While I was in Chicago, I shared a hotel room with the amazing Jen Lee, one of the most beautiful writers I know in real life (and who has just recently published a lovely little minibook of meaningful and lyrical poetry, available here). As soon as we'd checked into our hotel, we wandered to a nearby grill for some much-needed lunch, and our conversation turned to journaling.
"You'd think that for as long as I've been blogging," I was saying, "I'd be a pretty avid journaller. But I'm actually pretty horrifying at it. I think it just makes me feel really ridiculous -- like I'm just sitting there talking to myself. And then, sometimes I write something, and I don't like how it turned out; or I try to create 'art,' and it's just frightening, so I rip the page out, and then I have a journal with a ripped page, and that looks like crap, so then I just discard the book altogether."
"Okay," she said, looking at me like I'd grown a second head, "I think maybe you're just too hung up on the process. I don't think journals are supposed to be that perfect."
"Yeah?" I asked. "How do you do it?"
"Well," she began, "I try to write at least three pages every morning."
"Like in The Artist's Way?" I interrupted.
"Yes," she said, "I just write, totally stream-of-consciousness, for 3 straight pages. I find that this helps centres me for the day, and I don't let myself turn on my computer for the day until I've written these three pages. It keeps my email inbox from prioritizing my day, you know? So I write. And sometimes it's deep thoughts, and sometimes it's just a list of what I need to do, or pick up at the market."
"Oh really?" I said, paying close attention. "So your journal isn't just your innermost thoughts and dreams?"
"Well, sometimes it is," she admitted. "and sometimes it's the start of a story idea. But I carry my journal with me, and add things to it all day long. Sometimes it's a phone number of a new friend or dry cleaner. Or someone's mailing address. I basically just write everything down in my journal. If I'm required to handwrite something, it goes in my journal."
"So it sounds like it's just a hodgepodge of stuff -- no real rhyme or organization."
"Other than date, no," Jen admitted. "The cool thing is that I can always find that phone number or figure out when I dropped off the dry cleaning, because I just have to flip through the pages to the right date."
I love this idea. I think the reason journaling hasn't worked for me in the past has to do with structure. But if I just look at my journal as a place to record my life -- my messy, disorganized life, with its half-thoughts, and to-do lists and scrawled messages and the occasional fortune-cookie fortune or found photograph -- the end result pretty much accomplishes the recording, chronicling purpose, doesn't it?