On a Writing Habit
One of the most monumental and life-changing decisions I could have made for myself was something I started at age 20, generally an age where most of us don’t pride ourselves on the intelligence underlying our decisions. It is an age of spontaneity, an age of thoughtless and impulsive action. Or that’s the assumption.
At age 20 I left university with a decent science degree from a decent university, a nice mound of debt (thankfully from the £3,000 UK fees as opposed to the £9,000!) and a fairly lasting hangover. I had the idea in my head of joining the Royal Navy at the time, which was a fairly big deal as my family had no history of military service beyond the obligatory national service of both of my grandfathers. I don’t really know how it initially came to me; my mother believed it to be taking part in a Tough Guy event in January 2013 and loving the experience of being cold and wet and having to do an obstacle course. There’s a good chance she is correct.
Regardless of that this was what I decided to pursue. I was working an administrative job at the time in an IT firm, and all day my head was turning over and over the uncertainty of what was to come. It was a tiring, energy-sapping war to be waging in my head day-in, day-out.
So in the run-up to my 21st birthday, October 2013, I decided to start writing a journal.
This practice has literally changed my life. It started as one might imagine it would; as someone who had never written a diary in their life, I did what I thought I was supposed to do. I took my brain explosion and put it to paper. Here is an extract of what I wrote at the time.
Turning 21 (29/10/2013)
I have decided to start keeping a journal today – 2 weeks before my 21st birthday. That gives me a grand total of 14 days to attempt to summarise the last twenty-one years of my existence. I have no idea where to start so I’m going to start all that tomorrow. For today, however, my first entry.”
From the start, it was very introspective. Reading back over these entries, as I do maybe every couple of months, gives an insight into the uncertainty present in a freshly-free mind. I didn’t know what I wanted for my future. And if you don’t know what you want for yourself, you are like a ship in the ocean without a destination, a hiker with a map but no “X”. Even if the direction changes, feeling like you have one is essential. It allows you to take positive steps.
Good day at work, good day in the gym but a bad day over all. I got a call from the AFCO (Armed Forces Careers Office) Chelmsford saying that I can’t book a PJFT (Pre-Joining Fitness Test) or SIFT (Senior Interview) until I have another medical and pass, and get myself off TMU (Temporarily Medically Unsuitable) status. Gutted.
I sent my Army application for the Royal Engineers though, which made me feel a little better… I think I will call them up? I feel a bit lost though. How do I pick, Army or Navy?”
Over time it evolved into a daily practice of merely describing my day, down to the most detail I could bring myself to write depending on how late it was when I sat/lay down to engage in the task and how badly I wanted to go to sleep.
Final countdown! And with that, Hotelympia is done. Up about 0830, shower and change then a spell of writing, some work and some breakfast. Dave went and got breakfast baps for the three of us. Yum. We then had a nice meeting around the breakfast table discussing the events. It was good. Our feedback was generally very positive from both Carl & I. We then packed up, Carl went to get his train and Dave & I left about 1130 getting back to Dave’s about 1300…”
There may not appear to be anything overly reflective about such an entry but what it does is narrates one’s own life. There are many varieties of journalling that I have both heard of and experimented with: Morning Pages, the Five-Minute Journal, Gratitude Journalling, Bullet Journalling etc. Many, many varieties. But what I have found to be the most beneficial to me is a simple reflective narrative. By documenting my day I open up the reflective channels of my mind to the paper and allow venting of whatever needs to be let go of.
On an average day, there may not be anything of note. It may simply read as a narrative. And the journal entry may be no more than half a page to a page of A5. But on a day of great change or of great import, opening the channel from the mind to the paper by means of the pen is oddly cathartic and you might find yourself writing three, four, five or even more pages. It is an emphatic feeling of release that never gets old.
And so a daily practice is born. It is a recharging of the batteries of the mind, a way of refreshing one’s soul and venting all frustrations and fears into a non-judgemental sink. Just as exercise provides a physical release, writing is one of a multitude of mental “taps” for releasing the excess stress and mental pressures that we face more and more of in the modern day.
I cannot recommend the practice of journaling enough to anyone who has too much on their mind sometimes. I have done it for 4 1/2 years now and continue to write daily. I see the benefits every day and not once have I looked back and considered the ten to fifteen minutes daily that it takes as wasted time.
Some famous journalers include Mark Twain, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin, Winston Churchill, Benjamin Franklin, Beethoven, Isaac Newton, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson. All of these men had their own uses of notebooks and journals, documenting original ideas, drawings, thoughts, quotes and ponderings. It was the extension of their minds and by doing so it enlarged their capacity to learn. A better list might be of those who do NOT do some sort of journaling practice.
All of these men listed above had their own methods of journaling and note-taking. They were very unique, very empowering and very specific to the individual at the present moment. For the modern man, I would recommend to let it be an amorphous and growing practice. Let it be whatever it will be for you. The best advice I can give is rather than trying to overthink, (as I did originally, to create the perfect entry of “what I should say”) instead I would suggest starting with what is known as stream of consciousness writing. Use this as a way to open up the channel if it is not something you are already in the practice of doing. Then go from there to see what you create. Because you will certainly create something that will alter your world-view, and it will come only as a result of the venting of your own mind.