A New Habit
On December 29th, 2012 at 1:24pm while sitting at New York Theater Workshop I started a journal. The reason I know that so specifically is because I wrote it in the damn journal.
I have written in it every day for the two months since I started it and let me say this: I love journals. I’m hooked. I have seven more pages to fill in the Barnes and Noble leather-bound I bought. And I have a blank one ready to pick up the slack once this one reaches capacity. I hope to keep a journal of some sort until I lack hands, toes, noses or nubs with which to continue writing it.
I have considered journaling in the past and have started a half dozen or so of them in the past. Comp books, loose leaf endeavors, folders of word files. I never really kept it up. Either I would simply forget, writing so sporadically that it never really became a habit (Remember habits?) or simply taking a good long look at the things spewing forth from my pen and deciding the world would be much wiser if I… didn’t continue doing what I was doing.
My overwhelming urge to chronicle my life this time was given to me by Abe Lincoln. Well sort of. Not really. Well sort of. Lincoln himself didn’t keep a journal, but a lot of what we know about who he was comes to us from the journals and diaries of his contemporaries (as well as the long lost art of letter writing, but let me attempt to stay on topic). I was reading a book called Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, the book that the movie Lincoln was adapted from. It was a fascinating picture of the past, of the Civil War, of peoples lives, of the President and the intrigue surrounding the politics of the most brutal wars in American history.
And a lot of the quotes were from journals, diaries and personal accounts.
Granted, my life is considerably lacking in the war, intrigue, interest and President department, but it is a life. And beyond a smattering of tweets, a woefully emo and defunct LiveJournal and some fading memories there’s very little substantial record of who I am, what I do and what I think about either. While it’s doubtful the vast billions of the future will stumble upon my journal and use it as their holy text, it got me thinking that perhaps some record of my life and my thoughts might be useful. If not for anyone else, for me.
So I wandered into Barnes and Noble and bought myself a nice (somewhat pricey) leatherbound journal and determined to keep it in my bag whenever I left the house with a ready supply of pens. I figured at the very least my time on the subway could be utilized to take stock of the world instead of simply wondering what the hell that smell is. It smells like curdled curdles.
To What End?
“I had started keeping a journal, and I was discovering that I didn’t need school in order to experience the misery of appearances. I could manufacture excruciating embarrassment in the privacy of my bedroom, simply by reading what I’d written in the journal the day before. […] Reading it made me desperate to change myself, to sound less idiotic.
-Jonathan Franzen, The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History
A grand account of my daily struggle with my Diet Coke and cheese addiction may not, I admit, win me the Pulitzer I deserve. But the act of writing daily is beneficial regardless. Beyond a running account of my thoughts, feelings and experiences in life the journal also gets me into the simple habit of… well… writing.
My creative process generally follows the following process:
- Have an idea
- Be excited about it
- Start writing
- Get frustrated over really anything… the color of my character’s socks?… title?… pen length? Who the fuck knows?
- Have an introverted discussion about the validity of what I’m writing
- Lament my lack of creativity
- Cry tears of sadness
- Stop writing
Or something like that. The point is that I often with projects get so invested in making everything AWESOME that when it starts to not be I just get frustrated and walk away. Not a proud admission, but there it is. And to quote Voltaire (because I’m pretentious), “The Perfect is the enemy of the Good.” Or to re-say what I have already said twice in a different way: Caring too much about what you’re writing is a good way to not get anything written at all, ever.
The Journal is a great tool for that. I write. I write daily. I write whatever comes to mind. I write about my day. I write boring things. I write about what I ate for dinner. I write about what venue I worked in and who I worked with. I write about the fact that it is morning and I am tired. Or I write that I am glad to be going home from work. I write things perfectly tedious.
Is it Shakespeare? No. But it is writing. And it’s better than a blank page. And now and again something sneaks in: a poem, a story, a snippet, a joke, a poignant commentary on life rather than a simple description of it. And it’s good. Writing helps me write.
On Journaling for Betterment
I do believe that journaling has benefits for non-writers as well. For me keeping a running dialog with myself on paper can be very relaxing. Letting thoughts and emotions pour onto the page sometimes seems to free up a little room in my mind. Plus, the act of seeing your thoughts concretely as opposed to flitting through your mind helps to make them more concrete. And as you journal, you may find that your internal monologue has certain themes: worries, hopes, goals, longings and joys that perhaps you never realized were the recurring characters in your mind.
Self knowledge is the most important part of self betterment. Seeing who you are honestly is the only way to draw a path to who you want to be.