Writing a journal or diary has a long history. It’s taken many forms throughout the years, and diarists have developed tools that help get at the heart of the self.
Two of my favorites are cathartic writing and listing.
In cathartic writing, we write about something that evokes strong emotions – a memory or an event that happened to us. If we’ve experienced trauma, it’s a good idea to do this with the assistance of a therapist. But cathartic writing can help us get the emotion out of our heads and onto the page, where we can begin to work with it and make it something positive.
In listing, we make lists of related things. They might be lists of tasks to accomplish, or it might be lists of places we’ve lived – roommates, pets, apartments, etc. Listing can be a way to free associate – for example, start with coffee and make a list of all the beverages you can think of. Setting a timer for five minutes can help add structure to this exercise. Try listing things in your bedroom at home, if you’re away from home; or your office, if you’re at home. Use it to strengthen memory, by listing everything in your bedroom growing up at the age of five, then eight, then twelve.