Just Write Something: Eight Years of Journaling

-written by Hearth Founder, Miranda Aisling

I wrote my first journal entry on February 3, 2001 in a Lisa Frank journal with penguins hugging on the cover. It is boring and short and full of spelling mistakes, but at the end of it I wrote: “I’m bord. I think I’m going to wrighte a book,  I think right now bye Diary.”

This is perhaps my favorite line out of any of my writing because it so perfectly captures the seven-year-old spirit, the immediacy that is harder and harder to hold on to as we move out of childhood.

It took me six years to fill that first journal, but I kept at it. I would lose it for months at a time as I was shuffled back and forth between my parents houses only to rediscover it and write fervently for a few nights in a row. But I still remember completing that book, watching as the last page crept closer and closer under my scribbling hand. The moment of completion became a drug for me, the strongest of rewards in my life of endless ideas and projects.

So I bought my next journal, or rather my mother bought me my next journal, a nice sensible black leather book that suited my purposefully sensible middle school self. I began to write more and more frequently until, on March 22, 2008, I made the shift and I began to write every single night.

Two days ago marked my eighth year of daily journaling: 2,120 days of my life lined up on a shelf in 28 books. These numbers baffle me, as does their slowly marching growth. They continue to build, a night at a time, towards what in all likelihood will be some very annoyed children and a large recycling bin. I rarely re-read them or look back for words of wisdom from my younger self. I doubt anyone will take the time to do so, although a not-so-secret part of me hopes that some obsessive psychoanalyst or historian picks me apart in 100 years. It makes me wonder how long it would take to read a lifetime.

Journals

This week I finally began reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, as anyone who has been in my vicinity knows given my desire to shove anything that inspires me into the face of anyone nearby. In it she describes how, as a sixteen year old, she “vowed to the universe that [she] would write forever, regardless of the result” and how she “even kept those vows through the chaos of [her] twenties–a time when [she] was shamefully irresponsible in every other imaginable way.”

As I read this, I found myself regrettably remembering how much I used to write. I did NaNoWriMo for the first time when I was thirteen, producing a series of five terrible novels over the following years. I slaved over worlds, embedding myself in fictional places and people with a bottomless devotion that would stretch on for years. But as I shifted focus from my education to my profession, not that education is something that ever actually ends, the time for world building dropped away. I needed to narrow, to specify, to dedicate myself. I put community first and painting second. I saved some time for my songs and put the fiction on the shelf. My dream of being a published author, tabled for another life.

Of course, I continued to write, but it was utilitarian writing. My master’s thesis, Don’t Make Art, Just Make Something; my blog posts; my journal entries (there’s no hyperlink for those, thankfully). I brought my world building skills from my books into my reality and began constructing a community and a space for that community to grow. Through this community I met true writers, fantastically talented published authors like Marika McCoola and Camille DeAngelis, who are doing the work and walking the talk, skilled, practiced women bashing their way through the ups and downs of the publishing world to get their words heard. I unconsciously drew a line in the proverbial sand with them on one side, the writers, and me on the other, a non-writer.

But tonight as I curled in a chair in the beautiful wood-paneled Concord Public Library and blew through the pages of Gilbert’s book, I realized how foolish I was to be jealous of her daily writing efforts as a twenty-something. Because what have I been doing for the past eight years but writing? And I have 28 books to prove it, damn it.

I looked down and for the first time I saw the line that I’d drawn, so stark and impenetrable. As soon as I saw it, I laughed and I stepped over it with a startling ease and sense of released tension. This has happened quite a few times in my life, when someone’s words or images have jarred me out of my carefully constructed world, exposing it for me to reconsider and rewrite. Only three years ago, I wrote the following in Don’t Make Art, Just Make Something about my journaling habit:

I only write a page each night and usually it feels like I’m not adding anything.  But over the course of five years that’s become a lot of pages.  And since I’ve already written that much in my journals, I knew I could fill the hundred pages of this book by applying the same habit: just write something every night.”

As Gilbert explains in Big Magic, the best writers aren’t writing for other people, they’re writing for themselves. To work through something, to create something, to experience something. And that’s exactly what I did in my book, writing down the advice that I needed to hear. Well apparently tonight I needed to hear it again so that I could step over my own line and reclaim myself as a writer even if, at this point in my life, the outcome of said writing is a row of increasingly dusty journals.

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