It starts out fairly predictably: a small, special notebook. Possibly with a key. Each entry beginning with "Dear Diary." In my case, it's full of angst....but not because my life is all that dramatic, but because my pre-teen self doesn't see the need to write about the mundane aspects of life. I have yet to discover the beauty in capturing the ordinary.

As I become less of a pre-teen, I am no more disciplined and my pages reflect that. I spend more time writing (melo)dramatic stories than writing about real life. Those days where I absolutely must take pet to paper, it's generally because of a build up of emotion that desperately needs an outlet. I am angry or sad or extremely excited.

Post-college, I have a brief unemployed period where I decide that I should spend that time usefully -- as in developing some writing discipline. And there is born my writing journal -- a place to ostensibly do writing exercises, start stories, and essentially journal fiction (which is what I love). That...didn't last long. Like most people, I struggle with self-discipline, and any writer will tell you that the number one thing you need to do to be a successful writer is get your butt in a chair (or on a couch, or whatever) and write.

In my 20s I begin what seems to be a lifelong quest for the perfect "system." You might ask why. Why has journaling become so important to me? so necessary to "figure out." Partly because of the romantic writer within me who feels like "real" writers journal. There's the narcissist who likes to act like she's the star of her own novel or movie or t.v. show. But more than that, there's the practical reality that I have experienced the joy of journaling, the benefit for me personally in getting things out of my head and onto a piece of paper (or computer screen...whatever). My writing benefits (practice putting pen to paper) and my mental health benefits. Now, this search for the perfect system is not limited to journaling, by the way. Cleaning, cooking, Bible study, exercise...I have fallen prey to the myth that the perfect system or tool will make whatever it is I want to do regularly effortless. I am learning that a good system can make things easier....but the only thing that is effortless is inertia.

But low and behold, somewhere along the way I settle into a rhythm of journaling that works for me at this moment in my life -- 1. No pressure. If I go weeks without journaling, so be it. 2. One notebook. Everything jumbled together: creative writing, rants, exclamation points, lists, goals, dreams, planning, prayer lists, notes from a lecture or class, notes FOR a class. Right now, this is what works for me, because I finally identified what journaling is for me at this moment in time: it's my way of keeping my brain organized, of processing information, of documenting things I don't want to forget, of getting those pesky thoughts out of my head, and occasionally giving in to a momentary burst of creativity.

Do you journal? Why? What works for you?