Welcome to the second not-quite-weekly installment of our new group advice column, Help A Sister Out, also known as Hayso. This week's email comes from G. in New York City:
As "a writer," I know I am supposed to keep a journal, and I sort of do, but I hate writing in it. Because I don't write in it very often, when I do, I feel weird, and I don't know where to start, or who I'm supposed to be talking to. And I hate looking at the things I've written in the past, I hate the way I sound, I'm so whiny and boring. Basically, my journal stinks like failure and I never want to pick it up again.
Great! Excellent, well said. My journal, too, stinks like failure -- whenever I flip back and read old entries, I am struck by two things:
1. How much of an idiot I was even two weeks ago; how little I knew then compared to what I know now, and how acutely aware I am that I don't know shit right now compared to what I'm going to know in two weeks.
2. I can't remember what the second one was. Probably not important.* Oh yeah! How boring and whiny I am, and how redundant and unoriginal.
(2a. * Now I remember. When I look back, I see all the projects I thought of and ideas I had and stories I wrote that went nowhere, seriously nowhere. [And yet, they had to be written too.])
(2b. Also, when I flip through the book to get to the next empty page, I catch just enough of what I've been up to recently that it's like watching a flip-book stick figure dancing in the margins, a cartoon cow, or a skeleton, or a cow skeleton. Anyway.)
So, yes, depressing. Which is why I don't reread my old entries. I just fill notebook after notebook, and file them in a box in the closet. If I have to find something for reference later, it's there, amidst the banal details of life: "Have to pick up birth control and sunscreen. Think I might be done with this relationship." But most of it is unimportant shit. That's why it goes in the notebook.
The stuff you write in your notebook is not something that's going to be published someday. It's not something you're going to read out loud. 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.
Conversely, if you don't love life sometimes, you're really not paying attention. The notebook gives you a chance to do that too. I know how Oprah this sounds, but writing things you're grateful for, things you want to come true, things you would like to believe -- it helps. It's hard to write affirmations, but it's great exercise, and when you're stuck for a subject, thinking of the people and things that you're grateful for is a practice that increases your mental well-being.
And you're talking to yourself, in the moment, that's who you're talking to. Confidentially, just you and you, the real deal that you wouldn't share with anyone else, not in its entirety. (Note: Mine are to be burned after my death, if not before.) Which reminds me: You have to have real privacy to keep a journal -- if you have a suspicion that it might get read, you will not be able to be honest with yourself on the page.
Finally, don't think you have to write for a long time, or every day -- that's ideal, but it's not necessary. Five minutes on the subway is better than no minutes. Get to a bar early? Pull out your notebook instead of your phone (so much sexier). Start with the date and time and your immediate surroundings, or the first thing on your mind, and just do a little bit. Ease into it. It's like exercise. If you haven't been to the gym in a while, then you go and you overdo it and you hurt yourself, you never want to go back. So just move the pen around, let it say what it has to say, then close the book on it.
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? All supportive and constructive advice welcome!