I’ve heard it said that for writers, there are two types of writing. There is journaling, which is recording emotions and events, and there’s writing writing, which is actually writing stuff that matters.
I think the journal stuff matters.
My mom taught me to journal before I was able to write. She gave me giant blank books and I drew horses and told her my dreams so she could write them down. My parents at the time believed in dreams, that they could be prophetic, and there was a lot of weird dreaming going on in our house. I made up dreams, big dreams about the end of the earth and everyone going to live on the sun. I had fantasy worlds I created in my head and they went into these journals.
My dreaming and fantasy got me in trouble, just like my other writing did later. In first grade, we were supposed to keep journals about our lives. I lived in a town where we were one of the only families who rented and didn’t own a house. Many of my peers had ranches and horses on the outskirts of town. They wrote about trips out of town and horse rides.
I wanted to ride horses. So I wrote down my adventures of riding horses and going to Disneyland and all sorts of other fascinating things I did…in my head.
Somehow, my teacher found out my non-fiction journal was fiction, and she called my parents in for a meeting. She was super upset at me. She took it personally. She really had believed my stories. She called me a liar and I remember this formerly super nice woman now being extremely angry, her face turning ugly as she accused me of terrible things, just for making up stories, like I’d done something horribly wrong.
But kids make up stories. And as a young writer, not wanting to live the life I was actually living because my friend’s lives seemed more interesting, I created my own unique life in words.
There is nothing wrong with this. It’s not like I was signed up to Penguin books and had advertised my first grade journal as a memoir. No, we were supposed to keep journals and in the journals, I made up stories. Other teachers gave me trouble later too, as I outlined in a self-implicating previous post: Writing Always Got Me Into Trouble.
In spite of Ms. Whatever’s insistence I was a horrible child for making up stories, my parents were non-plussed. I don’t even remember them getting mad at me at all. They pretty much always took my side when it came to the crazy teachers at school, which I’m glad for.
The point is, I didn’t stop writing in journals. In fact, I’m staring at a cupboard above my closet that has about thirty filled journals in it, from age 11 up. The ones previous to that I lost due to a housecleaner thinking the giant trash can in my room I used as storage was actually a trash can. Oops.
As a writer, I observe the world around me in hyperbole. Things that are intriguing or make me think, conversations I think are worth remembering, I write down in my journals.
Admittedly, the journals I had as an 11-year old were filled with angst about the boy who lived next door not liking me, jealousy over my wealthy friend’s ample supply of toys I didn’t have and rants about music I listened to on the radio. And the journals I have now haven’t changed that much. There are still rants about men, questions about friend behavior, gushings about music I like, etc.
I keep a journal in my purse and a fancy journal at home. I write every morning, sometimes for hours. Wherever I am, when I see something intriguing or have an interesting thought or feeling, I write it down. I write goals and lists, I process relationships and situations.
Looking back through them is like a treasure hunt. When I’m running out of ideas or feel stuck, I go through my journals and get new ideas. I find song lyrics, poems, ideas for where to submit my work, things I tried in the past. Reading months back sometimes is like watching the stupid character in a horror flick you’ve already seen before. “No! Stop! Don’t go in that room! That person is not who you think they are! Ruuuun! Oh fuck. Nevermind. You’re gonna do it anyways. Well, later you’ll figure it out.”
Sometimes, I want to burn my journals, because I find them filled with ruminations, stupid decisions I’ve made I can’t ignore and endless obsessions. But that’s my brain. I can’t deny what I am by burning the evidence. Sometimes, I write things that I don’t feel later. Sometimes I make judgements that I find to be false. Just because something is written down doesn’t make it true, but sometimes what I’ve written down makes for a good story later.
Keeping journals, while probably something that will implicate me in every single friendship and relationship I’ve had after I’m done with this life, has been extremely helpful as a writer and a musician. My goal in my art is to convey emotion honestly. If I don’t feel something from my work, I don’t think other people will either. All I do comes from real life. And real life is recorded daily in journals I will never ever let anybody else read except myself.