A friend and I were chatting the other day about our early years. Both of us had lived overseas while in our twenties, and both had some wonderful and exciting adventures. My friend said “I wish I had kept a journal during that time. I thought I’d never forget some of those events, but all the details are blurry.”
We are constantly adding new data to our memory banks: experiences, people, events, emotions, etc. Each new memory pushes the others to the back. Even those events we think we’ll never forget, are soon pushed far back in a corner of our mind.
It took me years to begin journaling regularly, for various reasons. If you can identify with any of these, perhaps you can overcome them as I eventually did.
• I’m not a writer - You don’t have to be. Just pretend you’re writing a letter to a friend. Journal entries don’t need to be deep, emotional prose, just your honest feelings the way you might share them with a best friend or family member.
• I wouldn’t want anyone else to see my private thoughts - A journal should be for your eyes only - unless you choose to share it. You might want to put it somewhere safe, with a note for it to be read after your death - or put it in a safe deposit box where it may never be found.
• Some things are just too hard to write about - Writing about the tough things, such as abuse, poverty, illness, can be therapeutic. This is where you can express exactly what you feel about a situation without worrying what others will think. If you want to lash out in anger, your journal is the place to do that. If you want to analyze your feelings, do it here. Writing helps us to clarify our thoughts. You needn’t show anyone, but getting thoughts down on paper can help immensely.
• I wouldn’t know what to write about - Write about whatever is on your mind at the time. Don’t make it a chore, just chronicle whatever is going on with you. Here are some ideas to get you started.
People - Write about your friends, and what they’ve meant to you. Tell briefly how you met, the things you enjoy doing, and how you’ve helped each other through the years. Write about various family members, expressing your pride or concerns for them.
Places - Write about where you are, where you’ve been, where you’re going. This is so important when you’re traveling. Make notes of the sites you’ve visited, describe some things in detail, as if you’re creating a picture with words.
Celebrations - Did you get a promotion, marry off your daughter, send your son off to college, celebrate a “big” birthday, publish your book, start a new career? Any of these should be documented in detail while the emotions are still fresh in your mind.
Struggles - If you’re fighting an illness, lost your job, or are in a stressful relationship, it can help to write about your feelings.
World Events - Write about national or world events as they affect you. Do you have a son or daughter serving in Afghanistan? Are you concerned about how the current economy will affect you or your children? Write about it. Not only will it be helpful for you, but it will provide an eye-witness account of historical events from your perspective, for future generations.
Day to Day Activities - Yes, even those. You don’t need to report what you had for lunch every day, but if you had an especially great day at work, or solved a sticky problem that had been bothering you, or spent a wonderful day playing with your grandchildren, write about those events. Years from now, when you read over your journals (and you should - every year or two) you’ll enjoy reliving those times. These are the ones we’re most likely to forget, but the ones we’ll most want to remember.
The added advantage of journaling is that when you’re ready to write your life story, you won’t struggle to remember names, dates, places, or descriptions. It will all be right there for you.
Now - get on the computer and open a new document, or better yet, go buy a pretty blank book and begin writing.