It wasn’t until I got serious about writing that I shifted from journalling as an occasional indulgence to seeing it as a necessary daily discipline (2 pages, long-hand, first thing, even when I don’t feel like it!).
I’ve been journalling this way now for almost 19 years, and neither of my published memoirs would have been possible without this daily journalling habit.
While your diary is for no-one else’s eyes but yours (and not for publication), what’s in there can be really relevant when you’re going back to write about a key moment or experience in a published book or essay –you might use a recollection to spark a scene or an actual piece of dialogue or physical detail in a crucial chapter.
For example: In A Letter From Paris, I looked at my journal on the date Coralie contacted me to get some context, and found that I’d written, that very morning: I want to visit Paris this year.
Daily long-hand journalling is the number one habit I believe you need to have in place before you even think about mapping out a book-length memoir.
Why? Well I made a little You Tube video here which sums it up in less than 3 minutes!
Why journalling is so fundamental to memoir:
Daily journalling is the quickest way to know yourself better, find your writing voice, see your ‘story’ objectively, and get used to writing for no-ones eyes but your own (you can’t have one eye on the reader if you’re hoping to write truthfully and authentically, which I believe good memoir writing involves.)
Daily journalling is also the quickest way to get over your fear of the blank page and to start thinking of yourself as a ‘writer’.
I’ve created a 30-day journalling for memoir email course with the prompts and questions I’ve used to journal my way to two published memoirs. Read on for an excerpt from my course!
Some people ask me how to write in a journal if nothing huge is going on in their lives. Below is an example of what you get in your email inbox each day of my 30-day course. Either write on the quotes I send you, or the prompt / thoughts below it. The main thing is that you get into the habit of writing two pages, long-hand, every single day.
Day 1 Journalling for Memoir course: In which we get comfortable
“Ritual is the passage way of the soul into the Infinite.”
“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write.”
I’ve kept a paper journal in share houses and share rooms, outback pubs, smoky bistros and even a cold London doorstep, when I was locked out of a hotel and had to get some things down on the page so I could feel a bit more balanced. It’s such a daily habit, now, that I feel uneasy when I don’t write in my journal for more than a couple of days.
But, it wasn’t always so easy to pour everything onto the page, and it took awhile to become a daily ritual as comforting and calming as sleep and that morning coffee.
When you’re starting a new habit, you’re more likely to stick with it if you associate it with comfort.
Like anything – a new gym routine, a diet, a new job, it’s going to feel strange (but also exhilarating) in the beginning. Make it as comfortable and comforting as possible, so that you continue to put it first.
All you need is the following:
1: A notebook.
Yes, a paper notebook. There’s still a place for paper journaling when everything else is done on ipads, notebook computers and phones. Particularly in the morning, when you’re slow from sleep, there’s something calming about the scratching of dream-thoughts onto a physical page.
You want your journaling to be a meditative practice, and writing by hand may also help you feel that this isn’t ‘work’. It’s also immensely comforting to use paper journals later on, if you want to reference them for published pieces.
You can tab pages, highlight things, and polish them up to become something printable. But for now – this is your messy paper journal, for no-one’s eyes but you. A few words, a sentence – could feed into a poem or an essay. Start on a physical piece of paper. Polish later.
Either buy yourself a beautiful notebook or use a simple A4 spirax one from the newsagent. I tend to buy the cheap ones or I feel too much pressure to ‘perform’ on the page!
2: Biro / Pen
Buy whichever pen you find easiest to write with. The purpose of all of this is ease and comfort and flow of words on paper.
3: Time and quiet
A minimum of 30 minutes every morning, and a quiet place to write. Set the alarm earlier, if you have multiple jobs. It might feel like the last thing you have time for, but believe me, it is so worth it.
Whether you’re solo or duo, have children or do not, you can’t reflect or connect to yourself deeply when you’re being interrupted, or forced to acknowledge the ‘real world’.
Give yourself the gift of a quiet and comfortable space that you look forward to going for your journaling time each day. I like to have piano music playing in the background, you might prefer silence, or the sounds of the city waking up around you.
Whether it’s a corner of the couch with your cat, or a seat on the balcony next to the blossoming daffodils, even your bed, or your kitchen, all that you need it to be is quiet, safe, and a place you won’t be interrupted.
Set the alarm half an hour to an hour earlier than you usually get up, so that you won’t be interrupted, and so that you won’t have spoken to anyone before you start to journal.
It may feel unusual or difficult for the first few days, until it becomes a habit you can’t imagine giving up. Make it as enjoyable as possible to ensure it’s a ritual that you associate with comfort and peace.
Some questions to muse on…
This first day, start by writing about the physical space you’ve set up, and what makes you feel most comfortable and safe. What’s your dream writing space – and why?
Is it quiet, or do you feel better with noise? Is it warm? What do you see? Are you in your pyjamas, or some other comforting outfit? What does it feel like? Why do these things make you feel comfortable?
Ask yourself these questions, and write, long-hand, for half an hour until you’ve filled two pages. With each of these daily prompts, you can also use the quote at the top of the email as your writing prompt. What do you think about the quotes that started this prompt. Do you agree with them? When have they rung true, for you? Mine your memories for ideas.
Close your notebook when you’ve finished your pages, and have a beautiful day.