The Rules of Journaling

I spent my Sunday catching up with a good friend, and among the many interesting topics that came up was one of my faves: journaling.

My friend Greg had supported my Kickstarter campaign by buying three Live On Purpose Project journals (thanks Greg!) and I was DELIGHTED to hear how much he’s been enjoying his new journaling practice.

He picked it up quickly and can already feel the benefits of writing things out and just generally taking that time for himself. I love it.

He did, however, have a few questions, the kind that I felt excited to answer and share my opinions on, because, you know, it’s journaling.

First he asked me – what should he write? This is a more common one than you might think. In this case, Greg felt that he wasn’t all that creative and had been using his journal space to write out passages and quotes that he found inspiring, but not producing much original content.

My response to this was – AWESOME. There are no rules, no right or wrong. I use mine to jot down quotes all the time. Actually, I have a whole journal dedicated to quotes. If you’re struggling to find your own words, this can be a great place to start. It still offers time for reflection and tells a story in that you will clearly be recording quotes that feel relevant to you based on what you’re going through at the moment. Writing anything down allows you to absorb it better, so processing someone else’s words can be just as cathartic as writing your own.

Second, you are so definitely creative. We just have a ton of preconceived ideas of what “creative” means, and what you’re “supposed” to write in your journal. Throw all that shit out. So maybe you start with someone else’s words - you’re making your own personal collection of quotes and passages, and THAT is yours.

You can build on it by writing a line or two about what those words mean to you, your interpretation of them or their relevance in your life right now. Eventually, you’ll see that just because one person got their words published and you haven’t (yet), doesn’t mean yours are any less meaningful. It’s all context, and we tend to see our own work as less “real” than those on the interwebs.

Example: during my newsletter hiatus, I received some incredibly sweet emails from a woman in Argentina (Hi Nancy!!) who told me she has quotes from my blogs up on post-it notes in her office. My reaction: WHAT?! Incredibly flattered, I realized this shift in perspective. To me, these are just my words, my thoughts, and who the hell am I? But to her, they are inspirational quotes. Mind slightly blown. 

Third, you can try some writing prompts. Don’t overthink it. You can even start with one-word answers – in fact, I encourage this, as it will really squeeze out of you the most precise and distilled version of your true feeling. Try these:

  • What do I want?

  • How do I feel today?

  • What am I grateful for?

  • What is going well for me right now?

  • How do I want to show up in the world right now?

Take a minute to breathe into the question and see what comes up. After your one-word answer, reflect on what came out, and go into more depth if you feel called to.

It also came up in this conversation that Greg doesn’t date his journal entries. OH NO! I know I just said “no rules,” but you gotta always date your entries, so that when you go back to see your progression, or even want to look up a certain occurrence to recall how you felt or reacted, you can do so easily. Or don’t. I may have just gotten this habit from my Grandma who dates every greeting card she ever sends and I love the way her cards can mark time like that. 

I go so far as to title each of my journals, as they do seem to perfectly align with new chapters in my life. For example, I started my own Live On Purpose Project journal on New Years Day in the Caribbean. You can bet that was a whole new chapter for me. Having just arrived and feeling the euphoria of the turn my life had just taken - as I sat on an oversized lounge chair on my deck overlooking the sea (swoon), writing into the journal that I created - I titled that chapter “Life is but a dream…” Coincidentally/ironically/perfectly, I was ready for a fresh journal just a few days after I arrived back in NYC. Because I immediately felt a renewed sense of motivation and energy to get out and explore this city and build my business in a whole new way, I titled my new journal, “Don’t stop get it get it.” Enough said.

Greg also shared with me that he has trouble writing on the backside of pages – to which I said HECK YEAH I don’t write on the backside of pages. As a righty, the binding may get in the way, not to mention the ink bleed-through issue.  I take inefficiency to a whole new level by only writing on every other line; double-spacing my journal, if you will. I started this many years ago, when I found myself reluctant to write because it makes my hand hurt to try to write neatly on those little lines. So I decided to just write MESSY and take up as much space as I wanted to. FUCK IT. It’s your journal. Oh, the metaphor for how you show up in life. Are you always shrinking yourself trying to fit neatly into a box? Get wild and claim your space in there. Let your real handwriting come through – mine changes constantly. Perhaps someday I’ll analyze that…

Point is, do whatever you want to do, just get in there. Have fun with it. Get curious. THROW OUT ALL THE RULES. Carve out one minute a day to write one word, or go on and on for an hour. Do both. Draw a picture. Just - document your life, and get to know yourself in the process.