17 different women, 36 crazy children, 0 babies in utero
Adventures, Advice and Questions from a group of Mormon women who met in Queens, NY and have now scattered all over the place.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

So You Want to Keep a Better Journal

Perhaps keeping a written journal in a book has become irrelevant in this age of blogging, but perhaps some of us still keep non-public journals. If so, here are a few thoughts on doing it more creatively than just trying to sit down and conquer that blank page.

Most of these ideas come from the book Thoughts of a Grasshopper by Louise Plummer (SLC: Deseret Book, 1992 — a great read I highly recommend for humorous thoughts on just about everything from journal writing to procrastination).

In my opinion, Plummer’s best suggestion is “rush writing”: writing without thinking, without noticing the “blank page,” without worrying about what you’re leaving behind or censoring as you go. Here’s her explanation: “Rush writing is simply writing down your first thoughts. It is a timed writing. This is how you do it: You set a timer for a short time — five minutes is enough — and you write as fast as you can, never allowing your pen or pencil to leave the page. Keep your mind focused on the paper. If you hit a blank, then simply write, ‘I just hit a blank’ and keep writing that until you think of something else to write. The main rule is to keep writing no matter what . . . .

“The advantage to writing fast, or writing your first thoughts, is that it allows you to record your thoughts before you censor them — before you can say, ‘Oh, what a stupid beginning,’ or, ‘This doesn’t make any sense,’ or, ‘I’m spelling this wrong.’ Our critics encourage the myth that writing is a high and mighty thing, and unless we can do it like Virginia Woolf or Erma Bombeck, we shouldn’t do it at all. I happen to think if you can talk, you can write.”

I love this kind of writing. It’s messy and honest, sometimes trivial, but occasionally insightful — insightful about myself, my experiences, and my problems. I often learn something because I’m following my thinking/writing to wherever it leads me. I think it leaves a truer snapshot of ourselves than the kind of writing that we’ve taken pains to perfect as it goes on the page—like the difference between candids taken when the photographer isn’t noticed versus posed shots in a studio. The first is much more real — more who we are.

In addition to rush writing, Plummer gives the following content suggestions to fill up a “five-minutes-a-day” journal:

· Description — describe your days or yourself (what do you look like right now? what do you look like every March 22?)

· Write memories using as much description as possible

· Cathartic writing — get out your feelings· Free writing — clear your mind and write whatever

· Reflective writing — assess and evaluate your own life

· Lists — your fears, hopes, contents of your purse, what’s in the fridge or under the bed

· Daydreams and dreams — write them down!

· Unsent letters — address a real person or make someone up

· Save your postings to this blog!

Here are some of my own suggestions, not for writing, but for “collecting” history about yourself:

· Keep your planner or whatever you might use to organize your life, even if it’s post-its

· Save letters, emails, birthday cards, ticket stubs—any evidence of significant events

· Keep a running list of books you read, plays you’ve seen, callings you’ve held, people you’ve done temple work for

· Keep a guest book

· Write letters to those you love in a notebook that you give each time you write

· Create a timeline of the major events in your life—illustrate it with drawings or photographs

· Buy a cheap planner and record thoughts, quotations, discoveries, or impressions for each day

· Carry a cheap notebook everywhere and write impressions, observations, and reactions as they come to you

· Every once in a while, save things that are unimportant: grocery shopping lists, metrocards, receipts, written phone messages

Here’s a quote I love: “The truth is that scarcely a moment goes by in your life that doesn’t hold something worth jotting down . . . no day is ever empty of material.” (Peter Stillman, “Of Myself, for Myself,” The Journal Book.)

What works for you? I’d love your suggestions. How do you inspire yourself to keep a journal in a way that is meaningful to you?


  • I love these ideas. I stopped keeping a regular journal right after I got married.(almost 12 years ago!) Sad, huh?

    Anyway- after years of failed attempts the ONLY thing that has got me journaling again IS keeping a blog. Whether it be private or public, I find typing much easier and quicker for me than handwriting.I also love being able to add pictures to go with my journaling entries. I would love to do a more private one now that I have been doing a personal public blog for a couple of years- so I can "really" say more and be more complete with my daily thoughts.

    However one does it- JUST DO IT! I am so grateful that I started journaling again and now feel like I have some written history for my family to enjoy over the years.

    Not to mention the fact that it has become a wonderful emotional outlet.
    posted by Blogger Rachel H at 5/22/2008 08:43:00 AM  

  • Sunny - I still remember the Enrichment night in Queens when you taught about journal keeping. I steal all of your ideas whenever I have to teach the Young Women a lesson about journaling.

    I'm not good at keeping a journal AT ALL. I love all of these ideas. I've just decided to keep a memory box for my kids, and hopefully soon for myself and husband. I just buy a big tupperware file box from Target and whenever I have something meaningful from their lives I throw it in there. There is no organization to it. It's just easy b/c that's all I can do right now. I also have the idea to occasionally write them a letter about themselves and our family and put it in the memory box, but I haven't been too good about that one.

    Anyway, thanks for all the ideas!!
    posted by Blogger beth at 5/22/2008 01:40:00 PM  

  • Cool post! I remember about 14 years ago attending a stake fireside at BYU where Sister Plummer talked about this. It's cool to go back and see my notes from that evening (she hasn't changed the list that much).

    My journal writing consists of 2 books. One is an everyday account written in a day-at-a-view appointment book.(I got the idea from Bridget Jone's Diary. I only have one page to write and it doesn't feel as daunting as having several blank pages looming ahead). The other is a regular notebook and in this one I have my rants or strolls down memory lane. It's where I can expand my thoughts if I want to. It works well for me, though admittedly I don't use the regular notebook as much as I should but I always write in the appointment book journal.
    posted by Blogger Monique at 5/22/2008 03:16:00 PM  

  • Sunny,

    Love all these ideas. I am a terrible journal writer. Since your class in Astoria, I have started keeping my "planner" from each year where I take notes, record events and make lists. Hey, at least it's something.
    posted by Blogger TftCarrie at 5/22/2008 06:46:00 PM  

  • Sunny, thanks for these ideas! I love them. I like the idea of writing on different topics instead of the typical, here's what I did today type stuff.
    posted by Blogger Katie at 5/22/2008 08:15:00 PM  

  • Great ideas. I love the idea of rush writing. I'm going to give that a try. I use my family blog for little every day things that happen that I want to remember. I use my personal journal for bigger events, personal feelings, spiritual things, questions, struggles, etc.
    I also have a "gratitude journal" which I love. It's a small spiral bound notebook and each night I write three things I am grateful for. It takes one minute. Going back through it is always fun. They range from Indian food to the Atonement to chats with my sister in law, to my healthy son and loving husband. Just an idea!
    posted by Blogger Melissa at 5/23/2008 12:21:00 PM  

  • These are all great ideas. I keep two journals. One is a regular notebook where I write about the day, my feelings, what's going on...that sort of thing. The other is a journal box, it's a recipe box filled with index cards where I can write down whatever comes to mind, memories, ideas, thoughts, without worrying about keeping them in order. Then I put them in whatever section fits best (instead of appetizers and desserts the dividers say childhood, teenage years, marrage...etc.) I don't have children yet but it's a great idea for those who do and are behind on their kids' journals. You can write down whatever you remember and organize it after. I try to write one card every day.
    posted by Anonymous Ashlee at 5/26/2008 10:33:00 PM  

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