In the past few days, I’ve been in touch with two people—one woman in her 40s on Facebook, and one of my geezer peers at a luncheon—to whom I’ve recommended journal writing.
In the first instance, I suggested that C. sit at her computer, with a blank document in front of her, and simply write all the images, scenes, and memories that arise about a significant friend who recently died, in no particular order, and keeping the emphasis on the details.
In the second, I suggested that J. do some personal writing about the stress she is experiencing while caring for her ill husband. I’ve conducted workshops in journaling to manage stress, and believe that the process can help people both understand and manage their stress, no matter the source of it. (A belief supported by the research of psychologist James Pennebaker, cited in an earlier post.)
C. agreed to give my suggestion a try, and I look forward to checking in with her.
J. responded that she was afraid that someone might find her journal, a common concern of those who hesitate to keep a personal journal. I emailed her today and told her to just do the writing then tear up the pages if she was so inclined. For while I believe it can be helpful to look back on what we write—to read what we were thinking and feeling at the time—it is more important to write, to use the writing as a way to both document and clarify thoughts and feelings..
These recent experiences put me in mind of what I always open a journal writing workshop with: a discussion of the difference between writing and journal writing.
I begin with the three basic elements of any piece of writing, from a grocery list to a blog post to a journal entry to Tolstoy’s War & Peace:
a. The Subject (what we are writing about)
b. The Audience (whom we are writing to)
c. The Purpose (why we are writing)
So every piece of writing is about something; to someone; for a reason. The reasons may include informing; recording; reflecting; explaining/clarifying; persuading; engaging; entertaining; expressing.
In both writing and journal writing, the subjects can range far and wide, as can our purpose(s).
Which means that the major and only difference between writing and journal writing is audience. Audiences for our writing can vary; the audience for our journal writing is only and ever the self.
Now if C would like to share her personal writing eventually—to pass on to family members of her friend, for instance, then she has to imagine an audience other than herself and most likely do some heavy drafting and editing.
But J. is first and foremost writing for herself; she doesn’t have to worry about another audience (although she clearly does, fearing that someone else might find and read her journal). She can be candid, truthful, speak her mind, and, most important, not judge herself for doing so. My hope is that she will find the process so helpful that the benefit of the writing will far outweigh the fear of some else reading it.
Besides, she really can tear the writing up once it’s served its purpose.