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Infuse Your Journal Writing with Heart

While journal writing is foremost about Process, I’m beginning to think a little focus on Product may create a more authentic and well-rounded journaling experience.  A little more Heart to balance out all that Head.

I was reading Creative Journal Writing by Stephanie Dowrick this week when I came across a passage that grabbed my attention. Dowrick is musing on the lapses in her journaling; she encounters obvious leaps in date. She imagines during these sabbaticals she was thinking, “I will remember this. I don’t need to write it down.”

She goes on to say:

“Some of those times were the most joyous; others were the most harrowing. It is the joyful times that I truly wish I had recorded more faithfully and in infinitely greater detail.”

As I actively seek out other journal writers and research varied journaling methods, I’m learning many ways to deepen my own craft.  Although I write daily, my journals ironically lack “snapshot of life” storytelling.  I’ve been focused solely on the head part of journaling.  My journals could use some heart.

Blogging for Myself

I’ve had a personal blog for about eight years, in which I write randomata, provide lifestyle updates, and post descriptive observations.  This informal writing captures highly visual details, and the photos I post provide –  literally – “snapshots of life.”

I call these posts “narrative Polaroids” in my mind, because they are exactly that – point-and-shoot, unscripted frames around small moments in time.  Seemingly insignificant moments that become unforgettable when celebrated in detail and shared with others.

I wrote about this phenomenon on that blog:

This morning I was leaving the house and stopped, stunned in the doorway. The pre-dawn sun was backlighting the pink mountains, frosted with whipped-cream snow. An enormous, pale full moon slung low over the city. The Space Needle proudly hoisting its Christmas tree toward the heavens. A Disney skyline sparkled. The glittery city shone, some fantastic set before a play begins. I took a photo. I wrote about it in my head. And then I went to work.

I miss the depth of experience that comes with sharing moments like this. Explaining it, painting it for you increases my enjoyment of the original scene. It becomes more memorable to me. This tiny slice of simple joy colors the rest of my world.

When I detail an event for others, my experience of the event deepens. The snapshot stays more vibrant in my memory. I cherish the written record of time and place that my blog provides.  I feel grateful for my daily life when I revisit those richly-detailed entries.

I’m a very nostalgic person. I like to revisit rosy times in my past. I wonder if Dowrick is on to something – if I will wish I’d recorded the joyful times more faithfully and in infinitely greater detail.

I can only assume I don’t write about these moments in my journal because no one else will read about them. Do I, like Dowrick, assume I’ll remember this, so there’s no need to write it down?

Now I realize it’s not about whether or not I’ll remember these occasions, but about creating a photo album of words I can revisit when I want to experience them again.

I’ve begun to suspect that my journaling can attain greater depth if I begin detailing the days. Provide a little bit of  Product during that all-important Process. A little more picture book; a little less encyclopedia.

Capturing the Positive

I don’t like to think I place more importance on “crisis writing” in my journals than on happy exposition.  But I’ve yet to infuse my contented writing sessions with the same urgency brought to the table when life is going down the toilet.

If I’m happy and balanced, it’s easy to let my journal writing slide for a day.  There’s no damage control needed, and life will not grind to a halt if I don’t write about my perfect Sunday afternoon.

Not so with my tragic Tuesday morning.  Writing about the bad stuff helps me remove it.

As a result, those sunny Sundays aren’t captured in detail, and with the same immediacy, as my periods of strife.

So hearing Dowrick say, “It is the joyful times that I truly wish I had recorded more faithfully and in infinitely greater detail,” gives me pause.  She’s right.  And I need to start doing just that.

I have these perfect moments, perfect afternoons, sometimes even perfect days. I’ve learned to savor them while they are happening. A bell sounds in the distance and I realize: “this is going to be one of those scrapbook days. This day will be filed in my memory and accessed again at a later time.”

So I try to stay present in the moment, using all five senses to soak up the details.  The way the air smelled the first day the cherry blossoms burst into bloom.  The tickle of the salty breeze in my winterized nose as we walked on the beach.  The angle of the sun as golden rays warmed the bamboo floors.  The throaty song of that one eager bird at daybreak in the magnolia tree out back.

The colors of these moments remain a shade deeper, the light more vivid.

It’s funny to me that I’ve never made the connection.  I’ve written for others, for friends and family, for an invisible audience.  But I’ve rarely detailed these moments for a future self I’ve yet to meet.

I will start today.  She is, after all, my most important reader.

How can you infuse more heart into your journal writing?

2 comments

  1. So very universal that we take for granted our contentment as “deserved” and the way “it should be”. We (the collective “I”) assume all is well and simply move through that space without taking note or giving thanks for our status quo. Until, of course, the curb jumps up and we stub our toe and stumble. Life includes all of this. Conscious living is an art … and you are so right that we are barely aware of much that engulfs or passes around us.

    Nice thoughtful post today.

  2. I thought this post was very insightful and poignant. I am a newbie at journaling, so I am reading everything I can to help me stay motivated to write. You stated something at the end that really hit a core part of me. I cannot have children so I have always tended to question, why record my day, why record my history, no one will ever read it but me. My children will never read my thoughts or get to know me better through my daily musings. But, that’s ok. I am writing for my future self, the one I have yet to meet.
    Thank you.