Q & A with Luann About Journaling
What keeps people from using a journal?
LUANN: I think many believe that a journal must be written in every day. Daily disciplines are hard to maintain, so people don't even try. Others think that journaling is only effective for people who are good writers. If, for whatever reason, they don't think of themselves as a good writer, then they don't think journaling is for them. Some have also worried about how to organize a blank book into a journal. Without instruction in how to get started, they are paralyzed.
What was the inspiration for your book?
LUANN: A friend asked me to lead a workshop on journaling. She said that she'd been interested in journaling but had no idea what she might write about. She knew that I had been a journal keeper for many years and had found it helpful so she thought that I might be able to help others like her to learn what to do with their journals. To be very honest, I had no idea what I did with my journal -- I just knew that I benefited from writing. So in preparation to teach the workshop I looked through my old journals and the journals of other people to see what we wrote about. I was also getting my Masters Degree in Composition so I was reading and writing a lot about the benefits of writing. The workshop combined what we knew in the field of Composition about the benefits of private writing and what I had found personally beneficial in my own journaling. The workshop was well received and I was asked to teach it again and again. People asked for handouts, so I prepared a packet of handouts. And at some point, someone encouraged me to prepare a book proposal so that the material could be more widely available.
What differentiates a spiritual journal from other types of journals?
People use blank books for a whole variety of purposes. Some journals are really more of a diary -- a recording of what has happened during the day. Others are written for the purpose of helping grandchildren to better understand their grandparents. I have a journal that is totally centered on prayer. I have another that is totally focused on evangelism and recording conversations that I'm having with my spiritually interested friends. I also have a journal that I keep to record what I eat and the progress I'm making toward establishing a healthy/balanced lifestyle. So, to answer what I think differentiates a spiritual journal from other types of journals has everything to do with the purpose for keeping the journal. In Journal Keeping, I was trying to help people see how they might use a journal for the purpose of growing spiritually. If the purpose of your writing is to see the Lord in your life, to better understand the Scriptures, to grow in devotional practices, to keep lists for prayer, to capture quotes that you find spiritually encouraging...then I'd say you're keeping a "spiritual journal."
What role does journaling play in a journaler's life?
LUANN: I think the role depends on the person, and it changes over time. For example, I need to write to think, and to process what's happening in my life. Others who journal think and process in conversation with others, not in writing. Journaling can play the role of a friend, a mentor or a critic. Journaling can be how I make my confession. Journaling can be how I keep my life balanced. The role journaling plays in my life changes morning by morning, but always, it is my companion through life.
So how does someone get started and stick with journaling?
LUANN: Getting started is probably as simple as getting a blank book or spiral binder, making a decision that nothing in the book will be made public, and beginning to write. There are a few other fundamental principles discussed in my book (giving yourself time, and being free to choose what to write about, realizing that there isn't a "right" way to journal). "Sticking" with journaling is probably a result of seeing the personal benefits and not having the expectation that you must write daily.
Is Journal Keeping written just for writers?
LUANN: Actually, this book is written for a broad spectrum of people. The beginning chapters are written for those who have wished that they were journal keepers but never knew how to start. They were also written for those who know that they can't write well, and as a result have thought that they could not keep a journal. After these initial chapters, the book is addressed to people who may already be writers but certainly, they would not have to be. The examples are not high or lofty. Writing is simply communicating thoughts on paper. Whether we are writers or not, all of us have thoughts. Expressing those thoughts on paper will benefit everyone. Even experienced journal keepers have said that the book gives a comprehensive overview of journaling possibilities accessible to the beginner, while at the same time offering a new challenge for the experienced.
How can a spiritual journal help a teen cope with problems?
LUANN: I believe that one of the greatest benefits of writing is the clarity that it brings. Often we can have thoughts and feelings that influence us that we really haven't spoken about with anyone. As long as the thoughts are just in our head they don't have to stand up to logic the same way the thoughts need to if we are sharing them with a friend. Sometimes we may be embarrassed about something and we don't feel comfortable sharing it with anyone. Sometimes we may not have anyone that we feel we can totally trust to keep what we share confidential. If we don't have anyone we can talk to, writing can help us get the thoughts out of our head and force us to be logical.
If we write about our problems, we may come up with solutions that never occurred to us until we wrote about it. I think that our brains are a little like computers and problems can fill up our RAM and keep us from being able to process information. When we write about our problems, we are freeing up RAM. We can think more clearly about our problems. Writing also helps us to get a little distance from what's bothering us. Just by putting our whole side of the story on paper we can feel that we've been heard...and we can put aside what we wrote for a couple of days. When we come back to it, we can be a bit more objective and view the problem less emotionally perhaps and be a bit more rational.
If we have clarity about what the problem is, we are a lot closer to being able to determine ways to resolve what's bothering us. Certainly there are problems that are too big for us to solve on our own. When we encounter problems that seem insurmountable, that's when we definitely need to talk with a guidance counselor at school or a pastor at our church or our parents. Writing can help us see that a problem is too big for us and give us clarity so that when we do talk with someone, we know what the issue is and what we want to say.
Why does one need to keep a spiritual journal private? Can't we share it with others?
LUANN: I think that the value of determining to keep a journal private comes from the honesty that we can write with, knowing that no one else is going to read what we write. I think that there's a real temptation to try to be someone we're not if we are going to let others read our writing. We try to appear cool, or spiritual, or in control when that's not really (if we were going to be totally honest) how we feel at all. Also, if we are going to share our journal, we may only write about surface issues. We may not feel comfortable writing about how betrayed we felt, or how angry someone made us, or how unfair our mother treated us if we planned to share our journal, or we worried about what would happen if it wasn't kept confidential. Maybe people would enjoy keeping 2 journals -- one that is private and another that is public.
How can teens start and keep writing a spiritual journal?
LUANN: I think that they just need to start writing and developing the habit of freewriting about whatever comes to mind for 10 minutes a day, or every couple of days. This will help them to get used to thinking on paper. It is often very helpful to reflect on a question. Some questions that I often begin with are "Where have I seen God in my life today? Do I feel close to God--why or why not?" If they feel some emotion as they are writing, then that topic might become the starting point for their next writing. Exploring why something is emotional for us can be very insightful.
If people want to capture ideas that they hear that they think are important, a journal is great for that. After listening to a sermon, jotting down one main idea that they are taking away or what to continue thinking about for the week is a great practice. What did God say to me today through the sermon?
Or if they have spiritual goals (a better understanding prayer, sharing my faith with my friends, reading the Bible every day, being nice to my brothers, serving others) that they want to pursue...having a page or two that helps them track their progress can be very beneficial.
The most important thing is to just start writing...they'll figure out what they need to write about as they go. It's funny how once we start keeping a journal, ideas for what we want to write about will come to mind as we are doing other things -- like taking a shower or doing the dishes. The best way to start is to just begin--once we see the benefit it brings to us, we'll want to continue the practice.
Any advice to teen journalers who might want to start a spiritual journal?
LUANN: The best advice I have to give is for you to use a journal for YOUR purposes -- what you have to write about today is not the same as what anyone else needs to write about. You get to decide what you write about, when you write, how often you write, etc. You shouldn't feel obligated to write in your journal. Nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to write in our journals. It should be fun, enjoyable, not obligatory.
Use your journal as a tool to accomplish YOUR purpose for writing. How you use it today will be different from how you will want to use it in a month or two. Share ideas with friends. Try some of the approaches that I share in Journal Keeping. See what you find to be the most helpful to you as you pursue a deeper understanding of the Lord. The purpose is really to grow in your spiritual life which involves growing in your love for the Lord and in your knowledge of Him, growing in your love for other people and your service to them, and growing in sharing your faith -- use your spiritual journal in any way that you find helpful to you as you pursue God.
What should I do with my old journals? Save or Toss?
LUANN: I've kept mine with instructions for my husband to toss them when I die. The ones I kept in the last five years, I still go back to re-read portions. I find that they provide helpful insight and speak deeply to me. I've wondered about the value of the journals that I wrote in my twenties. I've gone back at times and re-read them, looking for a story from my daughter's childhood that I could to share with her, wanting to know if my memories were different from my reflections at the time, looking for insight that I might have to share with others. Most of it doesn't really engage me. Some of it is rather humbling--forty years later I'm still dealing with the same flaws. For me, I like having them all, just in case. [Another perspective.]