When my first daughter was born, I wanted to make sure she was eating and sleeping enough, so I jotted down every single feeding and naptime in a list I kept in a composition notebook. Then on the bottom, I wrote one small paragraph each night about what we did that day. It took 10 minutes and it became a ritual that I kept going with my next two children. Now, when I look back on those small entries (each in a black and white notebook!), I smile recalling the places we went, the times we spent with loved ones, and even the times my kids got sick or wouldn’t sleep. It was by no means stellar writing. Through bleary eyes, I chronicled much of it, but each account holds a special, and otherwise forgotten, memory.
Similarly, when I have experienced sad events, I have always had to write about them as a means to make sense of it all. I needed to get those feelings out in order to process them, even though no one was reading them.
Journaling isn’t only for moms or teens; it is for everyone. Whether we are recounting special events or walking ourselves through painful events, getting the words out on paper is liberating. Here’s how to get started:
Get supplies: A shiny new journal is fabulous, but you don’t have to shell out $25-plus at Barnes and Noble. All you need is a notebook and a pen. And if you prefer today’s technology, you can keep a Word Doc on your desktop and add to it daily. Don’t have your computer? Open up Notes on your phone and type away.
Set a regular time: All you need is 15 minutes. If you are a night owl, write before bed. If you’re an early riser, do it first thing in the morning. The key is to make it a ritual. This will also prevent you from putting it off until you have a good idea.
Just start: You don’t need to wait for the perfect anecdote or experience. It’s not Facebook and you don’t need to only highlight the picture-perfect moments. In fact, you shouldn’t. A journal should be your truth. Write about your normal. I often go back and find small sentences, like something my uncle said about one of the kids. He is now deceased and reading about what he said or did brings me great comfort.
Make it a game: Sit down with your kids and write for 15 minutes. This not only reinforces writing and spelling skills, but it teaches children that it’s a positive thing to write to get their feelings out. You can model how to do that by writing about something that has made you sad or angry and share your story. Of course, you only share what is appropriate. They can also list goals, fears, aspirations, dreams, or whatever you or you child dream up, which is part of the appeal.
Journaling can be one of the most cathartic ways to push through pain. It can also serve as a record of your life, and become a creative endeavor that preserves memories for a lifetime.
Danielle Sullivan is a writer living in New York City. Follow her on Instagram @Deewrite.