How to keep a journal, and keep keeping it, by me – 18/11/16

A few months ago, my best friend who’s recently moved to the Netherlands messaged me like: “Girl, I’ve just moved to this wonderfully liberal country in north-west Europe and am having the most wonderfully liberal time here – but HOW in GOD’S HOLY NAME do you keep a journal? I want to document my time here but am finding it painfully hard.”

This is not where I begin to tell my story about personally flying over Holland with a Swarovski-studded Moleskine to impart the 16-year wisdom of How To Write and Journal – and Keep Writing a Journal – that I’ve acquired from keeping a diary since I was four. Oh, no. I cowardly replied with a “I just write”, possibly because I actually have no idea where this addiction to document every innermost thought has come from, or possibly because I’m a bad friend and I was only two episodes away from the season one finale of Love on Netflix.

It was an inadequate answer from someone who claims to enjoy using words. I am a real advocate of keeping a journal, whether you want to necessarily be a writer or not. It has saved my life at least a thousand million times. There is something so peaceful about sitting down with a notebook and pen, phone out of reach, spilling your brains out onto paper (that’s a metaphor, in case that’s not clear).

Keeping a journal is scientifically guaranteed to make you feel happier, bringing you into a state of mindfulness where instead of pushing down your thoughts you are actively engaging and shaping them.

So: you want to keep a journal, but just how-oh-how do you even start – and keep it up for more than a week?

When I hit a dry spell, I tend to go to these pointers to get me back into the flow of things, freeing my mind from hectic thoughts to make space for matters of higher importance, such as boys and cute dogs.

  1. Write privately.

Wondering why you’re finding it hard to write a full sentence in a room full of friends? First up: Lucky you, with all your friends! Second up: Perfectly normal. Writing often requires solitude. Like the idea of writing in a public place with a packet of Gitanes and a half-read copy of The Bell Jar on the table? Yeah, me too, but personally, all I end up doing is smoking the cigarettes and posing with my notebook (I am also almost always wearing a turtleneck, too). If being among people is important for you for INSPIRATION, by all means plonk yourself in a cafe or somewhere equally romantic, but I still always find it easier to write in my journal when I’m on my own in these environments.

In the rare occasion that my brain is bursting with ideas and thoughts and it’s just a case of getting them down on paper, I need to not be among other people (but preferably in a place where there’s a kettle not far away).

  1. Write about your day in dull, monotonous detail.

My most prolific work to date was probably between 2004-05, where I’d write in lengthy and extraneous detail about what I’d learned that day at school. Writing about the most mundane details can make you become so bored with writing that you end up finding humour in the most ordinary things.

Write about every detail of your day. What you wore. What the weather was like: If it was changeable. What you had for tea. Reading my old notebooks, it is often the entries that I presumed to be write-offs, nothing days, that bring the most vivid memories back.

  1. Write out whatever thoughts are in your head, no matter how hard it is to do.

The greatest thing about keeping a journal over writing a blog is that you can literally write anything you like – no matter how clumsy or honest or wrong it feels. They say the reason that social media makes us all so hootin’ FOMO-ed is because we only post the best parts of our lives, whereas life can sometimes be a huge heap of steaming shit. But your journal can, once again, help you out!

“Writing about the most mundane details can make you become so bored with writing that you end up finding humour in the most ordinary things”

Give yourself no boundaries in terms of topics to write about. And let your mind SPEW – the amount of times I’ve started writing: ‘La la la la la today was so great I went to the cinem- AARRRGHH I FUCKING HATE HIM SO MUCH!’ Quite simply, it can be sooooooo cathartic, darling. You can get to the bottom of a wonky brain by writing and reflecting on things that may be up – it can help you figure your shit out. Alternatively, if you know the culprit that has been killing your vibe recently, write them a letter in your journal (but please, god, never send it). Don’t shy away from melodrama if it’s necessary: It will be SO funny when you read it this time next year. Also, it will help your heart out now – that’s a guarantee ❤

  1. Write for five minutes before bed.

If you find that you don’t have enough time to write, I hate to break it to you that: You Do. I write for five minutes before bed – longer, if I can be bothered, but when I’m home on my own I always have a pen on page for at least five minutes. I have to come to love the routine, the ritual of it. The main thing about keeping a journal is to never give a shit about what you’re writing, it doesn’t matter if it’s particularly profound, entertaining or thought-provoking. It’s just for you. Write for a bit, and dream sweetly babe, with a worry-free, calmer mind.

  1. Go for a run, and then write.

However, often there is no chance in hell that I want to write. It is a similar feeling to putting your brain in a deep fat fryer and stepping out of your body to watch it crisp up – i.e total mental burnout. Sometimes you need to clear aforementioned brain of garbage by pumping blood around your body and pumping endorphins into your brain by doing some exercise. You’re body AND soul baby, it’s a yin yan thing, so if you’re suffering from painstaking writers’ block, step away from the biscuit tin, get outside, move your limbs and come back to write with a fresh mind.

  1. Write something every day.

This is very important: If you want to keep a journal, write something every day. There’s loads of ways to do this: Buy a really fucking expensive notebook – or better still – buy a really cheap notebook that you won’t feel precious about writing tonnes of bullshit in. I really do believe that to improve your writing you must write every day in some way, and unless you’re like, Kim Kardashian, not every day is going to include some great big scoop for your journal. But who cares, with a readership of one, it doesn’t need it.

Of course, as soon as I’d finished writing this I saw a link on Twitter navigating me t’ward a wonderful clip on the art of diary writing feat. English tutor and writer Sally Bayley. Among many other gems, she speaks about the temptation to regard your diary as “too special, too occasional” (WRONG!) and describes her first diary as her boyfriend, her “first, real boyfriend” (same).

Bayley also refers to it as a “place where you can project all the mess of unresolved teenage identities” (duh!) and that you can say to a diary what you wouldn’t dare say to anyone else.

Go forth and swear an oath to write on the regular with one hand on yo’ sacred notebooks, young ones.

T.A.L x

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