Saturday, August 6, 2011

Journaling with meaning

Well, as you can see by our side-bar, the poll to vote for our ebook cover is closed. And the winner is...

Didn't Jenni do an awesome job with it!?! A big thanks to everyone who voted and to Elizabeth and Jenni for all their hard work with the covers.

Now, onto real meat of this post. On our Facebook page this question was posed by Stephonie K. Williams:

Can I submit a request? I was just given an assignment last night from my RS president to teach a class on creative journaling. Despite being an author my journaling habits are lackluster at best and written for myself. I was asked to teach "how to make our journals more interesting so that our posterity can laugh and cry along with us". Quite frankly my google-fu is failing me. Does anyone know any tips or suggestions on what/how to teach this, failing that any ideas on how to get me out of doing this? ;) Thanks.

First off, Stephonie, I love that one of our readers sent us a question. LOVE IT! I hope more of you feel free to do that. In fact, I'd like to offer an open invitation to all our readers to visit our Facebook page and pose any questions they have for us and one of the MMW contributors will answer it, or maybe it will just be me since I'm taking the liberty for speaking for everyone but all these gals are so great I'm sure any and all of them would be more than happy to have the opportunity to answer your quandaries.

Secondly, I love the idea of having a class on creative journaling. I'm the RS counselor over the activity previously known as Enrichment Night and I think I might hijack this idea and use it.

I have been fortunate to have had grandparents who kept journals. From this I can tell you what not to do and what to do. Every journaler (totally not a word) will inevitably write entries that could be filed under  Seriously Boring category. Some more often than others. Now I must make a qualifying statement here by admitting that a lot of people just aren't blessed with the desire or perhaps ability to use more than a few small words to make a point. For example, I have an ancestor who kept a daily journal but the entires rarely went farther than who came by to visit and who they talked to on the phone. There was no substance given to these entires; really it was a glorified visitor's book (you know, the one's you sign when you visit a small town museum or a family history library). This kind of journaling is so stagnant that the reader must force themselves to keep digging for the much hoped for treasures that make all that boring reading worth while. To those of you who don't think you can manage a journal entry longer than two sentences, this is what I have to say to you. WRONG!

Journal entries don't have to be long, but they need to have some substance. Something to satiate the appetite of the reader (I know, it's a little scary somethings thinking about people reading our journals but hopefully we'll be dead by then and I promise you, we won't care at that point.) If you find the substance part hard, here are a few suggestions:

Journal Q & A
If you want to make your journal matter to your posterity you need to ask yourself a few questions. First, what questions do you wish you had asked your parents, grandparents, etc. (people who have died and or whose memories are forever lost)? For example I wish I had had the opportunity to ask my grandfather more about his childhood, about his parents, about the games he played in his youth, about his siblings, about the death of his brother, about the relationship he had with his uncle, about how his family lost their farm during the Great Depression, about the war and what it was like to learn on the front lines that your wife had a baby. These are only a few of the questions I'd love to ask but sadly, I can't get those answers; the opportunity has passed. I get sick to my stomach at times thinking about all the questions I wish I'd asked people and how sad it is that those answers were right there at my fingertips and now they're gone forever. I think most of us have many such questions we'll never, in this life, know the answer to. Those very questions are a wonderful thing to include in our own journal!

Now you might be saying, "Hold on, this sounds like doing a personal history, not a journal" but give me a minute. Take these questions and write them down on a piece of loose paper. Write down all the questions you wish you could ask any ancestor you have then take that piece of paper and stick it into the front of your journal. Then, on days when you're drawing a blank about what to write, days when there just isn't any substance to your thoughts, let alone your pen, you can pull out this piece of paper and answer one of those questions for yourself.

If you want to take this step even farther you could ask your children, siblings, friends, spouse, etc. to write down some questions they have for you or some things they would like to know about you. You can add those questions to your list.

Embarrassing Moments
Who wants to own up to the day they accidentally walked into the men's bathroom at Shopko? Certainly not me, that's why I haven't included it in my journal yet, but I plan to! How about the time you accidentally tucked your skirt into your pantyhose and nearly flashed everyone who had the pleasure of standing behind you? While such moments are the kind that generally make us want to crawl in a hole and die they usually turn out to be hilarious with a few years (or maybe decades) of perspective. Write down the humiliating stuff! Show them that you wanted to die of embarrassment, too.

On a side note to this, one theme I feel very strongly should be included in EVERY journal is that of growth and overcoming trials. Some of the most inspiring stories to me are the ones that help me feel less alone; the ones that take my trials ant put them into perspective.

Look at it like this, when I was a teenager (and a 20 something) I was convinced I had to be perfect in public and in front of my family. Mistakes mortified me, no matter how simple they were. Sadly for me, I couldn't keep myself from stumbling time and time again. Now, in my ubber wise old age of 32, I realize something significant: Mistakes are what bring us together, not set us apart. They make us human. When the lady playing the piano in Relief Society messes up it makes me feel so much better about screwing up myself. You see, she isn't phased by it. She keeps on playing and sits down and doesn't have a second thought about it and I don't think any less of her just like I know my posterity won't think any less of me for having accidentally tucked my skirt into my nylons when I was 14 and then paraded through the chapel in front of all the kids my age from my high school!

The more embarrassing the moment, the better. These moments are what make us human and more relatable. Nobody wants to read about someone whose life was all sunshine and roses. We want to see that a few thorns and bloody wounds aren't the end of the world. We want something to inspire us and help us keep going when times get dark and the way unclear.

In my journal I make an effort to include every phase of a trial. Every phase with my feelings and emotions honestly portrayed. While my trials in life have been relatively simple compared to many, I still think it is important to document them. Not only does this help my posterity but when I read back I am more able to see the personal growth I have experienced.

For example:  Recently, I had a family member who underwent a significant trial. Had I lived far away this trial would have been merely difficult to watch but I live very close and the perpetrator of this trial lives in my ward and holds a fairly high priesthood calling. This has been excruciating to deal with. Even though it has been months I still struggle with it and I make sure to include it all in my journal. I want my children to see that the path to forgiveness isn't easy and can take months, perhaps years. I want them to learn from my experience so that maybe, one day, when they're struggling with forgiveness they can find the path a little easier because they can look at the steps I trod.

As I have struggled with this event I have prayed for help to learn forgiveness. When I receive an answer during scripture study I include the scripture in my journal entry. When I receive a piece of wisdom during a gut-wrenching prayer session, I include that inspiration in my journal. When I find myself slipping back into vengeful thoughts (this happens far too often) I include that, too. The whole sordid, difficult journey to forgiveness is there for all to see and hopefully, for all to learn from as well.

Also, some trials can take years to see clearly. With the gift of time and age often the difficulties we face in our youth can be put into perspective. Include that perspective. When you realize something important about your past include it in your journal but make sure to include the details behind the realization so the reader can see the whole picture.

Wouldn't you love to know the recipe for your great-great-something-or-other's favorite pie? Maybe their favorite bread recipe? How about knowing what their favorite song was and what the name was of their favorite pet? Favorites are little gems that help the reader feel a more intimate connection to the one who wrote the journal.

Here are a list of a few fun things that you should make sure to include in your journal:

Favorite Recipes
Favorite Color(s)
Favorite Song
Favorite Candy Bar
Favorite Movie
Favorite TV Show
Favorite Quote
Favorite Prophet
Favorite Photograph
Favorite Poem
Favorite Story

The list could go on and on but I think you get the point. When you include these favorites tell a story with them. Share your Grandmother's roll recipe and tell why you always make it at Thanksgiving and how integral those are to making that holiday special but how hard it has been to give them up because your husband and several children have Celiac Disease. Tell how your favorite color makes you feel. Tell what emotions or memories you associate with your favorite song (on the flip side of this you could tell about a song that hurts your heart to hear and why--like the song that kept playing on the radio station during the three hour drive to your cousin's funeral). Tell why President Monson was your favorite apostle ever and how you didn't have as hard a time as many after President Hinkley died transitioning to a new prophet. Tell. The. Reader. Why!

Really, I could go on and on and on and on and on about things to include in your journal but I'd better end before your eyes get blurry. Before I end let me share a few more ideas:

Be a Missionary--Share your Testimony! Tell the reader why you believe what you believe. Were there any experiences that solidified your testimony? Was there a special scripture that helped you gain a stronger conviction? What made your testimony wobble? How did you recover? Certainly we will all have posterity that will fall away...use your journal as a missionary tool for them.

Newspaper clippings. Did you have an article in the newspaper? Did your picture appear in the newspaper or a picture of someone you love? Did something important in history or in your life happen that was immortalized in a newspaper? If so, cut out the item and past it into your journal along with a description or story and your feelings or emotions!

Pictures. Scrapbooks and photo albums aren't the only places to include pictures. Sometimes a good photograph can tell more of the story than any of your words ever could. Make sure to include pictures!!

Messages. I make the assumption my children will read my journal so there are times I write a literal message directly to them. Often I include this after I have related an experience about them or something that I believe will help them. As a parent, I know some of their weaknesses and at times I get a glimpse of something I believe will be a trial for them later in life so I address this in my journal. I tell my kids how proud of them I am and try to highlight things that I believe will help their self-esteem and self-worth. Seeing my name in my grandmother's journal was neat, even though it was just to say I came to visit. How I would have treasured to be able to see (or read) what her feelings were for me. How did I make her proud? What advice would she have liked to have given me? A personalized message for your posterity is a gift they will treasure forever!

The pen can leave wounds deeper than a sword. I know a woman who went through her hand-written journals and type them up, omitting anything she thought her children might be hurt by. Evidently she was extremely honest and laid her thoughts out on the table, so to speak. Life happens, children make mistakes, we get frustrated, things get sticky. These moments should not be excluded from the journal to spare someone's feelings any more than we should omit the name of the perpetrator (unless the offense is a private one then by all means, omit the name). Really, everyone reading your journal will be well acquainted with someone's not so shiny behavior and by leaving out their name are we really sparing anyone? Leave in the name but take care as you share the information not to be mean or vindictive. Express sorrow over their actions and your pain and grief but make sure, if they ever triumph (which hopefully they all will) to express your pride in their ability to conquer their demons. Simply put, tell the story, but take care not to do it in a way that will hurt someone because at this point, your words have great power and you don't want that power to destroy anyone; especially since you won't be around to mend the damage.

The End!
Journals give us an opportunity to speak from the grave. Why not take advantage of that? Why not tell those we love the things that perhaps weren't appropriate to be uttered vocally at the time but were best written down after we are gone and our life has taken on new meaning to those we love?

The good, the bad, and the ugly should all be included in our journal but one thing should stand out above and beyond anything else and that is our relationship with the Savior. If we truly have a testimony of this gospel and we truly believe in the Plan of Salvation than we should make sure that our journals reflect our relationship with our Savior and our love for Him. We should make sure we use this sacred and special opportunity to let the Spirit bear witness to our posterity of the truthfulness of the Gospel and witness to them that Jesus Christ is our Savior and our Redeemer and the author of our Salvation.

Anyone else have ideas for Stephonie?


  1. One thing I started journaling lately is "the best part of the day". This is two fold. One, I'm always looking for the neatest, most inspirational, exciting, fun or touching experiences. That means I'm more optimistic and focused. Two, when I sit down to record that favorite part of the day, suddenly all the highlights come running back and I feel completely blessed.

    Good or engaging writing is all about passion. Write about things that pull at your emotions, and your readers will feel it too.

  2. My big piece of advice is to use your own voice. As much as possible, just write the way you talk. I had a friend in high school who read all my journals at Girls Camp (they were all about people and dramas she was familiar with!) and she would just laugh sometimes, saying, "This sounds just like you!!" I want my kids to be able to *hear* my voice in my writing.

    The other thing, is that sometimes it's okay to write about nothing or to write in a silly, fun way. One journal entry from high school ended in me going on for quite awhile about how I had tried to kill an ant that was walking along the floor and it just wouldn't die! It cracks me up when I read it now. In another one I had been reading a few too many Jane Austen novels and I decided to launch into some lyrical prose about waiting for a boy that I liked to call me.

    I think that the most important thing is to just BE YOURSELF in your journal. Info is good, but YOU is best. :-) Also, I now use ldsjournal to keep my journal and it's AWESOME because it sends me reminders and I can even upload my photos to go along with my journal entries. You can later (affordably) print out your entries (and photos!) into a hardback book. I do kind of miss the personal touch of the pen to paper, but as a busy mom, I've realized that I need the ease and convenience of the computer, otherwise I might never journal at all! :-)

  3. This is absolutely perfect!!!
    So many of these things I didn't even consider.
    I appreciate you taking the time to write such a marvelous post! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!



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