In May 2018, I stumbled upon Buster Benson’s site, where he discusses the Morning Pages idea and journaling for 750 words. The key idea is that you journal every day, and must write (at least) 750 words, or around 3 pages. I’d been journaling on and off in a paper journal for a year at that point, generally maxing out at one or two entries a month. Trying to bring a little more rigour to my approach was appealing, so I figured I’d give it a go for a week and see what happens. Two and a half years later, I’m still going strong. 1000 days in, here are my thoughts on what it’s done for me, what I (vaguely) expected to get out of it, and what I’ve learned:
It’s made structuring my thoughts far easier
Given that I’ve been at this for the past few years, it’s hard to untangle what’s come about through age and maturity, and what’s a result of journaling. Either way, I generally find it easier to grasp onto vague ideas in my head and knead them into something solid and structured. It’s made thinking through ideas easier and generally made me less afraid of sticking with a thought and following it through. That being said, if I have an internet connection I’ll feel the tug to distract myself when thinking about particularly uncomfortable thoughts.
Removed immediacy bias
Again, I’m not sure how much of this can be attributed to age and how much is journaling. When I find myself in certain moods (anxious, upset, angry), I’ll know that I’ve felt this way in the past. Being able to dig into exactly how I felt at the time helps put things into perspective. When feeling anxious, it’ll often feel like this feeling is going to last forever. I can look back and see that it doesn’t. In a similar vein, it lets me identify patterns in my behaviour. Justifications for my own behaviour. Combined with therapy over the past few years, it feels like it’s been easier to stay accountable to myself.
Getting out of my head
There’s something cathartic about taking the thoughts swirling around your head and getting them out onto a piece of paper or a screen. Much like saying something that you feel a sense of shame about out loud, it chips away (or in some cases, totally removes) the power that thing holds over you.
Things I’ve tried that haven’t really worked out
Weekly roundups, then monthly roundups
It just didn’t work for me. It just felt like work. I managed to stick with it for a few weeks, but it felt like it removed what I enjoyed about journaling, which is a brain dump and a chance to think through what’s in my head at the moment. I’m sure there’s a lot of value to doing roundups, but I just couldn’t stick with it.
Fleshing out a codex
This was part of the initial impetus for me to start this. It’d be an opportunity to flesh out thoughts about thoughts about all sorts of topics, and hopefully surface inconsistencies in my beliefs. I was ultimately hoping to end up with a ‘personal constitution’ that bubbled up from my beliefs. I didn’t really stick with it though. Much like blog posts (see below), it felt like it went against the spirit of the free form writing
Fleshing out blog posts
Again, another thing that didn’t really work out. I’ve not been able to determine whether or not that’s because I reel at the idea of writing blog posts, or if it challenged what I fundamentally got from the free form writing with no expectation or emphasis on readability/ cohesion. I expected that I’d get better at writing big chunks of polished text. But as I’ve had an emphasis on thinking and getting words down, intentionally steering away from editing and thinking too much about how it reads.
There’s not a whole lot. The time it takes me to write an entry is anywhere between 10-15 minutes and over an hour. There’s been plenty of times where I’ve gone to bed well past 2am because I’ve been procrastinating. There are times where I dread having to do it. But this is a double-edged sword. It has slowly pushed my behaviour towards getting up earlier and getting most of it done in the morning, reflecting on the day before. Assuming an average of 30 minutes per entry, that’s over 500 hours of journaling.
There’ll be times where I know exactly what I want to dig into. Usually, it’s something that I’m feeling particularly anxious, upset, or angry about. Sometimes it’ll be several hundred words of venting. More often than not, it’ll start off as venting, then once I’m out of steam, I’ll be able to take a step back and look at whatever’s rustling my feathers semi-objectively.
Other times I’ll have no idea what I want to dig into. I’ll start by letting my thoughts wander, writing sentences about whatever pops into my head until something feels right. It’s feeling around in the dark, but it works. The nice thing about the floor of the number of words being 750 is that it’s enough to stop me from just writing about my day and being done with it. I’d run out of steam around 300 words in, and still have another 450 to get through. That’s the real value for me.
Will I keep doing this? In the medium term, sure. I have a feeling that I’ll eventually stop, but I’m not sure what’ll be the cause of it. I suspect that I’ll miss a few days in a row, and the spell (and streak) will be broken. I don’t think I’ll ever look back at the time I spent on journaling as wasted.