Hello <<First name>>
This is what a year of someone's life looks like.
Last week I completed 365 days of writing a reflective journal every day. There were about five days in the last year or so I missed, because I was having too much fun or I was too sad to write.
Otherwise, I have written something every day for a whole year. So what's that like? Is it worth it?
Yes, of course. Of course it's worth it.
What's it like writing something every day for a whole year?
At the time of doing the writing, it often feels like - nothing. All you're doing is getting what's in your head out onto the page, and as the months rolled on that process became increasingly like a flow of consciousness. I wasn't really aware of what I was writing, at all.
In this article I wrote about getting to 90 consecutive days of reflective writing, I said:
"After a while, you stop thinking about it as a thing to be read and start thinking of it as a thing to be written."
The change isn't always obvious but instead of feeling self-aware while you're writing, you feel ... nothing. Just as you feel nothing when you are breathing normally, gazing into space or any of the other variety of things we do without any self-consciousness.
However, when you read back what you've written - that's when you begin to get the feels. That's when your consciousness kicks in.
Plenty of people, when I mention the reading back part of writing, immediately say "That must be so embarrassing!".
If you feel that, you are the person who needs to start writing today.
I was absolutely that person. Protecting myself against shame and future embarrassment was a high priority. It's still a lingering sensation, a presence I actively have to push against.
So yes, the read-back might on the surface feel a little embarrassing. Hell, the writing might occasionally feel embarrassing - some parts of my journal were written very small so I didn't have to clock what 'shameful' thing I was saying.
(Now I write everything big. And I don't miss out any juicy bits.)
But, rather than embarrassing, the read-back of the last year instead made me feel:
Most of all, the read-back made me feel grateful.
- Desperately sad in parts, where I see now I wasn't really listening to how I was feeling
- Angry, as I revisited old pain
- Joyous, when I read back good memories, good times with friends, private jokes, epiphanies and changes
- Proud of how far I had come, and how much more I was able to face my life through the writing process
It made me feel grateful I had recorded my life; that in those pages we lived, very immediately and viscerally. The people I love and care for and dislike and believe in live, right there on the page. Their faces and feelings are recorded.
In a moment in time and space, as stars burn up above us and tectonic plates continue their millennia-long journey below, in this transient nothing-ness, someone I know smiled and it was recorded and rather than be forgotten it can be read and remembered over and over again.
Will I ever tell them what I wrote about them?
Will I ever share that little relic?
Maybe, if they ask. Or maybe, if I think they need to know they are more than dancing dust in sunlight (although that's a pretty great thing to be too).
Maybe it'll bowl them over. Maybe they'll be surprised I thought they were worth noting down.
Maybe my journals will eventually become compost, or burn up in a terrible fire. Maybe they'll be preserved by the British Museum. Maybe they'll be the artefact that helps aliens piece together the language we spoke. Maybe they will sit on my shelf and be taken down when I want to read and remember over and over again.
Maybe I was too quick to say this writing is not "a thing to be read" but "a thing to be written."
It's not writing-to-be-read-by-others, sure. But it must become, eventually, writing-to-be-read-by-you, because that's when writing every day will change your life.
Last time I talked about beginning a thing. Writing every day is a good thing to begin. Here are some of the reasons people have given me as to why they don't begin to write a journal, and my answers.
- "Someone might find it and read it."
Yes, they might. They might find out you have feelings you're not sharing, ideas you're not confident in, a life you're holding back. A worthwhile person will see that and tell you to let it out in the real world. Anyone, and anything, else can fuck off.
- "I'm embarrassed to write it down."
A very good reason to do just that. See above, and point 3.
- "If I write it down, it makes it real."
Yes, it does. You have to read the thing and acknowledge it and feel that, ouch, ooh, argh, turns out there is some shit going on which I didn't want to look at. That is a good thing.
- "I have nothing to write about that's interesting."
You are interesting. Your life is interesting. I've written about spiritual epiphanies, yes, but also about a really good sandwich I had, midges in the sunshine, sitting in a cafe. Life is worth writing about.
- "I'll start when something happens."
Something is happening right now. Your life is happening, right now. The more you write, the more you will have to write about.
- "I've got terrible handwriting."
The idea that your style of handwriting has anything to do with the quality of your writing is instilled in school and it's bonkers. Your hand is your hand, and that's what makes it unique. Plus, if that's important to you, the more you write the better it will get.
- "I don't know how to start."
The first sentence you write will, undoubtedly, be something like 'My name is X and this is my new journal' or 'I've decided to start a journal' or 'I'm not sure how to start'. Get that first sentence out the way and you're already ahead.
- "I don't have a nice notebook."
Don't make me come over there.
I could put something in here to end this, like a quotation from an author or someone famous about writing. But you probably know most of them by now, and maybe they haven't 'worked' on you yet. I'll finish with this instead:
Writing about your life each day, your deep and surface life, is worth it.
Your life is worth it.
You are worth it.