the art of keeping a journal

The art of keeping a journal

I snuggle into my favorite corner of the couch to write in my journal. The evening is dark and chilly.

The quilts are stretching themselves all across the room after a summer of being tucked away. I’ve got a mug of hot chocolate – a delicious change from my typical evening pot of herbal tea.

I think: should I light a candle? Or would that just become way too clichéd? Skip the candle. I pick up one of my favorite German pens to get started. I write the date.

Then I stop. What on earth do I journal about?!

My mind starts to wander. I think about all the incredible journal keepers (Anne Frank, Sylvia Plath, Lewis and Clark, and even Ronald Reagan). If journaling is such a ritualistic and graceful self-discovery contrivance, why is it so hard to do? Why can’t I just sit down with my tea and candle, and start pouring my heart out in poetic prose?

Just like simple living is an art that requires constant tweaking and self-adjustment, so is journaling. When you find the art of it, you discover how easy journaling can become. And I promise you: it can become easy.

I call the struggle Blank Page Syndrome. It comes with a pretty tall barrier. But it isn’t insurmountable. Not yet.

My mission to help folks celebrate their stories (and themselves) through journaling began a couple of years ago. You might know me from my writing prompt journals at Gadanke.

I still remember how I watched my grandmother fight to remember her stories so that she could document them and share them with our family when she was 90 years old. The two of us hopped onto NPR’s StoryCorp bus and only touched the very tip of the stories we both yearned for. “I’m sorry, Katie,” she told me. “I just don’t remember anymore.”

Later this month, my baby boy, Niklas, is turning one year old. I ask my mom for stories about what she felt when I was just a year old. She laughs like I am a crazy person. “How can I remember 30 years ago, Katie?!”

Then there is silence. We both wish not that she had the memory of an elephant, but that she’d paused to write some of those thoughts down. She did try. The beautiful little baby book she bought for me is mostly filled out. My little hospital band and footprint are inside. There are a few cards and keepsakes.

But there is no telling my mom’s story. Most baby books just don’t do that; they report facts. Obviously, one of my first missions at Gadanke was to create a baby book that could guide a new mother in everyday documentation about her life and her baby when she had the opportunity to write – milestone or not.

Why is journaling so darn difficult?

It’s because we either unintentionally write about the sad, frustrating things in our lives, or we quit halfway through a journal. Usually, it’s both.

When you look back at old journals and records, the facts aren’t what matters. It’s the stories. It’s the heart.

As we approach the winter season, I see people curling up and starting to journal more than any other time of year.

We’re more reflective during the holidays.

We’re deeply aware of gratitudes and people we love.

We’re craving a quiet indoor activity when it’s too dark and too cold to be outside.

And to be honest, we just need to know we have a voice and that our stories matter.

The art of keeping a journal isn’t about the tea, quilts, or candles. It’s about what’s inside of you. It’s about what makes you feel alive. And secretly, something like a mother-daughter journal or a mother-son journal is a clever tool we can use to help our children gain confidence and improve their penmanship as they create a time capsule of this stage of life.

So start there. Document what you’re grateful about this season. Write about what made you laugh today. That’s what documenting the heart is. Just pick up your pen and begin writing with this sentence:

Today, I want to document what makes me happy and the people I love.

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