“5th November 2023: If anyone ever publishes my journal, I’m screwed” … My Journalling Experience, and How to Kickstart Your Own

Leacsaidh MacDonald Marlow

Journalling has been the subject of many social media trends and pop culture tropes, from the ‘secret diary’ being most commonly associated with young teenage girls, to also becoming a wellness trend and a key part of the ‘that girl’ image. The image of journaling or writing in a diary has not remained tied down to one particular group or aesthetic, or even a specific purpose. It is for that reason, I think, that so many people shy away from journaling as an activity, because what does it even mean? Am I supposed to write down my tasks for the day, or a poem about the sky? Perhaps a list of people who have wronged me, or a recipe for apple crumble? The answer is: any and all of it. 

A journal is an empty book, and yet before it even contains a spot of ink, people seem to have a preconceived notion of what has to go in there. It wouldn’t be crazy to assume that many of us have considered or tried journalling before… and probably given up. If you’re anything like me, you may have been convinced that you had to stick to a strict schedule and format, or it wasn’t even worth it. For me, it tended to go something like this:

January 1st: I write a page – my journal knows what I had for lunch on New Year’s Day, that I went for a walk with my family and that I’ve written down three things I’m grateful for. 

January 2nd: I write another page – “lunch was less interesting today, but I did some work and I read 30 pages of Little Women. Here’s three things I’m grateful for.”. 

January 3rd: I write half a page – “I tried a new kind of tea today and I went for a walk again. Here’s two things I’m grateful for. I couldn’t think of a third”.

January 4th: I write the numbers 1, 2 and 3 with a bracket after each, but I forget to fill them in. 

January 5th: I don’t write anything. 

January 6th: I can’t remember what I did the last two days, so how am I supposed to write anything? This page just has a date on it. 

By January 7th , all my journal sees is the inside of my desk drawer. It’ll likely make a reappearance next year.

I stopped seeing that notebook as something that I needed to fill – but rather something that I could

By the age of 19, I knew a cycle such as that like the back of my hand, so when a new friend gifted me a journal for Christmas, I didn’t have an overwhelming amount of faith that it would be well used. But by that June, that very same friend sat across from me on a five-hour train from Vienna to Prague as I neared the end of the aforementioned journal, both of us writing our tenth or eleventh page about our interrailing travels so far. 

No one was more surprised than myself that I went from being unable to stick with the habit for more than a week, to filling multiple books without a second thought. The only thing I changed? My idea of what a journal was. The second I stopped seeing that notebook as something that I needed to fill – but rather something that I could – it all of a sudden became an awful lot easier to do just that. 

Maybe in a hundred-years time, another 20-year-old is cracking the spine of a shiny, printed biography

Journalling looks different for everyone, and you don’t have to stick to just one format yourself, you can change your mind whenever you like. On Monday, my journal sees a scribbled to-do list and a funny text message my friend sent me. On Tuesday, it’s three things I’m grateful for, and also, here’s a memory from when I was 7, and someone bought me a coffee today. Wednesday’s date gets 10 hastily-written pages of loosely connected analysis on the last film I saw. I think Thursday’s is tear-stained, but I also sellotaped-in a tram ticket and a printed picture from a photo booth – I’m laughing. It rained on Friday. 

If your life is half as mundane or half as interesting as mine is, you might find that writing about it is the best thing you ever do. Maybe in a hundred-years time, another 20-year-old is cracking the spine of a shiny, printed biography and reading my tasks for the day, smiling over a poem about the sky, laughing at a list of people who have wronged me, or copying down a recipe for apple crumble. 

Leacsaidh MacDonald Marlow

Featured image courtesy of Emma Dau via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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