I’m a professional writer because I love to write. This passion began for me when my handwriting was still impossible to decipher. Before keeping a formal journal, it was all about writing long letters home while I was at sleep away camp. I’d keep travel journals too, and at some point had an assortment of notebooks each with a few pages of journaling among my doodles and games of tic-tac-toe and CMASH (children of the 80-90’s you know what I’m talking about.)

My first serious journal was a gift when I was thirteen. It’s this nice, leather-looking binder full of college-ruled pages. It captured my teen angst so thoroughly. I wrote it in it often, and while I’d like to think it helped hone my craft as a storyteller, it mostly just gave me a place to work out my feelings.

Today, devoting most of my days to writing content for other people, I don’t do a lot of writing for myself. While I still dabble in creative writing, journaling is now something I only do for my kids. It’s my way to tell my story as it relates to them — a companion for what it was like for us as a family during the years when they’re so rightfully focused on themselves.

For me, the purpose of a journal of any kind is to keep track of memories in their entirety. Sure, you may look back and recall an event, pieces of the situation, an inkling of a feeling, but as time goes by you lose a lot of it. That’s normal, but a journal lets you capture the moment while the feelings are still raw, the event still crystal clear in your mind. It gives you a recap in its entirety, and I like that I can write and reflect in the same instance and have it as a forever reference.

The journals I have for my kids began the first week they came home from the hospital. It holds significant events from their lives, but also fun things we did so they’ll have those memories somewhere. I add mementos into the journals as well, hopefully so they can get a visual representation of where they’ve been and what they did when they were young. My biggest worry is whether they’ll be able to read my cursive handwriting or not — it’s tough for me to print when I’m writing quickly.

When I journaled as a teenager, I wrote when the mood hit me, so a lot. It was my place to pour out my feelings, and I used it as often as necessary. I remember seeing bigger gaps appear as I got older and noting my surprise at how much time had passed between entries.

Journaling should not feel like a chore. It should be cathartic. Write whenever you want, but don’t force yourself to sit down everyday to reflect. If you’re using a journal to practice your writing skills, look instead to one of those books that provide writing prompts, the ones that ask you to write in them everyday. This will differentiate your writing and give you real practice. Brain dumping into a journal isn’t always conducive to being articulate and informative — two skills writers definitely need — but responding to prompts can help organize your thoughts.

For my kids’ journals, my timing has varied as they age. When they were little, and so much was happening that I knew they wouldn’t remember, I wrote often. Now that I’ve got kids edging into teendom, I write a lot less frequently.

Again, when I journaled for myself, big things were worth recording. Big feelings, big milestones, big events. This isn’t necessarily in the conventional sense, but how they felt to me. Nobody is ever going to read my own journal because, frankly, it will bore them. What was worth recording was just for me, and always will be.

When you decide to journal, set an intention. Think about what you want to get out of the experience and who you’re writing to. You’ll have more freedom if your intent is to self-heal, for your journal to be for an audience of one, but that doesn’t always have to be the case. If your intention is to give your journal to someone else to really get an insider’s view into you, write with them in mind. Take care to ensure the message is for them, even if the story is about you.

I fully intend to share my kids’ journals with them when they’re adults. Not entirely sure when, but I’ll know when the moment is right. The record these journals provide are just for them. I want them to remember what their childhoods were like through my eyes, and to see how much they impressed me, moved me and inspired me even when they were itty bitty. My hope is that what I’m sharing will reinforce, in their eyes, my love for them as their parent, so when I write, it’s to them and not to my own heart and head.

If you’re on the fence about journaling, but like to write, bite the bullet. Create a file on you computer to type your journal or go out and buy one of those over-priced, leather-bound notebooks and a really nice pen (the second options is my choice.) Make journaling an experience that goes beyond the content. Journaling is a moment to have to yourself to really think, and for many for us, those are rare.

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