Write It All Out

Putting Pen to Paper Can Help Beat the Stresses of Everyday Life


We all need a release valve, some little mechanism we use to bleed off the building pressure of life’s daily stresses.

With the New Year approaching, you might be resolving to find some healthy outlet for your stress. There are plenty of constructive choices. You can take a spin class, see a therapist, join a softball team or learn to paint. But do you want to know one of the simplest, and least expensive, methods? 

Try keeping a journal.

All you need is a notebook and a pen to give yourself a place to unload and store all those leftover thoughts that clutter up your head at the end of the day. Put only as much time as you want into it, and, since the pages belong to you, you have all the freedom to do what you want, whether you need to vent or confide a secret.

Besides, brains are like hard drives. They can only store so much data before they start getting corrupted. Go ahead, try remembering what you were doing on Feb. 8, 2000. Better yet, try remembering what you were thinking and feeling that day. Not there, is it? That’s the beauty of a journal. It keeps all of that information where you can easily access it, and pass it on to your loved ones, if you wish.

The other upsides: Every day, you’ll get to spend a few minutes savoring the feel of your favorite pen in your hand, laying down fluid, sleek lines of ink on richly textured paper. And your writing, both the content and appearance, will get better with all that practice, guaranteed.

If you’re unsure how to get started, not a problem. Here are some suggestions:


Find the right journal

You might be more likely to stick with journaling if you spend a little money on the book itself. Any stationery or office supply store carries journals, or you can order online from any number of outlets. In fact, there are so many choices, it might be easy to get confused.

Consider starting with one of the two most popular types, the standard Moleskine or the Rhodia Pocket Web Notebook. The Moleskine is available in black and red, and the Rhodia in black or orange. Both have elastic closures, inner pockets and hard covers (although the Rhodia “leatherette” is a little sturdier and has a better feel to it). They’re made with ruled or unruled pages.

The Moleskines are a favorite of people who journal, but the Rhodias have a reputation for being a little bit nicer all around, especially when it comes to the paper stock.

Expect to pay up to about $15 for a good-quality journal. Of course, you can also get started with a simple marbled Mead Composition Book for less than $2 at the corner drugstore.

Choose a comfortable, smooth-writing pen you can use for extended periods.

A good choice is the Pilot G2 Pro in black with 1.0-millimeter refill. It feels good in the hand and writes a thick, bold line, giving the words in your journal a sense of gravity. The broader tip tends to write a little wetter than usual but dries relatively quickly. Overall, the G2 just can’t be beat for smoothness and reliability.

That said, however, many other pens would do quite nicely, including a few Uniball models. In particular, there are the Uniball Signo 207 in 0.07 millimeters and the Uniball Jetstream Premier in 1.0 millimeters. The nice thing about them, aside from the great gel writing experience, is that they use Super Ink, which is supposed to be acid-free and fade-resistant, so your words will stick around and hopefully still be legible many years from now.

You also might want to add a little color to your journal from time to time, and Uniball has nice pens for that as well. The Signo Gelsticks are comfortable for shorter periods and come in purple, pink, orange, red, green and two shades of blue.

If you’re a fountain-pen person, you may want to stick with the Rhodias, because the Moleskine pages have a reputation for feathering with fountain-pen ink. They also tend to have bleed-through with wet pens.

Not sure what goes in your daily entries? Start with the 5 Ws — who you saw and spoke to that day, what you thought and did, where you went, when you did it and why. 

Create a journaling routine

Now that you have your supplies, you need to set up a time and place to do your journaling. Having a set routine will help ensure that you stick to it. The key here is to make it easy, because the easier it is to do, the more likely you are to actually write.

Choose a place to keep your journal (and make sure your pen stays with it) so that it’s always in the same spot — somewhere you’ll see it before you go to bed and close to where you will do your writing. At the same time every day, turn off your cell phone/TV/computer, put on something comfortable, make yourself a cup of tea and go to your writing spot to spend a few minutes gathering your thoughts and putting them down in your journal.

Remember, don’t treat it like a chore. This is something you want to do. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day or you’ll start to dread it.


Write, write, write

First, write your name and the date you started the journal on the inside cover. When you get to the last page, go back and put the ending date. That will help you keep them organized when you start filling up journals.

For your very first entry, you might want to explain a little about where you are in your life at that point, why you’re starting a journal, and what you hope to accomplish with the process. That way, if you let others read your journal in the future, they’ll have a better understanding of the context. It also will help you remember what was on your mind at the time.

Then, not sure what goes in your daily entries? Start with the 5 Ws — who you saw and spoke to that day, what you thought and did, where you went, when you did it and why. Obviously, you just want to pick the significant moments, rather than chronicle your entire day. Finally, add an H, for how you felt about the events of the day.

At some point, you’re going to sit down to write and realize you’re stuck and don’t know what to say. When that happens, write that you aren’t sure what to write, then keep writing down whatever pops into your head, until you get unstuck. Sometimes you have to prime the pump to get it flowing.

Whatever you choose to put into your journal, avoid perfectionism. You don’t need to worry about choosing the perfect words or making sure your spelling is correct. If you make a smudge on the page, or have to scratch out something or just want to doodle, that’s fine. It’s your journal, and “done” is perfect.

There’s no set length for how much you have to write. The journal entry takes exactly as long as it takes. Just say what you have to say, then stop writing. It might be a few paragraphs, or it might be five pages. Sometimes, the most powerful feelings can be described in a sentence. When Teddy Roosevelt’s wife died, he wrote only a large X and the words, “The light has gone out of my life” in his journal.

Again, if you miss a day, or several, or even a few weeks or months, don’t get down about it. Just go back to your journal, write a little recap of what’s been happening while you’ve been gone, then keep going day to day.

It’s that simple to get started. Now it’s just a matter of picking up a pen and opening the taps. You might get just a few drips at first, but keep at it, and the flow will come.

Want to see what other people’s journals look like?

Check out the Longhand Journal Snapshot Collective at dimezzoilmare.com.

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