How to Keep a Journal

Writing personal thoughts in a journal is a hobby that goes back hundreds of years. In fact, entire books have been written from people’s accounts of their lives.

While your ambitions may not be quite so lofty, you might savor the delicious taste of reviewing previous journal entries when you look back and reread them later. Writing about stressful events several times a week has been shown to reduce high blood pressure, increase the body’s immunization levels, and enhance the writer’s sense of well-being.

To start your own diary, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Get a notebook and pen that are comfortable to use. A tiny notebook or a heavy folder may discourage you, even subconsciously, from writing as much as you ordinarily would. Keep them in the same place for easy finding when you’re ready to write, such as a dresser drawer, a desk, or a cabinet. Write your name on the outside so others who stumble across it will respect the notebook as your property and hopefully not read it.
  2. Start by listing the date each time you write in your journal. Some people include the time of day and even the current weather conditions to help them recall the time this memory was recorded. Use your own abbreviations, like “H” for “high temperature” and “L” for “low temperature,” so you can remember the day and your mood.
  3. Record incidental moments. Nathaniel Hawthorne, the great American author who wrote The Scarlet Letter, kept many notebooks, some for literary ideas and others for family memories. He wrote about things like watching his year-old daughter Una play in a sunbeam on the floor of their home. Such scenes capture glimpses of family life that can bring pleasure and even tears in years to come. Write about a child’s spelling test that he was worried about, meeting a selling goal for a school fund raiser, or even an odd question picked up from other children or television. One little boy asked innocently, “Mama, how many hatches did you have?” after a kindergarten lesson on birds and their hatchlings.
  4. Include sensory details. Develop an eye for the minute aspects of your observations. Colors, tastes, smells, sounds, and the feel of something can leave lasting impressions that deserve a place of honor in your journal. Capture the scent of rain on a cloudy day while sitting at a patio table, or the faint sound of crickets outside the open window while rocking your little one to sleep. You’ll be amazed to see how much such phrases add to your overall impressions.
  5. Balance positive with negative reflections. While it can be healthy to purge problems by writing about them, don’t forget to accent the positives in your life as well. A co-worker’s compliment, your neighbor’s new baby, or a parent’s test result that came back negative for the disease are reasons to celebrate life; no journal is complete without them.

Your journal will become part of your life, both now and in the days and years to come. Take care of it, but enjoy those moments apart from the bustle of daily living to enjoy the occasional reflections that make life so much richer.

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