There is something about keeping a diary that makes us think there has to be rules. It may be something to do with those little lockable five year diaries girls were bought by well-meaning aunts in the 1970s.
If we aren’t careful, diaries become about OUGHTS – you know, how you OUGHT to do things – and I gave up doing OUGHTS about 10 years ago. I don’t live in SHOULDland anymore.
The truth is that there are as many ways of keeping a diary as there are diarists. But over the last 38 years I have found that the following guidelines are useful, for me and for friends I have helped with diary writing.
Guideline # 1: Absolute Privacy is Non-Negotiable.
A journal/diary is a place you need to be able to be yourself. Otherwise it is no good to you. Where else can you say all the things you really need to express, but daren’t because someone might get upset or hurt. Where else can you confide your deepest desires, wildest fantasies, greatest irritations, and the things you plan to do to Brad Pitt if you every get your hands on him?
I suppose this is what the lockable diary was about, all those years ago – I never had one, but I had a friend who did, and I envied her’s so much. Funny – she never wrote in it. I wonder why? Maybe for her, it was an OUGHT. Or maybe, she was worried that the lock was an invitation for her brother to break in and read her most intimate thoughts.
However you ensure privacy is up to you. Maybe you need to get the agreement of those with whom you live. My husband and I have shared a home for the last 16 years, and he has never once looked at my diary. He knows it is my private place. (I respect his privacy in turn.)
You may have to physcally hide your journal from prying eyes, which seems a shame to me, but then I don’t live with annoying siblings anymore. You may need to keep it in a locked drawer at work, or hide it under a loose floorboard (I hope you don’t), but whatever you do, you need to be satisifed that whatever you say is safe and for you alone. Otherwise you will not say what is in your heart, and that is not only defeating the object, but denying the healing power of the diary.
If your partner is upset and worried about your keeping a diary, comfort them that it is not a threat to your relationship with them. Reassure them that it is a place for you to express yourself, to have a freedom that will in turn invigorate your relationship with them.
Guideline # 2: Date Every Entry
Duh! Yeah, this seems obvious, but sometimes people forget. You need some kind of way to navigate this mountain of paper you are going to create. Chronology is the way human beings connect things within their own lives, so it makes sense to use that.
Guideline # 3: Write when you have something to say
Don’t allow yourself to fall for the tyranny of writing every day. Sometimes you will write every day. This is especially useful to do when experiencing difficult and demanding times, when you are trying to work out how you feel, or where you want your life to go next. But do not force it. Write only when you have something you wish to record, understand or work out. And don’t beat yourself up if you look back and find a gap of months at a time. Those were the times when you were too busy living to write, and thats okay too.
Guideline # 4: It doesn’t have to be perfect
This is especially true if you have the nasty habit like I do, of perfectionism. After all, whats the point in doing something unless you can do it perfect first time?
Reject perfectionism. Make a mess. Scribble. Write scruffily. Make blots. Have fun. Use different colours. Play.
If you are doing art journals, beware of perfectionism in the images you create. Its just for you. You aren’t going to show this to anybody, so it doesn’t have to be Leonardo first time.
Aways tell Nigel (your perfectionist’s voice, remember him?) to bugger off, and just enjoy yourself. Have fun. It really doesn’t have to be perfect.
Journal Exercise – Where am I right now?
I hope that following last week’s post, you have been out and bought yourself a lovely notebook to write in. Maybe you are already scribbling down your thoughts. But perhaps you feel a bit stuck. Sometimes it is a bit hard to get started. Here is what I do:
Write down the sentence: This is where I am right now.
Now, write whatever comes to mind after that. You might want to describe the room you are sitting in, the town you may be visiting, the lover, friends or colleagues you are with. Or you might want to talk about where you are in your life, the joys and frustrations you are experiencing, the hopes and fears lurking in the back of your mind. Write whatever comes out, and don’t censor it. No judging, no Nigels, remember? Just do a brain dump.
Then, when you have finished saying where you are right now, maybe you can go on from there, and write about whatever else pops into your head. Or maybe you can stop. And use the same prompt tomorrow.
Whenever you feel you need to write, but don’t know where to start, this prompt is a great one. It grounds you in your life and your feelings. It often tells you things you didn’t know about yourself right now. It illuminates, as well as getting the wheels rolling.