It's been another long, hectic, and altogether frustrating day. Your nerves are shot, your pantyhose have run and it looks like peanut butter for dinner – again. You'd scream out loud if you thought someone was actually listening. Before you dive into bed and pull the covers over your head, try grabbing pen and paper. Maybe the person you need to listen to -- is you.
Keeping a journal as a way to keep your cool is becoming more and more popular among women of all ages. Getting your thoughts and feelings down on paper is a healthy way to let off some steam. Sheila Bender, poet and author of eight books including Keeping a Journal You Love, has some suggestions to help get you started.
Don't be intimidated
Maybe you haven't written anything more than a to-do list in years, but that doesn't mean you don't have it in you. "Anyone who has the idea of starting a journal can do it," Bender says. "Everyone has it in them to be a writer, to put their experiences on the page in a way that's real." Remember, no one is grading you on your journal, so don't feel pressured into writing a certain way. Write the way you want to and the words will flow.
Find your style
"It takes practice," Bender notes. "You have to find the rhythm that works for you." Maybe you'll want to write every day, maybe once a week. Maybe you want to structure your journal in a more visual way, or journal on your computer. Bender says some people write letters to loved ones, dead or alive, without the intention of sending them. Others write entire journals for another person, such as writing out the story of your life for your daughter. "Basically, you just have to find a place where you've got lots to say," she says.
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Use writing tools
If you don't know where to get started, Bender suggests borrowing styles from poems, prayers, or passages from novels, anything that caught your attention. Showing, rather than telling, is a writer's technique for getting an idea across without spelling it out. Describing the ways your day was difficult is more effective in resolving issues that simply writing, "I had a bad day."
Tell it slant
In her creative writing classes, Bender likes to quote Emily Dickinson, who wrote: "Tell all the truth but tell it slant." If you're having a hard time writing about what's on your mind, try approaching it differently. Write about what you see when you look out the window, but write from the perspective of a woman thinking about problems with her son, or her job, or whatever is bothering you. You might find it easier than trying to tackle the issue head-on.
Play games with yourself
Bender says people are often intimidated by the magnitude of starting, and keeping, a journal. She suggests using little tricks to prevent journaling from becoming a chore. "Give yourself only 15 minutes to write – you can write a lot in those 15 minutes," she says. "Or limit yourself to writing only a page, or three pages. Just go back to where you left off next time." Bender also suggests buying a little notebook, so there is only a limited amount of page space, or if you're writing on the computer, restricting your word count to a certain number. Picking up the pen and writing can often be a huge undertaking, so huge you might not want to return to it anytime soon. By going slowly you ensure you won't be overwhelmed and turned off.
You can use your journal to answer life's problems, from climbing the corporate ladder to weight loss, or you can just start writing until you realize what it is that's bringing you down. "Writing down your experiences, recreating them, will bring insight," Bender says.
If you have more questions about starting a journal of your own, check out Bender's site writingitreal.com for insights and writing exercises from Bender, as well as fellow writers and journal-keepers.
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