Healthy Habit: Journaling
Photography by Michelle Holton, Holton Media
Healthy Habit: Journaling
Career: Author and Journaling Workshop Leader
What motivated you to start a practice of journaling?
I didn’t begin to put my words into physical journals until I turned 19 and became a new bride. Back in 1971, we were still writing letters to communicate, so writing was something we just did. I moved into married housing at my husband’s college and got my first real job. I couldn’t call my best friend every day and didn’t have my mom to run to. I wasn’t in college myself, so I went to the campus bookstore and bought a “composition” book— that kind with the black and white cardboard cover and pages bound together by string and black tape. I still have that one.
How has this practice enhanced your life?
My journals became the friends I ran to, cried with, screamed at and planned with. I’m not sure I would have fully discovered my passion for writing if I hadn’t turned to journaling early on. Eventually, I did go to college and earned an undergraduate degree in mass communications. I kept writing and soon found myself at Gannett Newspaper in Westchester County, NY, as a feature writer and editor. Their Sunday paper had a regional column called, “Slice of Life,” and I was fortunate enough to get several stories published in that—stories that had begun forming in my journal. Years later a publisher bought the rights to a book I had created from a collection of my first-person essays.
How do you fit it in to your daily life and stay dedicated?
I don’t. I’m a landscape painter with several shows on the near horizon, so that takes a lot of my creative energy. My journal is always with me, and it’s likely that something will get jotted into it most days, but it may not be any more than “remember to write about the soldier and the turtle.” (which is, in fact, a real entry)
What is a non-negotiable when it comes to your journaling habit?
Always put the date on the top of the page. It’s the first thing I write down when I open my journal. It’s important to know when you wrote something to keep it in context with what was going on in your life and the world.
What is bullet journaling?
I don’t personally do bullet journaling because I’m focused on imagery and emotions. Bullet journaling is most often used to organize and archive, and I do use pages in my journals to keep projects on track, but only because my journal is usually easily within reach. One takeaway I will incorporate from bullet journaling going forward is to encourage my workshop participants to leave the first two pages blank and use it to index the entries and to use journals that have numbered pages. Contrary to bullet journaling enthusiasts, however, I do not encourage using pencils and erasers. If you stop to erase, you will interrupt your creative flow and begin to focus on what’s wrong with your writing, not what’s working. My workshop participants use pens. They can go back and scratch out later if they choose.
What would you say to encourage others to start their own healthy journaling habit?
I would give anything to read about my grandmother’s journey when she was a 16-year-old traveling from England to Canada with her father to establish a new life. My other grandmother came to New York from Ireland at 14, an indentured servant. I’m not sure she ever learned to write, but imagine how wonderful it would be to have her words in print. So many people think they have nothing to share, nothing to leave behind. I believe we all live through pivotal moments in history. And we all have our “aha” moments that could provide comfort or guidance to those we leave behind.
A significant 21st century benefit to journaling is that it puts a cautionary step between our immediate emotional reactions and the “send” button on our phones and computers. The best advice I can give anyone anywhere with an opinion, feeling, gripe, complaint, passionate reaction, or word of advice is to write in your journal with ink on paper, let it sit at least 24 hours before you decide to type it and push “send.”
Tell us about your books:
My collection of essays “All That Matters,” was published in 2000. After leaving the field of journalism and freelance writing, most of my words stay hidden in my journals, except for those rare occasions that my musings turn into poetry or children’s stories. My husband offered to create illustrations and design my stories into books. We have published two children’s books, Quassilla: A Dinosaur’s Journey Home, and The Whispering Dragon, in addition to a book of poetry and a volume of haikus.
Why are healthy habits important to you?
Keeping a journal is a great way to keep your stress under control by venting your emotions, rather than keeping them trapped and churning inside you. It can be a pathway to a healthier mind and attitude. At the same time, in the same space, you can plan your workouts and jot down ideas for healthy meals and recipes. Just the process of writing something down leaves a larger imprint on your memory. When you write, “remember to….,” you probably will.