With all that’s going on right now — civil unrest due to institutional racism, police brutality, and a looming healthcare crisis — I know I’m not alone in my feelings of anguish and exhaustion. And as they have warped into sentiments of exasperation and trepidation, I have decided to focus my time and energy into something productive: writing.
I’ve been blogging for a while, and I have used that space to clarify and share my thinking on issues that are important to me. During this time, however, I’ve been captivated by a different approach to processing my thinking with the written word: journaling. And it all started with a 30-day journaling challenge created from a Youtuber I follow, Joanna Franco.
The premise of her 30-day challenge was to spend time journaling for a month to not only identify changes within oneself, but to also think critically about one’s position relative to those around him or herself.
When the challenge began, Jo posted daily prompts onto her Instagram story, often sharing her own entries as well as journal pages from others who volunteered them. The daily prompts were a starting point, though it was clear that we were at complete liberty to decide which prompts we would respond to, or which parts of the question we wanted to answer. Some examples of such prompts include:
Are you like your family — how so, how not?
What would your kid version think of you now?
What’s something you learned this week?
There were many questions I had never asked myself prior to these moments, and it often took more than just five or ten minutes to come up with a response. But on days when I felt I could not engage with the provided prompt, I would simply take the time to ask myself, “How am I feeling today?” I found this practice particularly useful, given that this kind of stream of consciousness writing can be just as useful for greater introspection.
Although I have always enjoyed writing, that period of reflection through journaling was different in the sense that I was writing with the intention of holding myself accountable. I wanted to journal daily, and I wanted to force myself to answer questions that I either intentionally or unintentionally refrain from.
Several months later, I continue to journal and Jo’s journal club has now metastasized into a large following of individuals from around the world who have been writing for months. I have not kept count of my entries, as I have had days and weeks where I have stopped journaling, but I can say that I have now journalled more in these past three months than in the previous year together.
In doing so, I have learned a few things:
Journaling doesn’t have to be orderly.
The easiest part of journaling is that it does not have to be ornate or follow specific grammar rules. You are free from all expectations and boundaries — the whole point is to convey your thoughts and emotions in a way that seems logical for you, so it doesn’t matter what form that takes. For example, when I write, I sometimes use the margins to express ideas that have emerged after the fact, no matter how disorganized it may appear to another reader or viewer.
Journaling provides me with a sense of clarity.
Writing, in all of its forms, helps me understand myself better. Because of journaling, I find that being able to identify and communicate my experiences, opinions, and fears with conviction is self-validating.
Journaling is a process of documenting the life we currently live.
It will one day serve an archive of everything I once encountered during a time that is simultaneously tumultuous, exciting, and fear-inducing. I write with the intention of returning to my entries later in life so that I may be reminded of everything I felt, saw, heard, touched, and smelled. With that, I find it helpful to frame my entries by being as descriptive and thorough as possible.
Journaling provokes and inspires conversation with others.
When I was confronted with prompts I couldn’t fully answer, I took those questions to my friends to ask them about the truths and experiences they hold dear. For example, I asked them this question: Who are the strong women (or men) in your lives? And, what is your favorite season and why? These prompts opened up a level of conversation that’s not always easy to reach, and our dialogue led to an insightful exchange of ideas.
Even outside the scope of journaling, I still actively think about some of these questions — like, “What does summer mean to you?” Since I was a kid, summer has been characterized by an everlasting sense of euphoria, full of sunshine and time spent with friends. But I wonder if my notion of summer will change once I pass a particular threshold, the same way that my conception of what it means to be “strong” looks very different now than it did 10 years ago.
Ultimately, I can say that journaling has been a worthwhile practice to help me feel grounded in an unstable time. If you’re thinking about taking on this practice, start off with guided prompts. And if you aren’t someone who writes frequently, feel free to move at your own pace by journaling once a week, then twice a week, and so forth. In doing so, take time to acknowledge and document what this process feels like so that you can then obtain a deeper understanding of yourself and the world.