all. I call this 'journalling stage fright'. Avoid it by using an inexpensive journal, at least for your first volume.
My journal book of choice is the Black n Red A5.

Can I keep an electronic journal?

Of course you can. Personally, I find this harder than writing by hand. I can't write as quickly as I can type, so my ideas are more fully-formed when I write them by hand. I can always open my book and start writing immediately, whereas it may not be convenient to get a laptop or pad out wherever I am. And I like to see the book filling up gradually. To be able to flick back and forth and to see the odd crossing-out - and remember why I crossed it out - is useful too.

How much do I have to write?
However much you want or need to. You're not writing lines as a punishment; rather, you are writing as an investment. You are investing time and effort in understanding yourself and the world a little better, in making progress towards your goals, in solving problems, and in building a resource of unimaginable value in the future.

Some days you might want to write and write until your hand aches. Other days you might want to write just a paragraph, or nothing at all. It's all good. There is no minimum word count and there are no deadlines.

What should I write about?
Hopefully by this stage, you're not short of things to write about, but it is worth thinking about any trends you are finding in your writing and where you want to go in the long term. For example, it is easy to get into the rut of just recording the events of the day without any real comment or reflection. At the other extreme, it can all be about you dumping what's in your head.

I think over the long term everyone needs to find the right balance between being externally focused (what's happened today) and having an internal focus (what am I feeling?) There may be spells in your life when the balance between these has to change. For example, in times of stress it is important to vent your feelings fully because this makes such an enormous contribution to you being able to cope and recover.

Beyond the events of the day and your reactions, though, there is a wealth of things you can write about, as I hope this series has demonstrated. For instance, what are your goals, and how are you working towards achieving them? What are the big news stories currently, and what's your take on them? What would you do if you won the lottery next week or if you were stranded on an isolated island? If you were to throw a dinner party and could invite anyone, who would you like to come and why?

In short, write about whatever occurs to you in the moment, but also invest some time in thinking about what you want to write about in the future. Keep a list of things you want to write about when you have time to write a longer entry.

How careful should I be in case people read it? 
This is a difficult question. There are some benefits you can derive from journalling only if you are totally honest and free to write whatever you feel. There are people who can do that, but I'm not one of them. I have an internal censor that requires me to be as honest as possible, but circumscribe where fragile people and situations are concerned. That means I might sometimes not share all of my feelings with the page.

It's difficult to say why this is; my journal is not written for publication, not for reading by anyone but me. Even my wife doesn't read it, although she's seen me writing in it, often at length. But somehow I feel that if she (or someone else close to me) did ask to read it, I wouldn't want to feel awkward about letting them.

This is a question you'll have to answer for yourself. Do you mind saying 'no' when people ask to read your journal? Is there a risk that people will read your journal without your permission? Do you even worry about what other people think?


There's no homework this week, except to consider whether you have any questions that haven't been covered. If you do, put them in the comments.

That was the ninth session of Journalling School. In the next session we'll be looking at the effect of tenses - past, present and future - and how to reflect these in your journalling.

Feedback, thoughts and ideas are welcome, as ever. Please share your experiences in the comments.


Debbie said...

i am loving these posts about journaling and was inspired to get a new Moleskine journal yesterday at Barnes and Noble.

I have been a journaler off and on in the past and have struggled with the privacy issue. I guess what I have come up with is to write things that I don't want anyone to see on loose leaf pages and then throw them away. That way I can work out sensitive problems on the page and get them out of my head but then toss them as if I got rid of the problem.

I found your blog thru the filofax groups and have even subscribed to your wonderful podcasts.

I am a planner addict and now a journaling addict.

Thanks for your blog and helpful information.

Ray Blake said...

Nice to hear from you Debbie. I like the idea of writing on loose leaf and then destroying it. It's a little like writing and destroying a letter to someone you would never dare send, where the act of writing it is therapeutic enough without actually posting it and hurting the other person.

Over the years, I suppose I have developed a way of writing in my journal about such issues that hints at how I feel. When I read it later, that communicates to me, but it wouldn't to any other reader.

Hannah C. said...

I really am enjoying these posts, though I haven't commented. Thanks so much for doing this!

I've decided that my kids can just deal with the scandalous bits. ;) They can figure out that hey, I was human, and that's it. I do like the idea of writing out things on looseleaf when it's just something you need to write out but don't ever want to return to. If you change your mind you could always attach it to your bound journal.

Ray Blake said...

Thanks, Hannah. I had an idea about this. I thought you might put the loose pages in an envelope and then post it to yourself. When it arrives, read the content and then either file or destroy it.


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