Opinions, Column

The Imperfect Perfection of Journaling

In my head, I used to imagine that the girl who journals is the girl who has everything figured out. She wakes up early to meticulously jot down to-do lists. Each page of her leather-bound notebook is dotted with delicately scribbled flowers and headings written with perfect penmanship. As much as I have always wanted to be this girl, she simply isn’t me.

Anyone who knows me would tell you that organization is certainly not absent from my life. But despite my incredibly intentional habits, my thoughts are a jumbled, never-ending stream of chaotic consciousness. And so too is my writing process. 

Most of my writing starts out as a confusing list of sentences and key words. I then make an outline, inserting bits and pieces of the list into each paragraph before adding additional prose. I edit draft after draft written in this fashion until I am able to finally articulate my point exactly as I imagined. Although my writing may start out as a collision of seemingly disconnected ideas, the editing process allows me to meticulously arrange my thoughts into a cohesive piece that reflects the order I try to maintain in my life. 

So, you might expect someone who puts such time and effort into their words to jump at the opportunity to journal. But it just never came naturally to me and, even after trying for years on end, I could never figure out why. 

Now, I have finally realized the problem wasn’t that I had nothing to write about. It was that I compared myself to prolific writers, even in my personal work. The whole idea behind journaling, at least in my understanding, is that it’s supposed to create an environment free from expectations. A journal entry is like the first draft of an essay that never gets edited. The idea of leaving my thoughts in their pure, unfiltered initial state seemed so foreign to me. 

And yet, despite my inability to commit to journaling in the past, I decided I would try again this year. So, on Jan. 1, 2023, I picked up the notebook that had sat blank in my bedroom for nearly a year and started writing about anything and everything that came to mind. I set no expectations, had no rules, and made no plans for how to tweak my words to convey some perfectly crafted message. 

Journaling, once the pressure of perfection was off, came with a sense of security—nobody would have the ability to judge my thoughts. As my pen danced freely across the page, I realized that my entries didn’t have to be written like novels. They were simply a place to displace my thoughts to paper, hoping to gain clarity. Unlike essays or opinion columns, I was the only person who could judge my own writing. In realizing this, I began to learn how to be less critical of myself. I knew I could write an introspective examination of my future goals or a list of words I find beautiful and it would make no difference to anyone but me. I gave myself the freedom to write anything I wanted, and I loved it.

I’m not saying that journaling has become a daily habit, but I now know that it is always there when I need to step away from my seemingly endless list of assignments. Journaling has helped me find freedom in writing and limit the rules I place on myself. So, as sappy as this pitch might sound, I encourage everyone to try writing—even just a few sentences about a lingering fear or something that fills you with joy. Give it a chance and see if it helps you better understand yourself. 

If you decide to take my recommendation, I suggest you take a step back from your typical world and give yourself the space to be free from distractions. Go get a cup of tea, queue up your favorite Gracie Abrams song, and put pen to paper. Empty the thoughts that plague your mind. Write about your deepest desires and delusions. Sometimes writing out your thoughts makes you more attuned to the ones you’ve been ignoring. 

I have learned that the girl who journals is far from perfect. She writes to clear her mind and she has no intention of manufacturing her life into something it isn’t. Her sentences don’t always flow together beautifully, but they’re honest and meaningful to her. She’s learning to accept imperfection because it’s what makes us human. This is the girl I am now trying to be, and I invite you to join me, one page at a time.

April 15, 2023