I fell in love with the work of Joan Didion many years ago. It was in her book, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, that I discovered validation in the essay "On Keeping a Notebook." That essay resonated with me then, just as much as it resonates with me today. My compulsion to keep a notebook with me at all times has been with me for as long as I can recall, and I think everyone would be better off, if he or she had a notebook. So often, a friend or acquaintance will tell me of some challenge or problem or issue, hashing it out with me or perhaps I am just there and they are really hashing it out with themselves. I always think he or she would be so much better of if they would write it all out, so they could see what it was, process it. Once you put it out there, pour it onto the page, it can no longer have the same hold on you. It changes everything. Once you put it on paper, you can lord over it, instead of it lording over you. You can own it. You can shape it. You are, at once, empowered and emboldened. All this with the stroke of a pen. 

  • Choose a notebook that you like. I use a style called a traveler's notebook by Traveler's Company. It's big enough to carry everything I need and small enough to take everywhere with me. For some people, it would be too big. For others it would be too small. But it works just right for me. Find what works for you. 
  • Make time to engage in personal writing, at least once a day. Try to write for just 10 - 15 minutes. You may find that that times works well for you, or you may find that you enjoy writing for longer. Whatever your time permits and whatever you need is quite personal, but setting aside the same time every day can help you create a practice that you will find beneficial in many ways.  
  • Be brave in your notebook. No one is going to see it but you. You can say what you want to say, how you wish to say it. You are free. It is your private space. Your sanctuary. 
  • Don't only complain in your notebook. If you do that, you will begin to associate it with negative feelings. It's find to use it as a place to ease frustration, but do add joyful things. Add photos of people you love, great quotes or words, memories, and memories. Write about good times, as often as you write about bad times. 
  • Write about the things for which you are grateful. You don't have to have a dedicated gratitude journal. You can use a general notebook and in it, write the things for which you are grateful, at least once a week. 
“It all comes back. Perhaps it is difficult to see the value in having one’s self back in that kind of mood, but I do see it; I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were. I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be; one of them, a seventeen-year-old, presents little threat, although it would be of some interest to me to know again what it feels like to sit on a river levee drinking vodka-and-orange-juice and listening to Les Paul and Mary Ford and their echoes sing “How High the Moon” on the car radio. (You see I still have the scenes, but I no longer perceive myself among those present, no longer could ever improvise the dialogue.) The other one, a twenty-three-year-old, bothers me more. She was always a good deal of trouble, and I suspect she will reappear when I least want to see her, skirts too long, shy to the point of aggravation, always the injured party, full of recriminations and little hurts and stories I do not want to hear again, at once saddening me and angering me with her vulnerability and ignorance, an apparition all the more insistent for being so long banished.
It is a good idea, then, to keep in touch, and I suppose that keeping in touch is what notebooks are all about. And we are all on our own when it comes to keeping those lines open to ourselves: your notebook will never help me, nor mine you.”
— Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem