Want to start a journal but not sure how? We spoke to expert diarist, Liz Beardsell, from the successful podcast; Diary, She Wrote to find out how she got started and how she has maintained a daily diary for 26 years. We also get her journaling ideas and find out why it is so good for mental health and wellbeing.
How I started Journaling…
At the age of 12, I was standing in my junior school corridor dressed in my gym kit – a pale yellow polo shirt with my name stitched in the back, inappropriately cut grey shorts and little black pumps – when I overheard my PE teacher tell some of my classmates that he had written a diary everyday of his life. I was a shy child so I didn’t ask my teacher any questions, but I thought it sounded like a sensible thing to do. I logged the idea in my brain and when 1st January 1994 arrived I started writing, pen to paper and I didn’t stop.
I’m now 38 and have over 9,000 diary entries.
“Diary writing became part of my daily routine, in the same way brushing your teeth is.“
I write at the same point everyday, just as I get into bed. I enjoy the process of documenting my daily activities, recalling conversations and processing thoughts and feelings. The most challenging entries are when I have to catch up – if I’ve been at a festival I won’t take my diary, I will just make notes of what happened each day. But I know when I get home that I will need to put aside a few hours to catch up on my daily entries and that can feel quite overwhelming. You just have so much to remember and you don’t want to miss any of the small details that will make the entries more enjoyable to read back on in the future.
On average entries take me 15 minutes a day to write and I fill an A5 page. As I’ve read back over my diaries, I’ve learnt to leave out those monotonous details of supermarket shops, delayed train journeys and watching Saturday night TV.
I relive everything in my head – I think about where I was, what I did, how I felt and what conversations took place. I consider if anything was different to the norm and focus on capturing those tiny details. You have to be patient and accept that it may take some time to document everything, but with the knowledge that it is a beneficial practice to process your actions and thoughts and by doing so it helps you to identify anything that is bothering you. It helps you to recognise how you might have made people feel and how they made you feel.
At Christmas time, I get the train up to the Lake District where my Mum lives. I always use the journey to start to read back over my year as it feels like a good time to reflect. I will make notes of the times I was at my happiest points, identifying who I was with or what I was doing so I can plan to do more of that or spend more time with those people the following year. It’s had a really positive impact on my mental health as I’ve been able to offload my thoughts everyday, which in turn forces you to confront any discomfort or trauma as well as allowing you to relive many moments of joy.
“I hope to continue writing every day for as long as I’m alive. I would feel quite anxious if I stopped now, like my brain would become a cloud of confusion.“
Journaling and mental health
Journaling has been great for those big, life changing moments. I lost my Dad to cancer when I was 15 and I am so grateful to have captured my emotions in my diaries during that 3 month period. I was able to follow my ongoing grieving process from when he was diagnosed to when he lost his life. My diary entries were also incredibly helpful when it came to deciding if I should end my long term relationship. I started to mark each day with a tick, a cross or both to reflect what I had written. The tick represented a feeling of contentment and happiness, the cross represented a feeling of confusion and sadness. The equal balance of ticks and crosses helped me recognise I had to go through with the break up.
Often when you look back at a time of trauma, everything feels blurred. Cheryl Strayed said: “writing forces you to locate your clarity.” It really does, it’s something I would recommend to anyone going through grief.
Journaling Ideas and Top Tips (listen to the audio below)
Here are my top 5 journaling ideas and tips for StyleAble, for those of you who want to get started:
- The fun and easy part is investing in beautiful stationery. Find a notebook and a pen that works for you. I have tested many styles over the years, I love a lined A5 notebook with a spine that naturally allows the notebook to fully open up. I also write with a beautiful fountain pen once gifted by my Mum.
- Find a time of the day that works for you and stick to it, so it becomes part of your daily routine and second nature to you. I write as I get into bed and I think it starts to slow down my brain and helps me to sleep better having offloaded my day in my diary.
- Start small, try a few bullet points to capture what you did. Once you’ve got into the habit of writing daily you could start to expand on areas that feel more important and relevant to you.
- Remember to capture the highs and the lows. When I hear of other people’s experiences of diary writing, they often only write when they are sad, which is incredibly valuable. But so is writing down what made you happy and it’s amazing to have these memories documented so you can easily transport yourself back to that moment in time.
- Once you’ve written for a month, read back over your entries and hopefully the reward of forming clearer memories from your life will be the motivation to help keep you going. You might start to identify trends of things that made you feel good or bad that month, you can start to address these things and begin to feel the benefits of journaling.