Write What You Know, Not What You’ve Been Told

My roommate received a package a few weeks ago. A couple times a year, her aunt sends her a collection of various self-care items. The one that caught my eye among these was a small black journal with a note recommending its use as a means of recording the extraordinary events of this year.

My roommate was eager to begin this task and began writing that same day, but I could not imagine putting my thoughts on the pandemic, online school, or environmental catastrophes into words. I did, however, know what it was like to keep a journal, as it has always been an activity that is important to me.

At age 6, I wrote my first entry in a journal my father bought me during a visit to the North Carolina Museum of Art. After the initial entry, the notebook sat unused for several years until I found it again toward the end of elementary school. From that point on, while I was never good at writing consistently, I did use my journal whenever I had a chance. I filled this little notebook with drawings, random thoughts and accounts of my day, from the day one of my dogs died to a particularly perplexing story of my fourth grade class trying to decide how to thank our teacher that ended with one student locked in a closet.

I filled the notebook about halfway through middle school, and for about a year after I filled this notebook, I stopped journaling. I tried writing in a new journal, but I never got into quite the same rhythm. Then, on my 15th birthday, a family friend gifted me a new notebook. This was not the only journal I had received since the first one from my father, but something about it reminded me of how much I used to enjoy journaling. The front cover was decorated with a quote by Cesare Pavese: “We do not remember days, we remember moments.” Reading that, I had an idea.

My main problem with journaling has always been the time commitment. Sometimes, sitting down and writing about my day just seems like a hassle, and in quarantine times, when the days all feel the same, recounting my day is even less appealing. What I have realized, though, is that journaling can be whatever you make it.

As an avid reader, I was instantly drawn to the idea of a quote notebook filled with excerpts from my favorite books. As I read, I simply mark the quotes that speak to me in some way and write them down in my journal with the book name and page number. In this way, I build a collection of writing that is meaningful to me so I can go back and look at these quotes whenever I want. Over time, the notebook also came to include ideas of my own and, on occasion, sketches or poems. I read back through it whenever I need inspiration or want to be reminded of my favorite writing.

There are no rules to keeping a journal. Whether it is a quote book or a “Dear Diary” setup, journals are excellent sources of creativity and even have proven benefits for physical and mental health, a bonus that all of us should appreciate even more in today’s world.

The ability to write down our feelings allows us to better understand them and even go back to them when we want to. Working through emotions in writing can help control stress, as well as alleviate some of the symptoms of anxiety disorders. It is also known to improve organization and mindfulness, and has been shown to have certain physical benefits, such as boosting your immune system and managing conditions like asthma and arthritis.

With all of these benefits, it is no wonder that journaling has risen in the ranks of self-care practices. It is not difficult to get started, either. My advice: pick out a journal that speaks to you, and do not put too much pressure on yourself to use it a certain way. Do what feels right for you, and the benefits will follow. As for me, even as the blank pages in my journal dwindle, my only thought is of what to write next.


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