By Matt Baker
Consider this: you’re walking to class or work from your apartment, and you have an earth-shattering idea about curing the global poverty crisis. You’ve thought up an entire manifesto outlining your plan to increase taxes on the rich, save up that money, and then invest that money into infrastructure and free education projects for the jobless and underprivileged.
But suddenly a bus runs a red light. You’re in the middle of a crosswalk and have to book-it or else you’ll be smashed to bits. Of course you deftly avoid the bus, but when you compose yourself on the other side, you’ve forgotten everything.
You curse the bus and your forgetfulness. You wish you had recorded your thoughts as you thought them. If only you had a writing journal.
If this scenario (or one less hyperbolic) has happened to you before, then you should consider keeping your thoughts in a notebook.
We’ll call the notebook your personal writing journal. Aside from the types of revelations mentioned above, things like grocery lists, abstract thoughts, inspiring quotes, and even rough drafts of larger works can go in it. Anything you want to write down, write. This notebook is a place for you to collect your thoughts for future use.
So you’ve bought a notebook to write these disparate thoughts and drafts in, but what’s the big idea? Okay, you can remember that recipe or that inspirational quote from a political candidate, but what more can be gained from this process?
One reason you might want to journal—regardless of your major—is that you can catalog all of the moves you make relating to an assignment. If you have a log of what you’ve done, you’ll be able to reference certain information more easily than if you hadn’t written it down and had to find it again. For instance, if you’re conducting an experiment for a biology class, you can write down the steps you take, the items you use, and your findings so that you can refer back to them later.
And even if you aren’t in a science class, keeping track of the steps you take in other research papers while you’re actually researching will help save time later on. Imagine needing to write a 20-page capstone paper, and you have 50 articles to scan through and weed out. If you skim the articles and note the pertinent material in each, you’ll be able to refer back to them after you’ve read everything, and you’ll be able to narrow down which articles are the most important to your argument faster. You can write down specific quotes, and even use your journal to draft effective paraphrases or summaries. Even though you may already make marginal notes while reading, writing down useful information in your notebook will keep you organized by having everything in one place instead of scattered across multiple pages or PDF files.
You could consider journaling a prewriting exercise, but I tend to go a bit farther by writing the first drafts of shorter works in my journal. Then I transcribe them later into a digital format. By writing my thoughts down, I solidify them, but during the transcription process, I reread what I’ve written while typing. Because I get to reread like this, sometimes I’ll think of better ways to phrase things, or maybe I’ll discover a line or sentence that doesn’t work at all anymore.
What can be most helpful about journaling, however, is repetition. You’re constantly writing, so your brain forms a process—brainstorm, organize, and compose. This process is integral to becoming a better writer because we so often put off writing that when we finally decide to start, our heads are all jumbled. Therefore, journaling can free us of that anxiety by providing a space to develop our thoughts. When you continuously write, you train yourself to think efficiently. Forming, connecting, and organizing your ideas will become easier, and you will spend less time overwhelmed.
Remember, writing is never simple. It’s an involved process that requires you to critically think about a subject and articulate your thoughts. If you discipline yourself to write often, you’ll stress less. When you have less anxiety, you’ll be more healthy. Even though college tests us to our limits, writing doesn’t have to be one of the things that destroys us. And if you do feel overwhelmed, you can write about it in your journal.