Keeping a journal and keeping a diary are two different things—the second is a quotidian form of journaling (the word “diary” itself comes from the Latin diarium, which comes from dies, or “day”) that is often associated with entries that begin in letter format. The formatting possibilities of journals, on the other hand, are limitless. You can tailor your own style, or styles, of journaling to suit different moods, different needs. You can keep more than one journal at a time. Your journal can be written in stream-of-consciousness, a collage of words and doodles, bullet-point notes—it can be as creative, as inimitable to you, as you want it to be.
One of my favorite journal formats is the Socratic dialogue. Essentially, you have a written conversation with yourself—you begin with a question as basic as How are you? typed or handwritten, and below it you answer in detail. Then you step outside of your answer, reading it as an objective outsider with no context, and begin to flesh out certain details. For example, here are paraphrased excerpts from a Socratic conversation I had with myself two weeks ago:
How are you feeling?
I’m okay. I feel like since yesterday I’ve collected life in my grip, if that makes sense. In preparing for the party that I hosted, I did all of the dishes, picked up random fallout from the carpet, wiped sticky counters clean. I feel like an adult again—like I can keep up with my responsibilities and take care of myself and others.
Have you not been feeling like an adult recently?
No, I haven’t. I’ve been falling behind, and it’s left me feeling helpless and hopeless. When I can’t keep up with things, I have a habit of shutting down. I wonder what the point is if I can’t catch up, and why I should burn myself out. My body rejects stress. I’ve been in survival mode for the most part.
What does being an adult mean to you?
And so on. The potential value of an exercise like this can’t be overstated. Rather than indulging in a mere outpouring of inner content—thoughts, feelings, etc.—it’s much more constructive, I think, to engage with the spill: to really get at it from all angles. In doing so, I’ve made creative breakthroughs, challenged myself to articulate something I’m going through, narrated a personal storyline, nuanced and fleshed out ideas that had been stunted in infancy for a long while.
With that said, what form(s) of journaling do you enjoy? If you don’t already write in a journal, I encourage you to start—find one, or a few, that works for you, that you can keep up with on a consistent basis.