August 2016 marked two major journal writing milestones for me. On the 30th I finished the third complete 249 page book in my journal writing reign of terror, and the 15th marked my two year anniversary of writing every single day. At the time of publishing I'm at 751 days, and at the risk of jinxing it, I plan on being at 752 tomorrow.

This isn't my first journal writing rodeo, but it is my first successful one. My parents' house is littered with notebooks that on the first page say "I'm going to write every single day!", and on the second page say "I'm sorry I haven't written in such a long time!"[1], followed by a blank third page, and a blank rest of the entire book. It's not an easy habit to get into, but like most habits once you're in it's definitely harder to stop.[2]

I wish I could tell you a great story for why I started journaling, unfortunately it wasn't a very exciting time in my life which I guess is kind of the point. I started because every single day felt the exact same. I was working from home, at a job that I absolutely hated, I rarely left the house and infrequently saw people other than Rob and the cat. I woke up one August morning and I couldn't remember what month it was, I couldn't think of the last time I had done something interesting, or worked on something that I genuinely cared about. I had a minor internal crisis, which fortunately involved a journal and not a helicopter and several hostages.

Sometimes the content shoots for the stars and attempts to make full use of my very expensive philosophy degree, but I find those entries don't age especially well, it's amazing how fast your feelings about personal writing can go from 'this is extremely deep' to 'this is at best high school intellectualism'. The posts about what I was doing and how I felt about it are surprisingly the more interesting entries[3].

I have a relaxing pre-bed ritual now that lets me puke out a bunch of internal buzzing, sit down as soon as I start getting tired, write exactly one page in black pen with no lists or paragraphs. Flipping through the super uniform pages is satisfying. Rigid format belies the chaos beneath.

I would urge people thinking about trying this at home to not think of their journals as a legacy. Assume or hope they will be destroyed in an intentional or unintentional fire upon your death. Imagining future readers is generally what killed previous journaling record attempts for me. I started to get stressed out about not writing smart or creative things, which I can't even generally do on a good day. There are some entries I've written the same sentence three times because I'm distracted, and some of them I am completely hammered,[4] and honestly all of that is okay. I hate to be trite but 'it's not about the destination it's about the journey' really applies here, if the destination is 'all of my descendants revering the wise words that I wrote' then you're not going to feel comfortable writing about that really stupid thing you did[5]. In fact, the worst thing you can do is skip a day or break the chain -- my journal has page numbers pre-printed because I know if I missed one I would be uncomfortable in my skin for a long time to come, and that's really helped keep me on track.

Turns out, journaling is one of those things I do accidentally that is actually pretty good for you.

However, the benefits require a particular attitude to show up. Avoid focusing exclusively on the shitty stuff, it's an easy trap to fall into and I do all the damn time. Journaling can only help you find your inner chill if you meet it half way and work through problems without dwelling on them, and in fact sitting in that hole can actually be harmful. If you're going to bitch about that shitty day, you do that thing, but also take some time to discuss a potential solution. Issue at work? Sketch out how you think you might solve that problem. This goes a long way towards avoiding ruts too, if I've been working on something for weeks and it keeps popping up in my journal maybe it's time for a new approach.

Despite all this, I think at the end of the day I'm able to keep this streak going because I want to write, and if you're not a person who wants to write then no amount of tips, tricks, or inspirational quotes will help you out. That said, I don't think it takes any supernatural powers to be a regular journal writer, and the only way to know if it's something you want to do is give it an honest effort, and don't feel bad if it takes a few half baked attempts before you write more than three pages.

  1. The official motto of every blogger ever. ↩︎

  2. I can't sleep if I've missed a page of my journal, leading to strange restless nights where I can't sleep but don't know why until I have a full panic attack, leap out of bed and scramble to find a pen ↩︎

  3. Even if how I felt about things was a gross overreaction ↩︎

  4. March 12, 2016: I'm so drunk my writing is barely readable, I passed out on my journal while writing, woke up a few hours later and finished it despite the crushing hangover ↩︎

  5. You know the one. ↩︎