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Does this Count as a Journal?

Journaling sounds like an activity free of the self-criticism and doubts that seem to flood other aspects of writing. Perhaps this is the case, but I’ve still found myself struggling with the question of what makes a proper writing journal.

I have a stack of notebooks, all bought with the intention of being my first journal. Each one I’ve finished is full of random quotes, miscellaneous observations, usually a few tea stains, and pages of ideas that likely won’t go anywhere. Is that really what a journal is supposed to be? How have the pages I’ve filled with movie quotes, disagreements with friends, or favorite recipes helped my writing ability? If that is all a journal is then, what’s the point? Seeing as I just wrote “Can this Count as a Journal?” on the cover of my latest notebook, it’s clear I still have yet to find the answers to these questions.

Maybe journaling is simply a foundation to begin a writing habit. But does that mean I need to fill each page with the best prose I can think up or the most creative writing prompts I can find online? What about those random story ideas that always seem to come at the most inconvenient of times? Is a journal too sacred to hold those often absurd thoughts?

Perhaps a proper journal lies closer to what a diary is. Maybe it’s strictly a place to share my deepest secrets, daily annoyances, current stressors, or recent heartbreaks. If the whole point is to take the time to write, then a four-page rant about uncle must be seen as a successful entry. Still, I could have spent that time adding to a short story I’m trying to finish. Besides, whenever I try to record the events of my life, I just make everything up. There goes the idea of a journal being a reliable way to look back on my past.

I have been trying and failing to write a proper journal since the age of five. Maybe this is because I have been trying to write a proper journal. I think the truth is that a journal can be whatever a writer wants it to be. For some, it may be a collection of their secrets and for others, it could it could be pages of nonsensical ideas. Like the first draft of a new story, a journal is a place where an author’s imagination is free to roam the pages without restriction. Perhaps my only problem with journaling has been failing to see that I’m already doing it.