Why Journaling Sucks

Journaling is one of those things in life I wanted to have done. It’s not anything I ever really wanted to do.

I have romantic visions of leather-bound books–one per year.  Each is filled with beautiful calligraphy documenting my deepest thoughts day by day.  Generations from now, my descendants will find them in hermetically sealed bookcase, peel back the acid-free paper wrapping and wonder what kind of an ass wasted so much time and energy doing this.

There are at least a bazillion different ways to keep a journal.  Doctor Google can list them way more efficiently than I can. The interesting thing is that almost all of the ideas I found used some form of physical medium – paper, pen, clay, busted toothpicks, etc. It’s like people have a visceral need to make their mark on something. Like most writers, I have a notebook fetish. I think about 85% of my urge to journal is the urge to buy a new notebook. This is the next one I want to try. Anyway …

Every time I come back to the idea of journaling, I think about trying to build a routine where I scribble my thoughts, document the day and purge any story ideas that have been pinging around.  I end up starting a new journal, writing in in for a few days or a week if I’m feeling particularly focused.

There are certain journal ideas that I’ve found and loved.  Austin Kleon’s   logbook is a great one.  His reminds me of an art project with the cute little drawings.  I’m also enamored by the logbook because of it’s simplicity. The just-the-facts detective style feels so … manly.  “Chopped a cord of firewood. Roasted wild boar. Lost three men to scurvy.”

I tried the logbook method and kept it going for thirty-nine days.  Nearly a record for me, but there seemed to be no point after a while. I’m not the kind of guy who is going to go back and analyze the data. “Hmmm.  Looks like I haven’t eaten avocado toast for several months.  And what does this say? Something about emailing the Pope?” Fortunately, no one was lost to scurvy.

As with most things in life, when I stopped trying so damn hard, I found a technique that works for me.  Whenever I remember to put it in my pocket, I carry a little notebook with me .  There’s no stress or pressure to not break the chain and write everyday.  I write in it when I want to, not because of an artificially imposed goal.  Goals suck too. Here’s why.

The stuff in my notebook is random and funny and sad, like life. It’s messy like my brain. One page has a list of fake swear words I was trying out for a YA science fiction novel I’m working on.  Another page has a list of upcoming Boy Scout camping trips. Another has a grocery list. Another has a list of thing I wanted to discuss with my therapist.  There are story ideas, random bits of Buddhist philosophy and passwords for my social media accounts.  If I lost it, I’d be pissed because I’d have to change my passwords  but there’s nothing else I’d really miss.  There’s nothing in there for posterity.

I am NOT recommending you try this method.  This is not a self-help post.  Do what you want. Go all punk-rock and do what works for you.  Or not.

Some of you may be saying to yourself, “Self. Isn’t writing a blog like keeping a journal that everyone can peek at?” I would say the same thing to you that I said to Mrs. Blackwelder, “No. Shut up! La la la. I’m not listening to you.”



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