Different Ways To Chronicle This Special Time!
Keeping memories close
When you were young, did you ever have one of those five-year diaries with a little lock and key? Mine was blue, with a gold lock. I wore the key on a chain around my neck. Despite the importance it took in my life, I never wrote much in it.
Unfortunately, those diaries have driven more people away from writing than they have ever helped. The tiny spaces they provide in which to record each day's events could kill the inspiration of even the most dedicated writer. Who wants to condense the immensity of life into such compact form? I sure didn't. I never kept one up, but I felt like a bad writer for years because I couldn't bring myself to write in it every day. In fact, I would tell people, "Oh, I am not much of a journal writer."
However, when I was recently unpacking from a move, I opened the box where I stored my journals, and I was amazed at how much I had written. I didn't write every day. I didn't record each day's events. I hardly recorded events at all. All were "unfinished." Yet, I had an important resource for me as a writer: years of journals written while I was on a trip, when I was in crisis, when I needed to work out something. I found that I had written when I needed to write, and stopped when I no longer needed the outlet. But for years I felt guilty that I wasn't doing it the way I "was supposed to." I felt like I was failing as writer because I didn't measure up to the standards set by that little five-year diary. Now I know that I don't need to......and neither do you.
No need for perfection
I have also learned not to lament that my journal looks nothing like Anne Lamott's Operating Instructions. When I started teaching journal writing classes to mothers, most of the women who signed up for my first class had read her classic journal about motherhood and were using it, consciously or unconsciously, as their model for their own journals. I quickly realized we had a problem. No one wanted to share anything because they were afraid it wasn't good enough.
When I talked about how no private journal, not even Anne Lamott's, goes directly to press without some editing, I would feel a lightening of the mood in the room. When I held up my own journal and showed the messy pages, the cross outs, the scribbles, the doodles, they actually started smiling. By the time I had them take a pen and scribble on the first pages of their nice, new journals, they were laughing. The pressure was off. It didn't have to be perfect. And neither does yours.
If you would like to start a journal about motherhood, I have some suggestions for you, but use them only if and when they suit you. There are no rules to this -- only helpful hints.
Considering journal writing styles and themes
I recommend keeping more than one journal. You can set them up by location: in the car, in the diaper bag, beside your bed, hidden in your dresser, on the computer, or even online (some moms are doing this on the message boards these days). Or you can keep different ones for different styles and themes. Or you can write in different formats for different journals. I have many different journals, and find that moving between journals helps me keep interested as well as insures I have one close by when I need it. Here are some possible styles and themes:
Recording events in your life
If you chose, you can keep a diary, a record of events in your life. However, if you only record the daily events, you may become bored with your diary and abandon it. If you feel the impulse to record life events, I recommend that you add a section in which you reflect on the day's events, where you discuss your reactions to these events, where you place those events in emotional, spiritual, and psychological context. You'll stay more interested, and the diary will become more of a journal.....a reflection on your life.
Travel writing with motherhood as the journey
Entering into motherhood involves learning to move through a new landscape, both exterior and interior. Like any pioneer entering into new territory, a travel journal can help you make sense of the new people, places, customs, food, and technology you encounter. Write your life as mother like a travel journal.
I've always written more when I travel than any other time. Travel breaks us away from our day to day routines and creates spaces in which we can write while we travel on planes, wait for trains, ride in cars, or sit in hotel rooms. To recreate those travel writing moments, I keep a portable journal in the glove compartment of my car. When my daughter falls asleep in the car, I drive to a scenic spot, park, and write. The car is a protected space: no dishes to do, no phones to answer, no laundry piling up. Here, I can write while I do the other important work of letting my daughter sleep. Give it a try!
Tracing spiritual development as you become a mother
Some mothers see themselves develop spiritually as they become mothers. Some return to long abandoned traditional religions. Some explore new, less traditional religious paths. Some embrace the power in images of mother goddesses, in Wicca, in nature. Some discover Zen and the art of nursing, childcare and household care. Some find the small mental spaces in the day -- while nursing, changing a diaper, sitting at a playground, driving a carpool -- ripe for meditation and reflection.
If you feel your spiritual life changed as a result of becoming a mother or if you want it to, then this style of journal might be for you. If so, write your spiritual journey, describing where motherhood is taking you. My challenges have been learning to feel the spaces between activities, to enjoy sitting still while nursing, to be able to find the zen of housework. Writing in my journal has helped me rediscover the value of meditation.
Writing your intellectual journey as a mother
In our culture of information overload, we can become confused by all the differing perspectives on parenting offered. This type of journal keeps track of what you learn and what you think about what you learn. For example, when you read a new parenting book, you can use the journal to summarize the main points, pull out quotes you want to remember, and reflect on what the book meant to you. When you attend a support group, parenting class or mother seminar, you can record what you felt was important in the information offered and then write your response to it.
When you have a discussion with another mother about motherhood, you can write about it, respond to it, reflect on it. In this manner, you chart your intellectual journey into motherhood, but most importantly, you process the information you are receiving. As I look back through the journal of my first year of motherhood, I see a lot of this going on as I tried to develop my own philosophies of mothering. Seeing my musings in writing helps me to see how much I have learned, and how much I still have to go.
Writing an observation journal as a mother
An observation journal can help you write more specifically by grounding your thoughts in real world details. The gaze in this journal is not focused inward but outward. You can go to a park, observe children playing, and write about it. You can sit and watch your baby play with a toy, and then describe what you see. You can go to a cafe and watch mothers interacting with children, and then reflect on what you've seen. An observation journal can also help you take textual "snapshots" of your child at different stages of development.
These snapshots can later be added to baby books, scrapbooks, or journals for your child. I keep my observation journal in my diaper bag so whenever I get a spare moment, I can describe what is around me. Often, I don't have enough time or energy while waiting at the doctor's office to write a poem, but I do have enough to describe the children playing on the floor in front of me. Later, I can reflect on my observations or use them to develop another piece of writing.
Writing an angst or anger journal
I keep an angst journal separate from my other journal that I hide in the deepest part of my underwear drawer. In this journal, I write all that I cannot say out loud. I rage about perceived injustices. I yell at my partner. I cry about what I have lost. I worry about my future, my child's future. I put my angst there, and after I finish writing it out, I feel cleansed, fresh, better able to face the day's challenges. If you can feel safe with a journal like this, write your feelings out! A good general rule: make sure everyone in your household agrees that journals are private spaces, so you can write without inhibitions. If this doesn't work for you, put your journal on the computer with a password or buy one with a lock. You have a right to a personal, private journal space.
Writing a body journal
In this style of journal, write about the changes in your body as you become a mother. You can describe yourself sitting in your rocker in the early stages of pregnancy, in the later stages of pregnancy, when nursing your child, when rocking your toddler to sleep, and when your child no longer sits on your lap. Same scene. Different time and body. Adoptive mothers can do the same. Even mothers who were never pregnant can experience significant changes in how they experience their bodies as they become mothers.
Describe yourself as you sit dreaming of the new child, then as you wait for word, then as you rock and feed your child. Either way, write from the body, describing your body and using the senses. As a person who stays too much in my head, I use this style to ground myself in my body, to write of and from the body, and to make better use of the five senses in my writing.
Writing a public events journal
Those politically and socially conscious moms among you might want to record what happens in the world during your child's early life. You can cut out newspaper clippings, then write your reflections on the events described there. These can turn into editorials or sections of a baby book, or stand alone as lessons to your child about your world view.
Writing a period of life journal
This journal has a clear beginning, middle, and end: built in narrative structure. You could record the story of an adoption, a pregnancy, birth, first year, a year in the life of a growing child, or the year leading up to a child going to college. You could describe your life as you survive a crisis. You could reflect on a past time in your life that made you the person you are today.
Choosing a format or formats
The blank page sits before you. You write your first sentence. You look back over the sentence, wanting it to be wonderful, terrific, fantastic. You want your favorite author to be in awe of that sentence. You want that sentence to bring you fame and glory and all the respect you deserve. You want that sentence to insure your immortality. That sentence could be ........
Suddenly, the sentence starts to sag under all that weight. It doesn't look as good as it first did. You start hearing former English teachers saying, "Where is your focus? What is your point?" You compare it to the first sentences of all the great novels you have ever read, and it comes up wanting. You wonder what your parents would say if they read that sentence. Wait, is that a grammar error in the second half?
You begin to rewrite that sentence, trying to make it better. You work long and hard on that sentence, until, finally, you get frustrated, confused, and tired. You quit, never writing the second sentence.
Considering audience often kills writing before it even begins. We think about how someone reading what we write will respond, and we think more about their response than our writing. Suddenly, we find ourselves stuck, not writing; we have censored ourselves.
Here is an exercise that can help: Once we name something, once we call it for what it is, it loses power over us. This is an exercise to help you give your censor body, form and voice, so you can get it out of you and out into the world:
- Make a list of words, phrases, sentences your Censor tells you.
- Write out all those negative comments your Censor says about you and your
writing. For example, mine always tells me, "Well, that isn't literary enough" in
a nasal sounding voice.
- Who says these things? Write a character sketch of your Censor. If
it were a person, what kind of person would it be? What would be its
characteristics? Habits? Customs? How would it relate to other
- Next, on a large piece of blank paper, draw a picture of your
Censor (stick figure fine). What would it look like? What would it wear? What
would it carry? What setting would it be placed in? Draw all this.
- Now, show and tell. Share your Censor with a friend, your partner,
someone. Explain this Censor to someone else.
- Next, burn, tear up, fold up and put in a box, or in some other way
exert yourself over your Censor. This can feel quite good.
- And, finally, write about your experience during this exercise. End with an explanation: despite all that the Censor does to stop you from writing, why do you keep writing?
Consider the purpose of your journal writing . Your audience, at first, should only be you. And maybe that will be good enough. But maybe later you'll want to share parts of your journal with others. Think about what you would like to do with your writing. If you decided to revise informal journal projects to share with others, here are some possibilities:
- A gift journal for a child from a mother.
- Baby books
- Family chronicles
- Photo albums with written descriptions
- Gift books for family
- Published writing
Now, WRITE! First, go buy a new, blank journal, something you like. Then scribble on
the first page or start four pages into it to help you get over the idea
that the first pages must be a profound introduction to all that you are as a
mother and a person. Next, read through the suggestions below, then
write in your journal about yourself as a writer. You could do a history of your
life as a writer (or not a writer). You could compare and contrast the
different journal styles to help you decide what ones you like, which ones you
don't think will work for you. You could write about what keeps you from
writing.You could write over and over again, "I don't know what to write" until
something else occurs to you. Anything! Just write!
Leaving a Trace: The Art of Transforming a Life into Stories by Alexandra Johnson.
Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott
"On Keeping a Notebook" by Joan Didion (I found it in Life Writing by Winifred Bryan Horner)