quill pen on wooden deskI close my eyes and take a deep breath in. The smell of the fresh, thick parchment and the texture of the leather binding in my hand carry me away from my well-lit bedroom. I find myself in a dark room with a small, wooden writing desk and nothing but a kerosene lamp for light. The faint scratch of my quill is audible against the paper as I quickly transcribe the events that have transpired that day. I picture myself saying the events aloud in my head as I select each word with care and purpose.

My eyes fly open to begin writing, yet I’m faced with nothing … I’m back in my 21st-century room with a mechanical pen, staring at the empty page. I have no words.

A “book lover’s book”

I’ve always wanted to write a journal, a collection of daily entries encompassing all my raw, uncensored emotions.

When did I first became interested in composing a diary? I have no idea. The precise moment when that interest became a desire, however, I can pinpoint in the summer of 2011. Kate Morton’s well-crafted The Distant Hours (A “book lover’s book,” as I affectionately call it) had just been published and I couldn’t put it down.

As I sat, enraptured in Morton’s story, I came across a paragraph that would have more of an impact on my aspiration to record my life’s moments than I could’ve possibly imagined. It read,

No two people will ever see or feel things in the same way. … The challenge is to be truthful when you write. Don’t approximate. Don’t settle for the easiest combination of words. Go searching instead for those that explain exactly what you think. What you feel.

Although I can’t speak for its intention, the passage secured itself as a challenge in my mind. What I was writing about—good, bad, sad—didn’t matter, if I was able to express what it was I experienced and what I felt. This challenge has since made what should, theoretically, be a therapeutic pastime, slightly stressful.

There are several studies and professionals who stress the therapeutic or otherwise beneficial properties of keeping a journal. A journal can inspire creativity, reduce anxiety and act as a confidante, and many believe that it can even lead to moments of personal growth and acceptance.

Unfortunately, I have yet to experience any of these rewarding outcomes. Each time I attempt to record my thoughts or feelings about anything, I seem to lose all focus and lapse into an anxious state. I sit, for what feels like hours, trying to find the perfect combination of words to adequately describe how angry I was that someone cut me off in traffic or the tranquillity I feel as I drink my morning tea.

Although I’m aware that what I’m writing is for my eyes only, I can’t seem to get past the urge to write as if I have an audience hanging on to my every word. I want the ideas to flow and connect, but despite my efforts, organic feelings and random thoughts just don’t seem to work that way.

Most journals aren’t interesting

balled up paper and penThe problem, I’ve come to realize, is my love for romanticized readings of journals. In many of the “book lover’s books” that I adore, such as The Distant Hours, at least one or more of the characters are developed through a diary. The author describes their world with intrinsic detail and showcases how even the smallest instances can greatly affect their lives.

Every time I read a new novel of this genre, I become attached to the beautifully phrased prose which carries with it clarity and and a high degree of emotion. These journals provide me with the chance to travel through time and experience a moment in someone else’s life as if I was present.

My issue is my longing to express myself in a similar manner. I want my journal to be romantic in nature so that I, too, may relive moments of my own life.

If I were to ask a group of individuals, most would agree that this isn’t a true representation of what a journal is. Sure, there are moments of tender and eloquently phrased musings and description, but is every entry so articulately crafted? I would guess that the answer is “no.”

In the passages about feelings and experiences, most journals consist of uninteresting observances, personal beliefs and seemingly random spurts of creativity and nonsense. While its content may be deep, dark or inspiring, each diary itself is uncomplicated. Fancy words and perfect structure aren’t required to create a state of nostalgia.

A change of mindset

After considerable reflection, I’ve determined that I need to alter the mindset with which I approach the pastime of writing in a journal. I must switch from desiring to compose a journal to wanting to write a truthful representation of different elements of myself. Although I don’t believe I’ll ever settle for the easiest combination of words, I must uncomplicate the process and learn how to express myself simply.

Several beautifully crafted books and unique writing tools lie waiting for the moment that they can greedily soak up any ink I choose to introduce to the unmarked pages. My hope is that someday soon, I’ll find myself at my small, wooden writing desk with a kerosene lamp, diligently writing something that, whether romantic or not, will hold meaning to me.

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