Journaling, ya know, the ‘Dear Diary’ stuff where you write all your deepest secrets with a purple sparkly pen? Or maybe you think about bullet journals that look so gorgeous you wonder how on earth they found the time to paint a landscape in their notebooks.

Okay okay. That’s not everything. There can way more, or way less, to journaling. You can do what Queen Victoria did and write down everything that happened that day. Or you can have a journal that doubles as a memoir, with more of a focus on how events impacted you, and what you think about what is going on in the world. Most Victorians wrote journals in this way, with the intent that someday they would publish them as memoirs. (Which I think is a little self-absorbed of them, who says anyone would want to read about their life? But they didn’t consult me, so whatever)

Or, like the journals of Lewis and Clark, that could be sketches of the world and explanations of what is being seen and touched and heard. Mostly explorers used their journals in that way. However, there is a Diary of an Edwardian Lady who did the same thing, chronicling the seasons of her country home.

The point I am trying to make is that journals don’t have to be one specific thing. They can be as detailed or as bare as you want. Honestly, I know of someone who orally journals. His journal is all voice notes on his phone.

Which is why I finally just did whatever I wanted with my journal, and threw all conventional wisdom to the wind.

For example, very rarely do I journal about what events there are in my life. I used to. I would write down every time I met with a friend, every time I went to church, a birthday party, etc. I would say who I talked to, what I did, and how much I liked it. The problem was that eventually I was bored to tears by my own journal, and I also felt like I never finished writing, since my life was never finished. There were always more things to add, more things to write about, it was a never-ending cycle that left me tired and bored.

Also, I don’t write every day. Been there, tried that. I never remember to do it.

So, this is what I do instead. I write about every week, and I write about the things I am thinking about. Such as the last political article I read and what I think about it. I write about my philosophy of teaching, why I wanted to marry my husband, and things like that. Sometimes I miss a week. Sometimes I write more than once a week. I try not to worry about it and just write when I need to.

And why do I journal anyway? I need to. The thoughts in my head need somewhere to go before they take over completely. I write to synthesize what I think and find a conclusion to the ideas swirling around in my head. I write to clear my head of clutter.

My journal is for me, and me alone. Not for anyone else to read. I can say whatever I need to, to process whatever is going on in a space that is designed to be only for me. It has helped me through the craziness of work, the hectic schedule of the holidays, and the deep soul searching of the last year. I wouldn’t be the same person without writing it all down, and I plan to keep doing it for as long as I can hold a pen.

Shaina Merrick