By THOMAS MAKLED, Guest Writer
I spent most of my high school career and the first few years of college frustrated
with my writing. In high school, I thought I had a future studying English literature.
When I reached college, I decided on journalism. I knew I liked words and the
combinations of them that create stories, news articles, and investigative reports. I
could write papers with relative ease. But when it came to keeping a journal of my
own personal writing and thoughts, I was constantly drawing a blank.
I tried multiple times to start a journal, to write about my day, to write about
something significant outside of a school assignment or project, but it felt like I
had nothing worth saying. My pages were blank, and because of that, my mind felt
empty, too. Was I just incompetent? Unable to organize my thoughts enough to
write something original? Spacey? Did I have ADD?
I pondered all of these things, and gave up, frustrated, convinced I just wasn’t original enough to keep a journal.
So I stopped trying to write. I stopped trying to force my interest in language and
words into a college degree or a defined future. I dropped journalism and joined the
Environmental Studies program, something I knew I was really interested in. And
that’s when I began to write.
I’m not saying that dropping journalism made me a better writer or that the
Environmental Studies program is superior. I just realized that I was trying to define
my desire to write with a college degree related to it, rather than exploring an area
of my interest which I could eventually write about. I was looking for thoughts
worthy of some contrived concept of what my writing should be. I was filtering my
ideas to fit a mold. I didn’t know it, but that was holding me back.
As I progressed through college, felt out my interests, and developed more as a person, I began to
notice that sometimes I would have a thought seemingly out of the blue, and think,
“I should write that down.” We all have those moments. The trouble is, most of the
time, we ignore those fleeting windows of mental clarity and try to fit everything
into a schedule. No matter how robotic your daily movements are, how tight you
pack your planner, your mind does not run on a schedule.
So, I began to keep a journal with me, and I listened when those moments of clarity
came, writing whatever thought I had down, and continued with my day. I didn’t try
to judge my thoughts on importance, didn’t try to fit them into a box, I just followed
my instinct and wrote. When I had time later, the things I wrote down were in my
journal to return to.
The most important part of starting to write is to throw out any preconceptions
you have of what you should be writing. If you do that, you’ll begin to approach
writing as less of an assignment, and more of an exploration. Writing shouldn’t be
a task. You shouldn’t feel like you have a prompt to answer or a quota to fill. The
value of keeping a journal is having a place to go to whenever you like, where you
can explore your thoughts, slow down the swirling mass of repetitive phrases and
words that is our mental state and draw something worth keeping out of it. And
whenever you put a paper to pen and write down whatever comes out, you have
something worth keeping.
forcing us to divide our focus between multiple tasks at once, something that we’re not capable of doing effectively.
Spending some time, even just ten minutes a day, ignoring all other distractions
and having a conversation with yourself on paper will help you produce better quality thoughts,
reports, experiments, conversations, and relationships-better everything.
If you can spend 10 minutes with your thoughts, you’ll find yourself spending 10 minutes on other things
without trying to fill in all the gaps.
You know you look at your phone while a webpage is loading, check your email while a professor is setting up lecture,
Instagram your muffin while your coffee is heating…how about spending some of that “empty” space
with your thoughts rather than desperately looking for a filler?
On October 22, 1837, at the age of 20, the naturalist and writer Henry David
Thoreau wrote his first journal entry describing a question asked by his friend and
employer, literary legend Ralph Waldo Emerson: “‘What are you doing now?’ he
asked. ‘Do you keep a journal?’ So I make my first entry to-day.”
Writing has done more than I can describe adequately to help me develop as a
student, 20-something, and most importantly, as a human, and I believe it can have
the same effect on anyone. Spend some time each day throwing your thoughts down
on paper and see where they take you. When you have dry periods in which you feel
as if you have no thoughts worthy of paper, consider the simple question, “What’s on
my mind today?” and let the ink draw your thoughts out.
Thoreau spent the rest of his life writing down his observations and thoughts, much
to his benefit. So, what are you doing now? Do you keep a journal?