How many of you keep a journal? How many of you would like to keep a journal but find it hard to begin? I have good news for you. Of all the types of writing, this should be the easiest form of expression you ever attempt. You don't have to be a great writer, perfect speller, or creative thinker to keep a personal journal. Journal writing means that you regularly write down your thoughts and experiences. If you keep a blog, you can keep a journal.
I’m not talking about diary entries here. Diaries contain a description of daily events, usually nothing more. A journal, however, is where we breathe life into those mundane lists; it is our opportunity to reflect on our lives and express emotions and understanding behind our actions and thoughts.
I have a few tips for keeping a journal that might make the experience a little easier.
- Begin. Write down a few thoughts you experience during the day—the passage doesn’t have to be long—just get the thoughts down on paper. Don’t worry about your spelling or grammar. The most important thing is to express yourself. I know, I know, you can’t allow misspelled words and poor grammar to go unchecked. Fine, edit AFTER you pour out your soul.
- Write a little each day. Practicing every day helps you become more observant and confident. Who knows, something you write may inspire a scene in your current work in progress or become the plot for your next novel.
- Ignore excuses Sometimes you may feel you don’t have time to write down your personal experiences. Spencer W. Kimball once stood before the World Conference on Records and said: “By now, in my own personal history, I have managed to fill seventy-eight large volumes . . . . There have been times when I have been so tired at the end of a day that the effort could hardly be managed, but I am so grateful that I have not let slip away from me and my posterity those things which needed to be recorded.” (Ensign, Oct. 1980, p. 72.)
- Try to write at the same time every day. When writing becomes routine, the words will flow more easily. You'll begin to feel committed to your journal. Hmm, have you heard this writing advice before?
- Carry a notebook with you at all times. If you do this, you'll never miss an important moment.
- Get your senses involved. Say exactly what you see, feel, hear, and so on. Be specific when you write. For example, instead of saying “tree”, say what kind of tree you’re writing about. I could have written a boring list of incidents about my move to Arizona in 1982. Instead I wrote:
The rich San Joaquin Valley never looked as beautiful as when we drove out of the Bay Area on February 21, 1982. Through my windshield, I must have viewed six different shades of green that crisscrossed patterns over the land. The almond trees were abloom, emanating life, providing a white contrast in square patches alongside the highway and afar off. This display came after torrential rains pounded the Bay Area, saturating the homes and hillside residences. Mudslides had demolished anything that had stood in the way. As I marveled at the hues, textures and patterns before me, I found the scene ironic—that such beauty exists so close to devastation.
- Observe. Take note of "who," "what," "when," "where," "how," and "why." Even the most routine events are worth observing. But don’t record things like, “I went to the store. Then I came home. Then I brushed my teeth and went to bed.” Don’t forget to write about the life changing events that occur in your life. That is what you and your children will want to go back and read.
I know, without a doubt, that writing personal and family histories bless our lives and the lives of our families. I enjoy reading the recorded memories of my past. Even my children love to find out about my successes and failures, and like to kid me about my peculiarities. They are reflections that can enlighten and teach important lessons to my posterity. So the next time you resist the urge to record your life’s events, kick yourself, and say, “This is for my own good.” You might even discover it’s worth a belly-laugh or two.