I’m going to walk up to the altar of shame and admit something to you.
Five days a week, Monday through Friday, I pick up a pen and write in a journal. Yup. I’m that uncool.
I’m so uncool that I’m not even using an app and a keyboard, instead choosing to go the old-fashion route — a leather-bound journal, a pen, and at the risk of cramping in my palm, I handwrite each entry.
Jealous? No? Well, you should be.
Writing in a journal, I’ve discovered, has become an essential part of a work day and writing pursuits. And I learned it, from of all people, my wife, who isn’t a writer.
For months, I’d spy her in the morning furiously writing in a notebook whose cover featured pink-colored donuts. She’d sit on the couch after just waking up, steaming coffee on a table next to her, and silently write.
Huh. I’d spend the first hours of the day distracted by my iPhone, mindlessly scrolling Twitter and hoping inspiration for writing would magically appear in my own cup of coffee. Meanwhile, my wife, who harbors little to no ambition to write books, churned out page after page every day.
“What do you write about?” I finally had to ask.
“I try to write three pages every day,” she explained. “Just stream of consciousness. There’s no one thing. I just write whatever’s on my mind. My business coach told me to try it, so I just sorta write about my goals or what I think I’m not at, things like that.”
Uh huh. So, lemme get this straight. You write in a notebook about whatever pops into your mind. And you do this for your business?
“Right,” she said. “I write about what I want to accomplish or things like that. It really helps.”
The moment was equal parts inspiring and shaming. It’s not as if I don’t write every day. I’m trying to write a book, after all, and I have freelance magazine work. But my mind and efforts often ping pong from project to project, with no organization, and sometimes, I’m short on inspiration.
Plus, I’m already finding I forget more memories than I can remember. Time it seems accelerates when you have kids, and there are stories and memories to pass down, like the time when … oh, I had a funny memory and now I can’t recall it. See?!
I gotta try this whole journaling thing, I thought.
Inside my work satchel sits a leather-bound journal I’ve owned since 2014. I’ve tried to update it regularly, but my efforts were intermittent. Being a Dad, a husband, a homeowner, and someone’s employee either took up my time or zapped my inspiration to write in it daily.
Now, however, I can’t start my day without following my wife’s lead and writing three pages in it.
I start at 6:30 a.m. every day at a quiet spot in my house. This is of course before the boys wake up because when they do, there is no such thing as a quiet spot in the house.
Then, I write. Just write. I don’t worry about anything. Whatever pops into my head be it memories or goals, struggles or achievements, my own or someone in my family, I put it down on the pages.
The writing is terrible. But that’s okay. I treat my journaling sessions like the day’s first draft, and every first draft needs improving. The point isn’t to write War and Peace. The point is to let go, not worry about organization or even paragraphs, and just write without fear.
And it’s handwritten. Why? Because I’m an old soul, I guess. Typing out a journal just doesn’t give me the same experience, the same connection with the subjects on which I write. I can’t quite explain it. It’s just one of those things where I prefer the old world way.
I’ve started to remember ideas I want to pursue. When I finish an entry, I sense a rising purpose inside because I’ve often laid out what I want to accomplish that day.
And one future day I’ll open it up and be able to resurrect memories of moments with my boys I’d otherwise forget.
It took about a month for the habit to set in, and now that it has, I notice a difference between the days I journal and those I don’t. Which is to say it works. The days I journal seem to be more fruitful, organized, and satisfying.
So there. Go ahead and make fun of me. I’m 39 years old and I have a journal, and if you want to derisively call it a diary, fine by me. I just know as a writer and a father, it works.
Dave Pidgeon is a writer (and father) from Lancaster, Pa. Contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org