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Natalie Goldberg actually fills one spiral bound notebook a month. Since she writes double-sided that's 200 pages a month. And I'm assuming not college ruled but even wide ruled . . . well, that's a lot of writing!

It's also a good personal challenge. On the 1st, grab a notebook of reasonable size (easy to carry) and length (100 pages not 500) and just commit to filling it with whatever. Yes, doodles count! Carry it everywhere and, before you know it, you'll find yourself filling in pages and pages of seemingly useless information. What you are thinking, feeling, hearing, sensing, etc.

One time I was waiting for my son at the mall and in the margin I wrote whatever song was playing on the neverending and evernauseating muzak in the background. I looked up from my notebook and noticed a family approach the Starbucks. One young girl in the family stood out because the others were all typically dressed, very Ambercrombie & Fitch or Land's End banal. But she had a sense of style that blew me away and could easily fit in a far more metropolitan area. I could imagine her walking the streets of Greenwich Village and fitting right in.

But she clearly didn't fit into this family and I started jotting down her style, listing the individual items, the mannerisms, how she stood, etc.

A page later and I was on a roll, jotting down notes for a story idea.

I think I filled four or five pages with that one observation and I think, all told, the family stood there for five minutes because only one person ordered a drink.

Anyway, that's one idea. I'll come back with more, no doubt, because I'm a journal addict.

Ok- I wrote this on FB so not sure the reader will get my response:

what's the purpose of your journal? If the purpose is to write a literary masterpiece that rivals Shakespeare, try "refudiating" that idea and just coin new words like Sarah Palin. Surpassing her won't be difficult. Seriously, why are you writing? Are you writing to get out your feelings and experiences for personal growth? If so, the quality of your experience is much more important than the subjective quality of your words?
A fun exercise you might want to try is writing with your nondominant hand (and don't worry about handwriting). That's a great way to tap into your creativity, emotions and parts of your brain and memory that you don't normally access.
If you're typing out your journal, try writing longhand, curled up in your favorite chair. Let your mind wander and focus on the experience rather than the writing. I think you'll have a better writing experience and be more satisfied with your output if you write rather than type.
If you want to improve your writing, try writing a short story or opinion piece. Get the opinion of others on something that's less personal than your innermost thoughts and experiences.

This was pretty inspiring. I kept a journal in my teens and reading it kept me from ever wanting to write in a journal again (I was, as it turns out, unnecessarily angsty for someone who had fairly comfortable adolescent years).
But the "not reading what you've written" thing is a pretty good idea, as is the no-pressure approach to writing. I don't know if I'm going to start journaling again, but I'm at least thinking about it now.

You asked: Those of you who keep journals, how do you do it? Literally: how often, what do you write about, and how do you keep it up?

I find myself re-creating my concept of journaling as needed. When I was in a relationship with a man who didn't understand personal boundaries, I used to write confessional poetry that was so abstract that years later I can't tell you what it is about or why I was even inspired to read it. Because I was intentionally being vague, it all comes out as meaningless. Still, at the time I needed to get the stuff "out there" and not keep it bottled up inside.

Once free from the relationship, my journal took on a new form--journal/poetry notebook. I filled it with both journal entries and poetry ideas.

Later, I followed Julia Cameron's advice in The Artist's Way and committed to writing three pages first thing in the morning, free writing my stream-of-consciousness until I had reached the three page limit.

Lately, my journal has taken on a new form. Aside from my blogs (yes, plural, because I'm pathetic), I write a friend of mine each and every morning. How this started is not important but I wasn't keeping a daily journal when I began and now I am at least documenting some of the mundane experiences of my life while often slipping into meditative reflections on my relationships, my friends and family, etc.

In the past I've also used journaling prompts (there are a lot of books out there overflowing with these) and many of the journaling exercises I've learned along the way have proven useful. Unsent letters is one that immediately comes to mind.

One I've returned to most often when I'm struggling with something is to write for five minutes and then read what I wrote finding a sentence, a phrase, or a single word that resonates or stands out. I take that sentence/phrase/word and use that as a prompt for a five minute write. When the five minutes are up, I repeat the process. Usually, after 20 minutes (three 5 minute free writes with time between for reading) I have worked through the problem or made a decision I thought I couldn't make.

But like you, Janice, I don't read what I've written under normal circumstances. I just pour it all out on the page and forget about it. If I try to reread what I wrote too close to the time in which I wrote it I tend to hate what I've written. However, when I go back to my writing later, perhaps a year or longer, I sometimes find something surprising. Alliteration or a powerful metaphor that I can then use in my more public writing.

You know, one could argue that if I weren't so darn comfortable blabbering in my journal I would at least know how to leave shorter and more focused comments on people's blogs. So perhaps there's an argument against journaling. Something to ponder during these long summer days.

Of late I've been getting frustrated with my journal, as it's fallen into shallow reenactments of my days, a record of what I've done and who I did it with. But reading the following quote has jump started where I want my journal to go. Or rather it's freed me to let it go wherever my thoughts take it -- even if it's venting and complaining.

"It’s the shit that’s in the way between you and your deeper ideas. It’s grudges and lusts and petty bullshit, and griping about how hungry and tired you are; it’s anxieties and frustrations, and it’s no wonder you hate it, because it’s a mirror of life, and if you don’t hate life sometimes, you’re not paying attention"

I keep my journal on a password protected blog, and try to do it twice a week, which usually ends up just being catch up. Journaling in the moment, or as soon as things happen, or in short daily snippets seem to capture things better and I'm going to try what you suggested with spare minutes here and there.

Love your books btw and thank you for this post!

More thoughts . . .

Journaling doesn't have to be words. You can journal about your day through images. I follow several blogs where the journaler uses photos to document the moments. They usually offer no captions or explanation. Just a photo of a park bench or a meal, a flower or a pair of shoes. I never know what will be uploaded and I'm always curious.

There are also visual journals, those sketchbook cum journals that include drawings. I have often sketched out random things when I couldn't find the words to immediately put into words what I was seeing. Later, when I have more time, I can refer back to the sketch and catch up with what I wanted to say.

Usually I find that when I am most "blocked" in my journaling it is because I am stuck with a particular form of journaling. To infuse my writing with something inspired, I simply have to move outside my comfort zone. That's when I reach for those journaling prompts or journaling exercises to help me explore different ways of journaling. Yes, I tend to fall back into the safety of the blah blah blah journaling but I also know there are other ways of journaling out there and that when I feel I've exhausted journaling as a practice it is more often than not that I've exhausted myself with not going above and beyond.

There are really no rules of being a writer saying that you "have to" keep a journal. I think the one common tie is: we all express/liberate/find/define/amuse/reflect on ourselves using words. If keeping a journal really helps you out and makes you feel good, then do it. Otherwise, don't feel like you have to be obligated to do something to fit into some vague, bullsh*t definition of what a "writer" is.

You could have no hands. You could have impaired hands (ahemJaniceahem). You could wear mittens and never take them off. But the fact that your mind, brain, heart, and soul drifts towards words...well, you're a writer.

I mean, Stephen Hawking is like the smartest guy in the world, but he can't do the Soulja Boy Tell 'Em Dance, can he?

I digress...

I've kept many journals and looked back on them: the angty rants of my Livejournal, the fancy journals I got in elementary school w/ writing awards, notebooks from CVS, etc. In fact, my writing is so scattered that my notebooks, diaries and journals are dispersed. Currently, my bedroom has writing on the walls because sometimes I think of something and get too lazy to find a blank sheet of paper or the journal in which I'm currently writing. Usually, I often find notebooks later, only even remembering I wrote something because of the content and date.

Any time you look back on old journals, writing or whatever...you're going to feel the disparity of the person you were and person you are now; kinda like looking through a photo album.

But the important thing is to never lose sight of the fact that you'll always be a writer; and YOU get to define what that is.

Best wishes,


I teach journaling, love journaling and believe the practice has saved me more than once - if only from myself. And yet... I keep coming back to this post with thoughts for comments and freeze. Appreciate the other comments here as well. I think, ultimately, a writer doesn't have to do or be any certain way. Period. You're a writer if you write. Done. If there's something else you need to do to feel like more of a writer, whatever that means to you, do (or work toward) that thing.

As for journaling ... for me it's a net. A place to catch ideas, quotes, rage, joy, moments, song lyrics, whatever on paper. It's where I write transcrptions of my eavesdropping dates (I know, I'm shameless). It's a place where I write notes to my kids so they know I was someone more than a boo-boo kisser and crust cutter-offer.

I think if you hate journal writing but still feel compelled to keep one - change the function of the journal. So, like, if "Dear Diary" doesn't do it for you (which is to say if you're not 8) but the idea of leaving something behind for someone else appeals to you, consider:


Or ... say you love reading - keep a notebook of books you read and your impressions of the book, author, whatever - that's a journal too. It all counts.

Obviously, I could go on .. and do, on my own blog so I'll stop using yours for my little journaling could save the world platform! :)

I too keep a journal. I really don't know why, and it's somewhat sporadic. It started a few years back when I was taking some personal life coaching and the coach suggested "The Artist's Way." I really didn't know what it was about, but after the first three pages I was hooked. I have been through the book twice. I guess writing in my journal grounds me. Whenever I am bored I write. Whenever I have a major life issue I write. Whenever I feel lost I write. It's a way to get "stuff" out of my head. It clears my mind. It calms me. I've even sketched in some of my journals, and those are my favorite ones. I would definitely recommend it to anyone.

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