by Sheila Bender
I encourage everyone to recognize how they feel comfortable writing and to recognize whatever that is as a valid journaling experience. I once had a retired male botany professor in a journaling class. He complained that he wasn’t disciplined enough as a writer now that he was retired and his wife made him escort her to the mall. I asked what he did there and he said, “I sit on a bench and watch people. I love to do that. I am used to being in the field and taking notes on what I see.”
“And what did you take notes on in the field?” I asked him. He answered that he used three-by-five note cards he kept in his breast pocket. I suggested that he put those cards in his pocket the next time he went to the mall. He came back to class with lots of journal entries.
We all have a discipline, but we think it doesn’t count. It does!
Often people think, “What if I don’t have anything important to write about on a given day?”
It’s not about writing what it is important. It’s about writing. If you allow yourself to write each day or several times a week, you are going to interest yourself at some point. It is hard not to find something of interest when you allow yourself to have some fun writing and don’t feel that you have to write about only “important” things or even make sense.
The best writing comes when we “tell it slant” as Emily Dickinson advised. Our emotional undercurrent is always there. When we don’t try to directly describe something emotional in our lives, but just describe what’s in front of us, our emotional view of the world comes out, making what we are saying interesting.
Just keep writing—that’s always the answer. Write about eating alone and eating with others, about being a stranger at a dinner table. Write about remembering how you learned to whistle or whose whistle meant something to you. Address a letter to an instrument you no longer play explaining what happened. Let the instrument write back to you.
Sit at your window and describe what you see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. Then, imagine someone walking into the scene with something to say to you. This works especially well if you imagine that someone to be a person who really can’t walk into the scene because they have died or are very far away or completely out of touch.
To write well we must always allow ourselves an element of play even when we are writing about difficult topics.
So three important keys to keeping a journal that interests you: recognize your discipline and work from that, tell thing slant trusting the meaning will rise from the images, and allow yourself to play with your writing. Then you will find that keeping yourself writing is not that hard at all.