When I was a boy I didn’t keep a journal because back then I didn’t know what a journal was, I knew what a diary was. Diaries were kept by girls, not boys in my mind. I thought about starting one and calling it a log book. Later I learned that another term was journal, but I still hesitated because even though I could call it a journal, I knew it was a diary.
Diaries were for spewing the innermost thoughts and secrets and feelings – something girls had in abundance – all the whispering and giggling in class was proof of that – but boys not so much.
I wanted to record the manly version of that stuff and clearly that was different. Little did I know how little difference there was. Ah the social constructs that were defined for us as kids.
How many years did I cheat myself out of useful insight by this silliness? Too many.
The most ridiculous part of this is that some of the most bad-ass diaries in existence were those kept by the men of the Shackleton expedition to Antarctica, including a year stuck on elephant island (a year!). Those men didn’t keep journals, they called them diaries. Even if they’d been pink and written in lavender ink in a pen with a furry ball on top they were still people who endured a life of unbelievable hardship, and managed to write about it.
What it’s called doesn’t matter. What matters is that you get started.
A few years ago we bought our new house in Kentucky. We looked at a lot of houses. It’s hard enough to find a new place in a region that is familiar, but in a new state it’s even more challenging.
I kept bringing a notebook thinking the notes would be helpful in making a good decision. I was wrong – the notes I kept didn’t help at all, but I later realized what I should have done and hope my experience can help someone else. Actually this would work for apartments, cars, boats or any other large purchase where you must balance wants and needs with available inventory.
This is a simple tip for those house hunting in a new area, or perhaps making a similar choice:
When you write down notes on each home focus on what you don’t like. Specifically the deal breaker items.
Yes, that sounds backward, but here’s the explanation:
We started with a list of “must haves:”
- Close to school
- Walkable to stores, or at least a park so the kids have some autonomy and wouldn’t drive us nuts needing rides everywhere
- All kid bedrooms on the same floor
- Room to park the truck in the garage
- Space for a shop
- Nice yard
And on and on and on.
The problem is that the perfect house doesn’t exist, and in the end the choice involves compromise. But it’s not clear what compromises have to be made until after you’ve seen a bunch of places and learn what is available.
Once we figured out the perfect house wasn’t available we decided to give up some items. As we gave up on those items we remembered that there were homes we liked but for those items. The trick was to find those houses to reconsider them. It’s impossible to do this when all that’s been recorded for each house is what we liked.
If I had kept a simple list of address, and reasons why we didn’t like it our search would have been easier.
- Your job is to document what’s happened, and how it affected you
- A good journal isn’t about revenge
- Stick to the facts
- Don’t accuse or speculate with the intent to accuse. Blaming others leads to a victim mentality. Yes, sometimes we are victimized, but wallowing in the mentality doesn’t help.
- No name calling
- Capture some detail
- Draw. Even a bad drawing is better than no drawing.
- Write what you can use – plans, lists, etc.
- Read your journal from time to time. If you don’t read it you won’t improve, and you won’t get a lot of the value it can provide. You also won’t learn what content is most valuable to you.
- Try not to write for the sake of writing, or for some kind of effect – journalling is not an effective way of getting attention, and all that stuff is annoying to wade through when you’re reading it later.
- Be honest about yourself. You are the primary audience, are you fooling yourself?
- You probably won’t appreciate the drama you write
- Don’t use an adjective unless you must. This is useful advice for all writing.
We all have moments when we just need to vent and poop all over the page. Fine, do it on a legal pad, fold the sheet and stick it in your journal. Look at it a month later and if you really think it’s got value leave it in there. Most of the time you’ll roll your eyes and toss it, and it’s gone.
Following these rules will give you a journal that has more value in the future with the added benefit of being less of a liability today.