Writing a journal can be a like a map of your life - Ian McMillan

Right then, open up the new journal you got for Christmas and let’s see if we can make some marks in it.

A journal is helpful for anyone who enjoys writing.
A journal is helpful for anyone who enjoys writing.

When I say ‘journal’, it’s more of a notebook, but a journal feels like something a writer might have.

My journal. My travel journal. My writing journal. Notebook, although it’s a word I quite like, feels like a journal in a minor key, unlike the symphonic sound of a real journal. Hey: ‘a notebook feels like a journal in a minor key’. That’s not a bad line. I’ll jot it down in my journal.

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It’s such a resonant line that I might put it on its own page at the start of the journal, like those epigraphs you see at the beginning of a novel. There: I’ll write it in my best writing (which isn’t saying much) here. The page is printed, as Ted Hughes wrote in The Thought Fox.

Now I’ll write the date at the top of the next page. January 2nd 2021. How did we ever get to this year? It still feels a little bit like it’s so far in the future that it’s almost unimaginable, even though we’re already here.

My idea is that I’ll write something in my journal every day: it’ll get my creative juices flowing to set me up for the day’s work, and in years to come I’ll be able to look back at the journals and learn things about myself and maybe about the world around me because as well as writing things each day I plan to save things to stick on the pages.

I’m thinking of things like receipts or bus tickets or bits of leaves or drawings. Then the journal can be completely personal to me. Except that I didn’t write in it yesterday. Well, I forgot.

Yes, but critics might say that what I’m describing there isn’t a journal at all. It’s a diary, because I’m writing in it every day, or nearly every day, or it’s what the Victorians used to call a Commonplace Book, a kind of super-scrapbook for grown-ups that ends up being a kind of ephemeral map of your life. Well, this is neither of these things: it’s a journal. So there.

I think, at the age of 64, I’m entering a second adolescence because when I was a teenager I wanted a journal for my birthday and my mother and dad bought me a lovely hardback one but then spoiled it (and when things are spoiled for a teenager they’re really spoiled) by saying ‘Here’s that notebook you asked for’ and I went into a monumental sulk which wasn’t helped by the fact that my voice was breaking so that when I whined ‘I didn’t want a notebook, I wanted a journal!’ it sounded like somebody playing a set of out-of-tune bagpipes.

But now I have my journal. I’ve written a meaningful sentence on the title page. I’ve written the date at the top of the page. I’m ready. I’ve got my journal and I’m happy. Now all I need is for something to happen…