My grandpa, Bill Hurst, was a journal writer his entire life. His journal was quite simple. He just kept a small notebook in the pocket of his pearl snap shirts and jotted down a short description of the things he did and the people he did it with. This is something he did pretty much every day for his entire life. He also kept extensive diaries of his time as a forest ranger in the Wasatch Range.
About 12 years ago, my grandpa took all these diaries and daily journal entries and began to write his memoir for his children and grandchildren. The finished product was a 500 page behemoth filled with stories from my grandfather’s life. Here’s just a few of the interesting things I learned from reading it:
- My grandpa met my grandma by hitting on her while she worked as a telephone operator.
- My grandpa helped pay for college by playing pool.
- He worked as a sheep herder during the summers in high school and college. He gives a very descriptive account on how castrating sheep is performed. He did it just like this.
- He has a scar from when he was hit by a car while racing his horse through the streets of his boyhood town. The horse died.
- As a boy, his family traveled by horse and buggy.
There’s more. Lots more. But while the stories are interesting, what I found more interesting was the commentary my grandpa gave on different events in his life. In these moments, he passed on some insights and lessons on what it means to be a man. My grandpa’s memoir is a treasure trove of knowledge and wisdom from a life well lived. By writing his memoir, he guaranteed that his legacy will live on indefinitely.
But his life story would have been but a few pages long had he not kept a journal.
There are a myriad of other benefits to keeping a daily journal besides remembering what you ate five years ago. So today’s task is to start the journaling habit.
Great Men Keep Journals
In studying the lives of great men, I’ve noticed a common trait: they were all consistent journal writers. Now, I’m not saying that their greatness is directly attributable to their journaling. I’m sure Captain Cook would still have been a bad ass even if he hadn’t kept a diary. But I figure, if great men like these thought it was important to keep a journal, maybe I should, too. Heck, if it weren’t for their journals, we probably wouldn’t know much about their great lives and deeds.
Here’s a short list of great men from history who kept journals:
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Thomas Jefferson
- Charles Darwin
- Benjamin Franklin
- Lewis and Clark
- Andrew Carnegie
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Captain Cook
- Winston Churchill
- Sir Edmund Hilary
- Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton
- Doogie Howser M.D
I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
Why Keep a Journal
Your children and grandchildren will want to read it. I know it’s hard to believe right now. Your life probably seems quite ordinary and of little interest to anyone else. And every generation believes that life will pretty much continue on like it is now. When your great-grandpa was kicking it in the 1920’s, he thought to himself, “Who would want to read about this new fangled radio or how I get my food out of an icebox? Phhht! That’s boring stuff!” But it’s not boring anymore; to this generation, such a peak at the olden days is fascinating. And so it is with you. When your grandkids are talking to people via hologram, they are going to be absolutely fascinated by your impressions of those ancient things like the alta vista and cell phones. And unfortunately, they’re not going to be curious about it until they get into their 20’s, realize you’re going to die, and start asking you questions.
Trust me, while you think that you’ll be able to remember everything just as clearly in the future, you won’t. Remember when you were a kid and you thought your experiences would be easily recalled at age 30? Now what do you remember from those days besides that time a dog bit you in the face?
As each year passes, the pixels of our memories burn out and the haze sets in. By age 80, you’ll only remember the faintest outlines of the big things that happened to you. But the stuff that’s really interesting is often the little, seemingly mundane details of life. What was a man’s daily routine like in 2009? Of course, the whipper snappers will ask you about the big stuff too: “Where were you when you found out about the attacks on the World Trade Center?” and “What did you think about the election of Barack Obama?” Your journals will give them the answers they’ll be looking for and will bring you closer.
And who knows? Maybe the whole world might be interested in your musings someday. You may not think so now, but how many famous men knew that they would be famous before they actually burst onto the scene? And how many men were ignored in their lifetime, only to be celebrated after their death?
It can bring you to your senses. Have you ever struggled with a choice, thought about it long and hard, made a decision, but then some time later started to regret it? Have you ever gotten into a rut from which you can’t seem to find a way out? A journal can aid you in these dilemmas. When you make a decision, you can write down all the reasons you have for coming to that conclusion. Then, after times passes, and you start doubting that choice, you can look back, remind yourself of why you made that decision in the first place, and feel reassured in pressing on. Or, it you’re in a depressed funk and don’t know how to extract yourself from it, you can look back through your journal to find the times when you were happiest. Old journal entries can help you rediscover the kind of changes you need to make to get your life back on track. Or you can look back at your journal and how you used to operate 5 years ago and think, “Damn! I never want to be that man again! What was I thinking?” A journal is basically a chance for your past self to lend counsel to your present self.
Finally, simply writing about your feelings and frustrations helps you focus on what’s really going on in your life and in your head, so that you can come up with a solution to your problems.
Journaling grants you immortality. Think of the billions of people who have and will perish from the earth without leaving a trace of themselves behind. They vanish into the ether, completely forgotten in the annals of history. A journal helps make you immortal. It is an tangible piece of evidence to leave behind that you were here! That you lived and loved! That there was such a person as Jared Matthews who lived in Austin, Texas who thought and breathed and died.
Journaling improves your health. Several studies have shown that writing about traumatic or stressful events and your deepest feelings and emotions boosts your emotional and physical health and sense of well-being. ((http://apt.rcpsych.org/cgi/content/full/11/5/338)) Especially as men, we often tend to keep things bottled up. Journaling provides a excellent outlet to let go of those things that are bothering or worrying us.
How to Journal
Pick a medium. If you’ve never journaled or if you have previously, but fell off the wagon, the first thing you need to decide is what kind of journal you’re going to keep. There are basically two different types of journal mediums: analog and digital.
Analog journals, the paper and pen variety, are what we traditionally think of when we think of journals. You can use something as basic as a spiral bound notebook and a Bic pen or something as fancy as a hand bound leather journal and a fountain pen. Just do what works for you.
With the advent of computers, many people have gone digital with their journaling. The digital world offers a plethora of options to record your daily happenings and thoughts. Here’s a list of possible desktop digital tools in which to keep your journal:
- Word Processor. Pretty basic. Just open up MS Word or OpenOffice Writer and start clickity clackin’ away.
- TextEditor/Notepad. Just open up the text editor for your operating system, call the file “journal.txt,” and start writing. Date each entry. If you’re using Notepad, here’s a nifty little hack to automatically insert the date into your journal entry.
- JDarkroom. JDarkroom is a free Java-based text editor. What makes it different from other text editors is that it takes up the entire screen for distraction free writing. I’ve used it before, and it’s actually pretty nice. It works on any platform.
- OneNote. Microsoft OneNote is a robust note taking program that can double as a journal. Just create a notebook within OneNote for your journal and start writing. With this program, you can easily drop photos and videos into your journal entries. OneNote is only available for Windows.
- Evernote. Evernote is pretty much like Microsoft OneNote except 1) it’s free, 2) it works on any platform, and 3) you can save and access entries on the internet easily, thus giving you access to your journal everyone you go. I don’t use Evernote for my journal, but I’ve use it on a daily basis for notes and would definitely recommend it.
The internet provides several options for you to store your journal in the “cloud” and even share it with other people. A few options:
- Blogspot. It’s free and it gives you the option of keeping your journal private or sharing it with a few people. In addition to writing text, you can easily include photos in your journal entries.
- LiveJournal. Pretty much the same as Blogspot. It’s free and you have the option of keeping it private or you can share with others.
- WordPress.com Out of all the blogging platforms, I prefer WordPress (it’s what we use for Art of Manliness). You can get a free wordpress.com blog and start a journal with it.
- Use Gmail as a journal. This is an interesting idea.
Schedule a time. Starting a journal is easy enough. Sticking to it on a daily basis is more difficult. If you want to make it a habit, just pick a time in your day for journal writing and make it a non-negotiable in your life. I like doing it at night right before I go to bed. It’s a good way to decompress and review the day’s events. But some people prefer writing in the morning or jotting down thoughts throughout the day. Just do what works for you.
Some days you might not have the energy or desire to write in your journal. On those days, just write something. It can be a sentence long. It can simply be, “I’m not in the mood to write.” Just keep your commitment.
One of the most memorable journal entries I’ve come across was written by TR on the day both his wife and mother died. Instead of spending several pages outlining his grief, this is all it said:
What to Write About
This is where a lot of people get hung up on with journaling. They feel like they don’t have anything to write about so they end up not writing at all. There are hundreds of books that give you “suggestions” of what to write about in your journal. Usually they’re cheesy and inane things like, “If you were a cloud, what shape would you be.”
Just write about your day. No need to get fancy with those cute little journal prompts. Some days might be pretty routine, but other days you might be feeling philosophical or have a problem that will require you to write more in-depth entries. Just write what comes naturally to you on that day.
And as we mentioned above, while you might think your life is boring, your great grand kids won’t. They’ll be just as fascinated about you driving a car that runs on gasoline as you are about your great grandpa driving a horse and buggy. If your life really is boring, perhaps keeping a journal will give you an incentive to take on more adventures so you have something to write about.
It’s time to get started. Your task today is to start a journal. Pick your medium and begin. If you already have a journal, but haven’t written in it in awhile, write an entry today. And if you’re one of those few consistent journalers out there, bully for you! Keep up the good work and use today’s journal entry to give yourself a pat on the back.
Tell us about what kind of journal you’ll be using and your journaling tips and stories on the Community page.
Last updated: October 20, 2010