Home > Uncategorized > Journaling: Linear Notes to Tame a Circular Mind

Journaling: Linear Notes to Tame a Circular Mind

I got stuck in the mire again.   The other day I wrote my first entry in my journal in well over a year, and remembered in a rush just how satisfying this form of venting is.  So I thought, “this will be an easy blog topic!”  I figure many, if not most, writers have journaled at some point in their lives, and I’ve kept a fairly continuous diary going since 6th grade.  But I forgot that it’s inherently personal, which makes it hard to talk about.  And, of course,  my research took me on a distracting side trip down memory lane.  Finally, I got mired in a bog of metacognition–thinking about thinking.  So three weeks after my last post, I’m only just now pulling this one together.

I’ve been self aware for as long as I can remember.  Keeping a written log where I talk to myself was a natural extension of the mental process I do every day.  And I find it to be extremely therapeutic; I recommend it to anyone who’s struggling with issues in their life or who just wants to feel better about things in general.  I’m thinking of how during my most difficult times, I scribbled out my fears and frustrations, and sometimes stained the finished product with tears.  I always felt better after such episodes.  And, amazingly, looking back I can see that the most unhappy journal entries usually end with a logical conclusion or plan.  I believe that keeping my journal kept me sane–kept me being me–throughout all the phases of my life. 

My very first journal was the kind of small book typically given to a girl as her first diary.  Before filling all the pages in there, I moved up to a much better size book, about 8″ x 5,” covered in cordoroy, and completely filled it during my high school years.  (I cannot claim to have been always a deep thinker; I have the book to prove just how silly I actually was.)  My best journal ever was an empty ledger my mom brought me home from work, which I wrote in through my college years and my 20’s.  I think bigger paper encouraged me to think bigger thoughts.  Regardless, I know I loved writing in that big book, and found plenty of time to do so, even while going to college and grad school, getting married, working at my first full-time job in my chosen profession, and taking care of a baby while working part time.  I filled that book too–all 300 large pages of it, including both sides of the end paper and part of the back cover.

The latest few years have been a more peaceful time in my life, as I’ve grown somewhat in wisdom and confidence, at least in my role as mother, which was for many years my primary source of anxiety.  For 10 years after my first child was born, I journaled regularly, and sometimes daily during particularly rough patches.  Those entries were often interrupted in the middle of my stream of thought.  I’d return only to forget what my point was.  Now, however, my life seems to have settled into a fairly easy routine with little drama or indecision to work through.  I guess I’ve felt less need to vent this way, choosing to instead work out any anxiety through other means, such as exercise, music, or conversations with my husband.  Over this period of time, my journal became at turns a house hunting journal, a weight loss journal, and a party planning journal.  Finally, it fell almost completely by the wayside. 

Since embarking on blogging last year, I’ve had difficulty getting a momentum going.  To jumpstart my progress, I took time out a few weeks ago to clarify my writing goals.  Why was I wanting to do this?  I noted how I usually have all these thoughts knocking around inside my head while I go about my daily routine, how I’d like to round them up and put them in order.  But I have no tangible record of most of them.  At best I will have a sentence or two written down somewhere, sometimes a paragraph, but they are all disjointed, and there’s no narrative flow.  I suspect that resuming my journaling habit will be helpful in this regard.  Talking to myself and making my thoughts real on paper is a way of putting everything in order.  It can act as a mental filter, too, between what I think and what I choose to share.  There’s no issue of writer’s block when you’re journaling for yourself.  When I sat down with my composition notebook last week, I easily filled six pages.

One challenge in my writing has always been non-linear thinking.  When I was in college, my notes were littered with arrows and thought bubbles and marginal anecdotes–highlighting the relationships between various ideas.  When writing a paper, my usual method was to gather all my relevant quotes and observations I obtained from my research, put them all into a document, including my argument and ideas, and then spend hours cutting and pasting,  often moving entire paragraphs around, rewording awkward sentence structure, until everything finally fit neatly together.  It was a lot like completing a puzzle.  And, eureka!, the conclusion usually came as an epiphany.  I find I write the same way now.  I will start out having an idea that I know is relevant and worth sharing, but I’m not sure exactly how or why until I’ve reached the end of the process.

My mental filing cabinet probably looks a little like my physical filing system.  As a small example, I have saved in  the bottom middle drawer of my dresser an idea scrawled in blue crayon in the margins of the instruction manual to my old Hoover Windtunnel, an appliance I no longer own.  I wrote this during a sudden brainstorm I had with no pen or paper handy.  Later, I stuck this manual with its possibly valuable idea in the drawer, where it’s been now for several years–and I’m not about to move it any time soon.   In fact, I have lost many an item by attempting to file it someplace seemingly safe and logical.  Nope, that bottom drawer is its home for now.  Thinking about this now, it makes sense to me.  The thoughts I had then and the emotions I associate with them have been moved to a bottom drawer in my subconscious–not to be thrown away, but also not a priority at this time.

Now take this bottom drawer illustration and multiply it by at least a thousand, and you can perhaps understand my difficulty.  Everything has layers of meaning.  I imagine the inner workings of my brain look pretty convoluted.  I have all these tangled lines of thought that start clear and then trail maddenlingly off into limbo.  I believe now that journaling will help bring these ideas eventually to logical conclusions. 

And the best thoughts–the ones of which I’m most proud–I’ll share with you here.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. March 28, 2011 at 6:43 pm

    Ah Chris, I so enjoy reading your notes.

    I have been a note person and a fragmented journal writer off and on all my life too, but not nearly as organized as I wish I had been, or as much as you are, though you think you’re not.
    I tend to write on anything handy when I have a thought, then can’t find it later in the morass of paper around my desk. Sometimes when I run across a note – mostly on the edge of anything that was handy, like that manual of yours – I can’t remember why I wrote it or what my plan might have been.

    After all these many years of completely undisciplined writing I get the notion to record all those fragments in SOMETHING, and have started numerous notebooks, sketchbooks in which I plan to write and draw ideas and thoughts, pretty books with unlined paper and the like. When I begin, I flood the pages with words and plans to do more, spending much more time than was practical – but then I don’t. My writing sometimes was venting, or was too emotional and too personal, I think. Even as a teenager, but also in these older years I was fearful of someone, at some point, reading those venting thoughts that were pertinent to the moment but were not so at a later, calmer time, so I got rid many of my writings. That was good for the most part, I think, because when I was in a better place reading those thoughts again took me back there. I have big regrets about burning my high school diaries though, as I’m sure they would be fun to read, even enlightening now – but gone they are.

    Once again, you inspire me. Thanks!

    • March 28, 2011 at 9:16 pm

      Hi Mom, thanks for commenting! Though my thoughts are mostly uninhibited in my journals, I’ve always been aware of the possibility of them being read someday. So, though they’re definitely my private thoughts and not intended for anything other than my own viewing, I do try to avoid saying things that would be hurtful to anyone. At those rare times when I’ve vented on issues I’ve had with people, I don’t name names, even though I don’t expect the people I’ve mentioned to ever read them. As for what I’ll do with these journals in the future, I haven’t a clue right now, though I don’t see any reason to destroy them. Maybe I’ll use them as source material for making a memoir to give to my kids.

      Btw, your memoir would be most valuable to your kids and grandkids. You should try your hand at making one! While your high school journals are gone, I bet many of your memories are still there. Of course, you’d have to find the time, and I know you always have many projects going.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting!

  2. March 28, 2011 at 11:24 pm

    Thanks for a fascinating look at your thought process! While many computer programs exist to mind-map, none seem to to what cutting and rearranging actual pieces of paper on the floor seem to do. I love to type and don’t care to physically write, but rearranging and editing is still simpler on the floor or at the table with all the parts in front of me, ready to move at my whim.

    Thank goodness for the best thought processor I’ve yet to find — writing. Glad to read your work.

    • March 29, 2011 at 1:21 am

      Thanks, Sarah! I had forgotten that I often used to physically cut up my work and move it around on the floor or table. I’d be interested in checking out mind-mapping programs, if you’ve heard of any specific ones that are good. Yes, thank goodness I finally got this finished. This time I almost shut myself down completely with writing about not being able to write, lol.

  3. April 9, 2011 at 4:43 am

    Chris,
    For some reason unknown to me, I had stopped getting your feeds. I decided I would pop over and see if you had stopped posting. Lo and behold, you hadn’t stopped posting at all. I’m behind on my reading of your blogs and intend to get caught up. Love your writing, Chris!

    • April 10, 2011 at 4:19 am

      Thanks, Jackie! I’ve been so impressed with the pace you’ve kept up on your blog. Keep up the good work. Your writing is uplifting and inspirational (not to mention the fact that it always makes me hungry lol). Thanks again for reading. You’ve encouraged me to get moving on some ideas I have. Hopefully, I will get another post done tomorrow.

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