For many, having a few minutes at the end of a day to sit and reflect is a necessary ritual. For others, making to-do lists throughout a workday helps keep things on track. And even for others, doodling in the margins of notes and keeping a scrapbook of sorts is about as organized as they can hope to be. No matter the style, these are all forms of journaling.
I take the approach that journaling is simply the act of putting something – anything – in a journal. Of course, being a writer, I tend to lean towards a more literary style of journaling, but I can’t deny that the simple pleasure of pasting ticket stubs and Post-it notes into a notebook has its own merit.
The best starting approach for keeping a journal is finding one that fits your life. I actually keep a variety of notebooks, because I seem to live a variety of lives all at once. There is my Traveler’s notebook which I used to scratch random thoughts for stories throughout the week. I have a hefty black notebook I bought for cheap that houses nothing but ideas for a novel I am writing. I have my LEUCHTTURM1917 I keep for important dates.
A Pineider for meeting notes. And a hardbound black journal for assignments which usually ends up just having bits of paper taped inside. Each one has a purpose and the purpose sort of dictates the necessity for the quality of the journal.
The Pineider, the nicest of the above, sits at my office desk, so I don’t have to worry about keeping it from being bent or crumpled. The Traveler’s journal, which is used the most, is dented and scratched, but the notes inside are more ephemeral, so it can take a beating (and it’s not so expensive I’d feel guilty if it did!). Above all else, it’s about the size of the notebook. I like an A5 if possible. It’s the perfect size for any tote and any note I need to jot down.
The journal itself, the substance of it, should be however you know best to remember something. Mine are littered with lists and marginalia, some of it important and most of it not. I think a journal, even a list of incongruous thoughts, has a way of keeping things in perspective. A longer-form sort of journaling is my preferred, but I don’t always have the time. Sometimes, when I want to see how a week has been, I look at the items I finished in my lists. Oh yes, I say to myself, it was an eventful week!
The last way to keep a journal, I think, is to come back to it. Use the notebooks you’ve bought and write in them. Let the journal live with you, not have it collecting dust on the shelf. It should be something you go back to in an attempt to understand the day better, or a situation, or to read back on in years to come and see how little (or how great) everything mattered that used to bother you. A journal should be your confidant and your secretary and your friend. But in order for this to be true, you have to make it a habit to be used. Otherwise – what’s the point?