The Journal and the Pen.


I like to keep a journal.

I know that’s no surprise to those of you who come here on a mostly-weekly basis to see what it is that I’m feeling anxious/angry/happy about. But I mean beyond this, I also keep paper journals.

Like writing, by hand, with pen.

And it’s not like the stuff you see on this blog. Some of it, a lot of it, is made up of to-do lists. Some of it are running lists I keep, such as ideas for short stories, or subjects for blog posts or podcast episodes (Did I mention that I have a podcast now?). Thee’s also stray thoughts, quotes I find interesting, notes I take while reading… it’s basically a pseudo-organized Book of Me.

This is a really recent habit of mine, and it’s not entirely consistent, but I love it.

Aside from helping me stay organized (which believe it or not this does and I’ll talk more about that in a second), I feel like the act of writing things by hand is really important for me. It’s as though the tactile feel of writing by hand allows me to touch a part of my brain that composition and typing don’t reach. I find that if I’m brainstorming, the freedom of the blank page makes things easier. Ideas come more quickly, and I’m better able to organize them visually on a page than in a notes app or a word processor.

I also find that the process of writing out a daily to-do by hand gives me more opportunity to think about and mentally prepare for what’s going to happen during the day ahead. The slower process of hand-writing the list gives me greater clarity to prioritize wisely, and often to let go of the things that don’t absolutely need to get done.

And keeping running lists is the best. Before I would write down some ideas on a sheet of paper and cram it in my pocket. With a paper journal, I can pick a page for the list, number that page, even give it a sticky tab if I want to, and just continue to refer to it day-to-day, rather than ending up with twenty partly-used pieces of notepad paper in the bottom of my purse, slowly collecting the grime of a life well-lived while I completely forget about both their contents and their existence.

Keeping a journal has allowed me to take what often feels like a chaotic nightmare of an existence and project an illusion of control on it. I don’t know that I necessarily get any more done in a day, but at least I know the stuff that didn’t get done and I can assign it to get done on a different day, rather than allowing it to fall by the wayside and become a specter of ongoing anxiety.

I think that last one is the most useful overall. I can soothe my anxiety by convincing myself that I have some kind of control over my life. Anxiety is a productivity killer. I don’t mean the kind of anxiety that spurs you on when you have a deadline looming. I love that shit. I can work miracles under that kind of stress. I mean the kind of paralyzing, life-threatening, deer-frozen-in-front-of-headlights anxiety. That is the potent poison that leaves me listless on the sofa unable to even think about anything other than numbing my brain with YouTube videos.

But whenever that specter threatens now, I have my journal. Seriously. It sits perfectly in my purse, nestled in between my Kindle and my wallet.

And since I use a mutant bastardization of the Bullet Journal method, I can kind of do it any way that makes sense to me. Which is great, since I never understood the use of the monthly planners. Who can write everything they need to get done on a day into those tiny boxes? I can even make a list of things I want to get done over the course of a week, and just slot things in my daily to-do lists wherever I can.

And the thing that strikes me as odd about this, is that I’ve tried to take these exact steps before with many note and scheduling apps (I do still use Google Calendar because it’s awesome), and I had never been able to maintain any kind of organization or stick to anything that could reasonably be called a journalling schedule. And I genuinely think that it’s the meditative effect of handwriting that allows me to get it done for once. Isn’t that crazy? An act that is slowly becoming more and more anachronistic being the thing that helps me, who if anything is over-connected and over-screened, organized and on-task?


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