why am I so obsessed with documenting my life?!
I’ve been journalling more or less constantly since the age of 11. On the one hand, it’s nice to have a record of every significant thought I’ve had since I was too short to go on most rides at an amusement park. On the other hand, it's extremely mortifying to have a record of every significant thought I’ve had since I was too short to go on most rides at an amusement park.
It’s hard to place my finger on why I first began journalling, although Meg Cabot’s ‘Princess Diaries’ books, genre-defining as they were, played a significant role. Maybe the whole writing-to-cope schtick resonated with me — must have something to do with the fact that I, too, found out I was the last surviving monarch of a small European country when I was 16. No, really.
But I do remember trying to imitate Mia’s obsessive documentation and failing miserably, realising that feverish note-taking often gets in the way of living. Indeed, in the twelve years I’ve spent journalling, I’ve tried various different approaches to the hobby: scrapbooking, bullet journalling, vision boarding… you name it, I’ve done it (badly). I recently pulled my journals out of their resting place to take a peek at my approaches over the years; the ones I loved and hated, the ones that lasted, the ones that didn’t, and the method of journalling that’s finally stuck.
Most of my early journals are filled with bad poetry and short stories. I hadn’t yet gotten the hang of chronicling my life; also, there wasn’t much to be chronicled. And I was obsessed with amateur fiction, spending hours reading romantic stories on FictionPress.com on the family computer. So I coped with most of my daily drama (read: crushes) by translating them into amateur fiction of my own. I imagined first kisses, first dates, meet-cutes, altercations that ended in love confessions… None of which ever came true. But a girl can (and would) dream.
My scrapbooking phase! This one lasted a good couple of years, and was heavily inspired by Tumblr and Pinterest (is it obvious?). I saved movie tickets, plane tickets, housie tickets, and would fill in the empty spaces with rambling, too-honest diary entries. These ones had less to do with crushes and more to do with family, insecurity, secret desires, and media. And whatever this is:
Around the same time, I became very obsessed with documenting my entire life, an obsession that hasn’t yet left. Here’s a daily planner that I used when I was 17, both as a life organiser and journal:
I fell in love with being able to see my month at a glance, and I’d spend hours poring over my plans from previous months, remembering how each penciled-in meeting went, how I spent my time, who I met, where I went, and so on. I can still remember what most of these days looked and felt like because of the amount of details I recorded in my planner. For example:
I was seriously struggling with my mental health that April, as evidenced by the desperate note-to-self on Thursday and the double-rescheduled counsellor’s appointment (I’d find it very hard to make it to those meetings). I was also in charge of feeding fish in the Bio lab, hence the pencil-drawn fish on some of the days. The fish eventually died. I took it very personally.
By the way, I still use this system to organise my life, and I still love poring over old entries to remember what I’ve done in months gone by. It’s just a little more digital now…
Over the years, many people have said to me “I wish I could journal like you do.” And I kind of get it! I’m happy with my tendency to journal. I like all the meticulous record-keeping I’ve engaged in. I also kind of like how much I think about my life! I think there are many benefits to journalling, so much so that I try to encourage everyone I know to keep even a brief record of their thoughts and feelings on a daily basis. And no, your WhatsApp chat with your boyfriend doesn’t count.
The many wondrous perks of journalling
You’ll never forget a day in your life. Or most days, at least. Goodbye “What did I do last Thursday?!” panics, hello “Oh that’s what I had for breakfast on this day last year” peace.
You get to analyse yourself before other people can. My counsellor said to me today, “You’ve already figured out most of this stuff on your own.” …which may not have been a compliment, but I sure took it as such! The more you re-read your old journal entries, the better acquainted you become with your patterns of thinking, and unhealthy tendencies. There’s no such thing as being too self-aware!
Memories of good times get you through the bad times. I like to record as many “glory stories” as I can — moments in which I’ve experienced the goodness of God in unexpected ways. When I’m feeling down and particularly hopeless, as I am wont to feel, I like to re-read those entries to remind myself that God will pull through for me now like He has so many times in the past.
Your writing gets better. I know I have a long way to go, but I’m convinced I wouldn’t be half as good a writer as I am today if I hadn’t spent so much time writing in my journals. Even the bad poetry helped… or at least, that’s what I like to tell myself. And lastly—
You get to be that mysterious dude who’s journalling in a coffee shop. And really, isn’t that what life is all about?
Want to start journalling but don’t know how?
I hate to be a cliché, but the best way to begin is to begin.
I love my scrapbooking phase, but it ultimately ended up being unsustainable. My advice would be to stay away from the high-effort methods of journalling, or keep them for special days only. Like when your life is really truly falling apart.
On the other, less dramatic days? Just do some regular writing. What are you feeling today? What was a recent highlight? What’s been a recent struggle? What are you looking forward to? I like to address all my journal entries to God, especially because most of my entries end with a prayer (or a desperate plea, depending on how I’m feeling). That part is optional, of course, but I’d highly encourage it.
I’d also recommend avoiding too-deep, extra-introspective writing at the start. Write instead about the small things in life. Like for example: future you would probably want to remember an afternoon spent board-gaming with friends, rather than deep thoughts about the nature of life, which might be (like my blackout poetry) poignant, but ultimately meaningless. I also find that the small moments tell me more about life than my explicit thoughts about life. But that’s just me. Who am I to dissuade a future Plato?
Oh! Also write down your reactions to the books you read, and the films and TV shows you watch. I’ve found that this is the easiest way to begin journalling.
If you can’t be the poet, be the poem.
Thanks for taking this trip down memory lane with me. Let’s chat about journalling in the comments? Do you journal? How? What do you like about journalling? Would you like to start?
That’s all for now. I’ll try to write more often.