Part Two: How to Write a Life Journal for Present You and Future You (including suggestions on how to use fewer words than this subtitle)
I argued in Part One that the future benefits of journaling are at least as estimable as the present ones. Here are some suggestions on how to accomplish both:
Set aside a regular time, but only write when you have something to say. Don’t scribble drivel just because “it’s time.” Instead, use the time to pray, meditate, or read devotionally. Future You will benefit from these actions, as well.
Focus. What’s the main thing rolling around inside you? Think about it, pray about it, then put it down. Keep it fresh and to the point. Honestly, some of Former Me’s redundancies bore the packing foam out of me! I prefer the word “journal” to “diary” because diary sounds too much like “diarrhea.” My point? Don’t just have a vowel movement, focus! Future You will thank you!
Context. What’s going on around you? Mention context whenever it seems relevant. And consider bundling your journals with scrapbooky stuff (photos, event tickets, notes from friends). You don’t live in a vacuum, don’t write in one.
Capture the spectrum. Don’t just mourn your darkness, celebrate your light. Life is a comedy-drama—chronicle both. The only time I stopped journaling during the last four decades was between my honeymoon and the early years of my children’s lives (I was too afizz to journalize). But, oh, how Present Me would love to read my thoughts and feelings during those years of angsty joy!
Hatch ideas. If you’re a Creative, you’ll find the ideas that spring from your life experiences far more resonant than those merely trending on the web. Journals are a nutrient-rich compost heap for sprouting blog posts, songs, paintings, presidential acceptance speeches…
Read yourself. I review my previous year’s journal at the start of each new year, my older journals or passages when questions arise about “that time when…” and the whole saga every decade or so. Pinpointing where I am in the dramatic arc of my life has given me a perspective I could never otherwise have had.
Write for others. This may sound contradictory to keeping a personal journal, and if strictly-off-limits is where you need to go, then go there. But at least consider what your (literal or spiritual) progeny might gain from reading your Life Journal. I’d give just about anything to read journals from my father, mother, and grandparents. One day, my adult kids will read mine—with a few pages carefully redacted. You may need to write between the lines (to protect the guilty), or use a liberal Sharpie to retain that PG-13 rating. But your children’s children will develop a unique and invaluable awareness of the roots from which they sprang.
And so will you.
“Be an opener of doors for such as come after thee.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson