Getting Started

In the digital age, why would you ever want to write in a paper journal?

Because using a pen or pencil to place honest words on the page is an act of courage. The first challenge we face is choosing whether to validate and take ownership of our thoughts; by physically etching them in ink or graphite we are doing just that.

The benefits of taking this courageous step are many, but the two most prominent ones may be acceptance and space.

Unlike the mind, the surface that you write on does not judge. It only accepts. This is perhaps the most valuable reward that journaling offers. The page absorbs and holds language without offering comment. It provides no critique, no criticism.

The second reward that journaling offers is space.

By recording on paper whatever it is that stirs you, it frees up space in your mind. And in that small vacuum, relief is allowed to enter and provide calm and perspective. The thought that you were willing to grapple with — that fear, that choice, that creative challenge, that troubling thing — has now been delivered to a location where it can be dealt with more practically, objectively, and effectively.

It now stands in its truth on the page. And your mind has one less thing to hold.


Where should I begin?

Begin with five minutes of writing. Find a notebook, grab a pen or pencil, open up to a clean page, set a timer, take a breath, and let the first thought that tips out of your mind or heart find its place on the blank line in front of you.

Then, despite however foolish or silly or uncomfortable you may feel, allow the next thought to follow. And the next. Temporarily restrict the critical inner voice that may say, This is stupid. This writing is getting you nowhere. What a foolish thing you are doing. 

It is this critical inner voice that journaling will — with discipline, time, and compassion — allow you to silence. And this silencing process can begin with five minutes per day.

When the timer rings, wrap up your final thought and let the passage conclude naturally. No summary is necessary, nor do you have to read what you have written. (I rarely do.) You have already started important work; recognize this fact, even though your critical inner voice may chime in again, asserting that the last five minutes were a waste of time.

They were not a waste of time. They were a wise use of time, an investment that validates that your thoughts are worthy of consideration. And the act of placing those thoughts on the page — with your own hand — encourages you to consider them. In fact, writing necessitates that you give those thoughts their due respect.


What do I do now that the five minutes are over?

Close your notebook. Return it to a safe place, but somewhere that you are sure to look tomorrow. Because you need to return to your notebook tomorrow. And you may not want to. It will take discipline. And your critical inner voice may announce with irritation that, You are participating in a silly, purposeless behavior by continuing with this writing.  

When you feel that resistance, when you hear that inner voice directing its criticism at you, then you know that you owe it to yourself to push into this uncomfortable place. The gauntlet has been thrown down, and your relationship with yourself is at stake. The power of that relationship is not to be underestimated, because if your inner voice is a critical, dismissive, and/or demeaning one, then it must be confronted and corrected.

And five minutes each day allows you to begin doing this critical work. Trust me. I’ve been keeping journals for twenty-eight years.