journaling for the win

This week is short and sweet because we’re heading out to the Berkshires and I’m trying to tie up loose ends before we go. The problem is, in the writing business, it’s all loose ends. (I have no idea what that means, but it sounds right, doesn’t it?)

In the writing business, it’s all loose ends.

—David Moldawer, The Maven Game

If you’re a writer, you fall into one of two camps: you journal regularly, or you feel guilty about not journaling—even if that means feeling guilty every single day of your entire life. Those are the only two options.

The idea of journaling is especially potent for writers. Anyone can write and publish a best-selling book, that’s a piece of cake—just write a potboiler!—but if your diary gets published, you are legit. (Having your collected letters published ranks a close second, but if people want to know what you had for breakfast forty-six years ago, you did something seriously right.)

In A Book of One’s Own: People and Their Diaries, Thomas Mallon surveys the ways people great and small throughout history have used journals to record the events of their lives and, more important, think on paper. Thinking on paper isn’t like regular thinking. It’s much better, more productive and more lasting, which is something that’s hard to intuitively accept until you’ve spent a lot of time doing it. Mallon’s book reveals the extraordinary breadth of the act of journaling and its profound human significance. From Mallon’s book, it’s clear there is no one right way to journal. The only wrong way it is not to do it at all. (A Book of One’s Own serves as excellent inspiration to start, by the way.)

For most of my life, I’ve fallen into the “feel guilty forever” camp, but I’ve successfully kept a daily gratitude journal for years now and I’m usually pretty good about capturing family memories. The app I use, Day One, makes it easy to keep multiple journals for different purposes and, delightfully, it’ll show you entries from the same date in previous years to jog your memory. (Apparently, Journey is a good alternative to Day One if you use Windows or Linux.)

In a rut a month ago, I decided to start a new journal in Day One: “Wins.” I’d read about the practice of keeping a win file as a way of managing up: you keep track of all the things you accomplish at work in case you want to negotiate a raise or otherwise placate or impress your boss. Similarly, wise authors collect any and all reviews and other press clippings related to their work. I figured, why not start a file like that just for me, for when I needed a boost? Now, I make a note whenever something works out: a client’s proposal sells to a publisher, a client’s book becomes a best-seller, or, most recently, when a bunch of you wrote back nicely about last week’s essay. I clipped little blurbs from all your emails in my win journal and I have to say, it’s a nice thing to look at them all in one place. It’s far too easy to forget that anybody actually reads this. (Remember “speaking into the void“?)

Whether or not you currently journal, consider starting a wins journal as a way into the practice. You can boost your self-esteem and scratch that horrible journal-guilt itch with a simple daily practice that only takes a minute or two. I’ll even give you Win #1 to get you started: you made it to the end of this week’s Maven Game. That’s no easy feat. Nice follow-through!

p.s. No Maven Game next week. I’m leaving the laptop at home. But I’ll have a new one for you on Sunday, September 8.

p.p.s. I’m back to LibraryThing for tracking my books and reading habits. My old account is still on there (I was an editor at St. Martin’s Press at the time, so this is a ways back) but I’ve long since lost access to the connected e-mail account. Oh well. Here’s my new, nearly empty profile. If you’re on there, too, let’s be reading buddies. LibraryThing hasn’t changed a bit in all that time and that’s absolutely delightful. I wish we could roll the whole damn internet back to Web 2.0.