Looking for a way to relax in these tense times? A way to know yourself better? To improve your writing and the stories you tell others about yourself? To create something that outlasts you? And for psychotherapy, on the cheap? What better time than now to start writing a journal.
Why? It’s therapeutic.
Research shows that journaling can be good for you. It helps you deal with stress and even some depression. It lets you vent. It makes you more self-aware.
A journal comes in particularly handy at your worst moments. Like when your partner leaves you on Christmas Eve and you’re suddenly homeless and lost, and can’t sleep. When your boss wants you out, and you can’t understand why. When a loved one dies without warning and you never said goodbye.
By writing at these times, you’re at least moving forward, beginning to sort things out. Reading back on what you just wrote, you get a clearer sense for what went wrong and how to improve. And you don’t feel so alone in your loneliest hour.
A journal also helps capture the wonderful things in life so you can enjoy them vividly much later on. The funniest wedding toast. The sweetest kiss or the best night of making love. The kindest note from a colleague, which you can read 20 years later with a new appreciation for the decency of many people. (Then you can reach out to that person and re-establish a friendship.)
The best journals are the ones most brutally honest. Perhaps that’s why far fewer people keep journals than use social media postings to show only their happy faces. As in good therapy, such honesty helps get to the truth, and the best path forward. It helps you think through your challenges. Sometimes, as you write, you realize you are worrying too much about something. Sometimes you realize you are worrying about the wrong thing.
Why? You’ll write better.
If you’re hoping to improve your writing, there is no better way. You can practice the art of storytelling: vivid description — bringing a scene to life. You can practice using fewer but stronger words. And shorter sentences. One result: You tell more entertaining stories to others.
Most of all, you can practice rewriting what you write. As with practicing the piano or jogging, you build stamina, discipline and technique. Even by writing just 10 minutes a day.
Begin slowly. Write just a sentence or two about what you did that day. Perhaps you can dedicate some of the timesaved by not commuting.
And remember, you need not write every day. That said, try to write at least something about every day. If there’s no time to write that day, enter a few words as a reminder of what happened, so you can recall it and write about it later.
No need to write a chapter about each day. A few sentences will do. You’ll know when you need to write more. And the longer you keep a journal, the more discipline you’ll have to catch up when you fall behind by, say, a week.
Write or type?
Some journalers prefer to write longhand — in a book — because their thoughts feel more genuine. But writing on a computer has many advantages. No scratching out to improve the writing. Easy searching. A Word or Google document — be sure it’s backed up — works fine.
But a growing number of journalers swear by apps that allow them to include photos, videos, sketches and audio recordings. You can even dictate rather than type, and use any of your devices.
Among the apps offering at least some of these features are Day One, Diarium and Journey. Day One, which has won “App of the Year” and design awards from Apple, is among the most popular for its simplicity and versatility. Diarium reminds you to write every day. Journey bills itself as not just a journal, but “a motivational and happiness trainer” that calms and uplifts. It’s one of a bunch of apps that offer you prompts on what to write about.
But beware: Including images and recordings can distract from the writing itself. And it can make keeping a journal seem more daunting. Consider beginning just with the words to stay focused.
Simply beating yourself up in every entry will overwhelm you. Better to say what you like — force yourself even in hard times to recognize what’s good. And say what you would like — what you dream of, and how to make that a reality.
Write for the future.
Though most journalers want eternal privacy, at least some hope their words will be read long after they die — perhaps by researchers studying life in the 21st century who want to know our true feelings. If you’re an optimist who thinks the world won’t destroy itself in the next few years, consider leaving your journals to an institution — perhaps a university — with instructions in your will about how they are to be used. Then your words will outlive you.