Fifty Ways to Keep Your Journal


I've kept a journal for over four decades, and written a book on the subject.

Deflated conversations follow telling people this.  I hear excuses and apologies - people feel bad for not journaling. Like flossing and gym attendance, daily journaling is on the list of “oughts” that induce guilt when they aren’t done. It’s a feeling I encounter myself when my husband talks about his deep breathing exercises or his daily habit of affirmations. Darnit, I think, I should start doing that.


“Ought” and “should” are terrible words. Dragged into many otherwise excellent sentences, they act like pee in a swimming pool, spoiling whatever is there. You “should” keep a journal, but you feel bad when you don’t, and feel you have nothing to say when you do. No-win, usually. Hannah Wells wisely states, "Don't 'should' on yourself."

Perhaps it would be helpful to think differently about journaling. Allow the verb “journal” to mean “keep some sort of record of your life.” You may already be doing it.

I've collected a few examples/ideas/suggestions:


·      I'm reading Aunt Jane of Kentucky, full of good wisdom from 1907. Eliza Calvert Hall has the title character show off her life's collection of quilts, about which she says: "You see, some folks has albums to put folks' pictures in to remember 'em by, and some folks has a book and writes down the things that happen every day so they won't forgit 'em; but, honey, these quilts is my albums and my di'ries, and whenever the weather's bad and I can't git out to see folks, I jest spread out my quilts and look at' em and study over 'em, and it's jest like goin' back fifty or sixty years and livin' my life over agin."

·      My friend Matt’s grandmother lived next door to her church, and made her home a gathering place for many, many, functions. She kept a calendar with enough space for the names of the people who came by, and what she cooked. Every day. For decades. At her funeral, aided by those calendars, Matt was able to call out, “Sam Smith, do you know where you were on April 30th, 1985?” “Margaret Jones, I can tell you where you were on July 14th, 1969!” His granny’s calendars wowed the congregants at her funeral with the testimony of her life. Like Old Testament genealogies, names matter. In the great scheme of eternity, I hold that Matt’s grandmother’s calendars will show up as a memorial to her life of service.

·      Jon Maier has saved hard-drives of songs he’s written, but he reverted to typing out the lyric ideas – saying the hard drives put up a barrier to him digging into his old material. A life of song writing is another form of journaling. Ask King David, author of the Psalms.

·      There are gardening journals.

·      There are recipe journals.

·      There are sketchbooks.

·      There are planners.

·      There are scrapbooks.

…and photo albums.

·      Maybe a video journal. My husband makes great short films of inventions and engineering feats he’s pulled off. Here's the story of his underwater chainsaw.

·      There are baby books. (BTW, do ones for the kids who come after your first!)

·      You might want to keep a dream journal.

·      A log of your business can be revelatory. Two years into freelancing, I was discouraged. Inspired by a thought from Proverbs 27:23 - ("Be diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds") - I sat down with my job ledger and counted how many house drawings I had done (at the time, over a hundred) and also factored in that I had a 40% return-customer ratio. Encouraged, I carried on. I’ve done well over 500 house portraits now, among a great deal of other satisfying work I might not have done without the encouragement I gained from this exercise.

                                                    mouse quilting


The point is, regardless of your job, your life has vast stores of meaning, and there are many, many ways for that meaning to leave a footprint. What form might yours take? I’d love to hear your answer, and I have more to say on the subject myself.


You can buy my book, The Art of Noticing, which talks about the life-changing power of paying attention and keeping a journal.

Thanks for reading - click here to subscribe - and, consider journaling, in one form or another.