My next guest in the #JournalinginJuly series is author Molly Totoro. I’ve known Molly through blogging for some time. I knew that she was fond of journaling and has actually authored two books on the subject of journaling. However, I didn’t realise that jouraling wasn’t always her passion. In her post, Molly shares her Journaling Story and also provides some interesting and helpful ideas, for those like me, who just can’t seem to make journaling a habit. You can connect with Molly at the end of her post through her website and social media links. You might also like to check out her two books on journaling which are listed in her bio.
My Journaling Story
I haven’t always journaled, although I always wanted to journal. I loved the romantic notion of keeping a daily diary from the age of eight, and then reviewing life in full at the age of eighty. But unfortunately, I only managed to maintain that kind of writing schedule for one year in high school. And I misplaced those scribblings in the Charlie Brown notebook long ago.
No, my journaling habit has a less romantic past.
The years between 2010 and 2013 are a blur. In that timeframe:
• I cared for my ailing mother (who eventually went into hospice and died six weeks later).
• I saw my youngest child graduate high school and move out on her own, leaving us in the empty nest.
• I became a grandmother for the first time.
• I helplessly watched my son struggle – but ultimately come out on the other side.
• And I continued to teach an average of seven English/writing classes.
I was so busy taking care of business, I failed to take care of myself.
We can only run on empty for so long before our bodies give out. We can only take care of others for so long before we lose sight of who we are. In the end, I found myself speaking words, but I had lost my voice.
I needed to write for my mental, physical, and spiritual health.
Now, six years later, I have filled countless notebooks… and I have found my voice again.
Journaling gave me back my life, and I know it can help others recover their lost selves.
Beware of Journaling Pitfalls
Many people like the idea of journaling, but when it comes to actually writing, they don’t know where to start. If you happen to feel this way, you are in good company.
It is important to remember there is no ONE right way to journal. This is not a high school term paper determining your semester grade. The ominous red pencil should no longer be feared. No one else will read your words so the fear of doing it wrong is eliminated. Journaling is simply a matter of recording thoughts in a way that suits personal needs.
Before discussing practical steps for journaling, let’s address its two primary hindrances: the inner editor and perfectionism.
The inner editor is often alive and active during journaling sessions. This is the voice in our heads that constantly offers harsh criticism. Sometimes that voice takes on the characteristics of an old English teacher, reprimanding incorrect spelling or misplaced commas. Other times the voice is another authoritative adult telling us to stop whining, simply pick up the broken pieces of our lives and move on. Still other voices shout that our feelings are not significant, not accurate, not worthy to be shared.
While it isn’t possible to completely banish the inner critic from our minds, we can take an active approach to keep her silent.
When her voice becomes too loud to ignore, acknowledge her presence, and ask her to be quiet for a while. I tell her I will be happy to listen to her later, once I’ve finished writing. But for now, she is not welcome.
Another stumbling block to journaling can be perfectionism: the idea that one right topic exists, one right notebook is needed, one right format is mandatory. Perfectionism dictates we use complete sentences with proper English grammar. Perfectionism causes us to pay more attention to punctuation than content. Perfectionism is deadly.
The antidote to perfectionism is Grace. We must learn to treat ourselves, our thoughts, and our fragile emotions with compassion and care.
Misspell a word? So what! Cross it out, rewrite and move on. Better yet, keep it as is. It’s a gentle reminder that we aren’t perfect and that is okay.
Wrote yourself into a corner and not sure where to go next? Take a break. Rules are non-existent in journaling. You do not have to start at the beginning, and you do not have to stop at the end. Simply write until you no longer feel the need to write anymore and put it away. When the time is right, perhaps after a bit of time to offer clear perspective, the nudge to journal will prompt you to complete the entry.
How to Begin
When I share my passion for journaling with others, I typically hear three responses: I’d love to journal but…
• I don’t have enough time
• I don’t know where to start
• I wouldn’t know what to write
First, let me debunk the myth that journaling requires hours of uninterrupted solitude. I often journal in ten-minute blocks of time. In addition, daily entries are not a prerequisite to an effective journaling habit. Setting those kinds of unrealistic parameters leads to writing paralysis.
I suggest an initial goal of journaling one to three times a week.
To help maintain a journaling practice, it is helpful to keep a notebook close by. If the journal is accessible, you will be more inclined to use it. I typically keep one journal on my nightstand next to the bed. That way, it is available for writing first thing in the morning when I wake up, or the last thing at night before going to sleep. Another one sits next to my favorite spot in the family room. If a random thought or idea comes to me, I capture it on paper before it disappears.
While “write whatever comes to mind” is a liberating prompt for some, it can be too overwhelming for others. Some of us need a bit more structure.
James Pennebaker pioneered the method of Expressive Journaling, that is, writing about our emotions and feelings surrounding a traumatic event rather than just retelling the factual details.
Megan Hayes recently published a book, Write Yourself Happy, where she advocates journaling about the positive emotions of life as well, such as Joy – Gratitude – Serenity – Interest – Hope – Pride – Awe – Love.
While there are countless journaling prompt books and internet memes, a great place to start is Sue’s Journaling in July Prompt List. I love how she asks us to spend a bit of quality time focusing on our interests. Each prompt asks us to recall something positive about life. What a fabulous way to nurture self-care.
If you feel so inclined, pick a favorite spot of your home (or away from home). Cue up a favorite play list. Light a scented candle. Indulge in a favorite beverage as you journal your inner thoughts, dreams, and desires.
Treat yourself to this daily mini-retreat throughout the month and you will soon develop a regular journaling practice that works well for you.
Molly is a recently retired English teacher (for the second time) and a self-published author of two journaling books, Journaling Toward Wholeness: A 28-Day Plan to Develop a Journaling Practice and Journal Prompts A-Z. She is currently working on several other journaling books including Journaling through the Seasons and Polaroid Prompts. She occasionally shares examples of Polaroid Prompts on Instagram.
Molly also enjoys blogging about her transition into midlife at Molly’s Cozy Book Nook. She enjoys reading, writing, travel, and photography. She loves connecting with others in this online community and sharing ways to navigate this new season of life.
Connect with Molly