Dear Queer Diary: This is the First Day of the Rest of Your Journal

Welcome to Dear Queer Diary, a (new!) column about the joys (and occasionally, the pains) of journaling. We’ll be cracking open our tiny notebooks and breaking out the rainbow-colored pens on the regular, so get ready to limber up your writing hands and document all your beautiful feelings!

Header by Rory Midhani

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 Feature Image via Shutterstock.com

Now that you’ve purchased/crafted/bartered for a glorious new notebook, you’re one step closer to becoming a Master Journaler (which was, last I checked, one of the lesser known classes of World of Warcraft character). The next step, my queer journal-ers, is a big one, both for you and for womynkind: writing.

While this may seem obvious, anyone who has faced the terror of the blank page knows how difficult—indeed, how treacherous—this step can be. How will you begin?

The moments before you write the first sentences in a new journal are like the moments before you first lean in to kiss the smoking hot lady you spent three and a half weeks seducing with fresh scones and carefully composed mix tapes (or whatever the kids are into these days). What I’m saying is this: a new journal is amazing, but it’s also terrifying.

They may not be scones, but these homemade pop tarts played an integral role in the seduction of my girlfriend.

They may not be scones, but these homemade pop tarts played an integral role in the seduction of my girlfriend.

The good news is that, in the same way that your scone-loving maiden will love the way you awkwardly bump noses before your lips touch in an exhilarating explosion of sparkles, your journal doesn’t mind if you start slow. According to Virginia Woolf, who I think we can all agree is pretty much the authority on everything related to writing words on paper, for a diarist (that’s you!), “brilliance is not necessary; genius is a hindrance.”

Meet Virginia. via Blogging Woolf

Meet Virginia. via Blogging Woolf

Lemme just repeat that for you, folks. Genius. Is. A. Hindrance.

I’m thinking about cross-stitching that on a set of throw pillows and putting one in every room of my apartment. Because as much as I like to believe that I am kind of a genius (see my elementary-school-era devastation at misspelling the world “squirrel” on my spelling test), it’s nice to know that my ability to keep a diary doesn’t actually depend on my ability to write the next great American novel or cure cancer or design the best vibrator in the world.

What it does depend on is my ability to overcome my fear of the good ol’ tabula rasa and get something down on paper. So while your pulse may quicken with terrified anticipation as you gaze across the white expanse between your journal’s covers, stay strong—and try some of these Autostraddle-approved methods to help you get started:

Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?

Are you sitting at your kitchen table? Hiding in the stacks of a university library? Aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean? (If so, I’m jealous!) When you begin by describing your location, you immediately give yourself lots to talk about—and your journal will be extremely useful to your biographers when they are attempting to trace your comings and goings during this extremely important period of your life.

There are a lot of people out there on the internet shipping Carmen & Waldo, but I’m convinced that she plays for our team. Image by Jenn Woodall via WORN

There are a lot of people out there on the internet shipping Carmen & Waldo, but I’m convinced that she plays for our team. Image by Jenn Woodall via WORN

Borrow

If you’d prefer to bask in the artistic brilliance of someone other than yourself, then try transcribing your favorite quotation as a way of getting the ball rolling. If you’re looking for inspiration in the form of both quotations and music, may I humbly suggest the brilliant Maria Popova’s Literary Jukebox?

Draw a picture

No words required! Unless you, like me, end up having to label any attempts at recognizable artwork.

This true-life selection from my erstwhile journal features a proposed layout for the high school newspaper.

This true-life selection from my erstwhile journal features a proposed layout for the high school newspaper.

Don’t be afraid to be a traditionalist

In the event that none of the above approaches seems like quite the right fit, it might be time to consider two little words: “Dear Diary.” As my mother would say, they’re “simple, yet elegant, and oh so right.” And they’re even alliterative!

Whatever you do, my darlings, do it with panache, and you will be on your way to a diary for the ages! Write on.

Profile photo of Maggie

Maggie is a freckly, punctuation-loving queer living in the Boston area. She supports her book-buying and tea-drinking habits by teaching America’s youth how to write topic sentences and spends her free time writing postcards and making sandwiches for her girlfriend.

Maggie has written 53 articles for us.

17 Comments

  1. Thumb up 8

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    The best thing I discovered about keeping a journal is not to create expectations for myself. If I want to copy down entire poems, that’s okay. If I want to complain, that’s okay. If I want to draw knitting charts so that I don’t have to carry around a magazine, that’s okay too. Seriously, a journal is your space and nobody is checking in to see if you wrote today, or what you wrote, or how legible it is.

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    My friend bought me a journal that is labelled at the top of every page “Why I am dysfunctional today:” (if you haven’t guessed it’s a journal for us neurotic ppl who’ve got a lot of issues!). It never seizes to amaze me that I have dysfunctions everyday! Thankfully by the time I’m done writing about it, the problem is less of a problem and more of a lesson. It’s also quite comical to look back on days, weeks and months later to see that my left sock seam was crooked and it through off my whole day on such and such date! (Lesson learned: don’t let crooked sock seams get in the way of a perfectly good day!)

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    “When you begin by describing your location, you immediately give yourself lots to talk about—and your journal will be extremely useful to your biographers when they are attempting to trace your comings and goings during this extremely important period of your life.”

    I legit think about this every time I journal. I’m always censoring myself just in case someone decides to publish it when I’m done.
    Whenever I transcribe a quote into my journal I highlight it, so whenever I want to find it I can just look for the highlighted stuff. This has saved me when I needed to find a quote to put in one of my research papers.

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    I kept journals for a long time (last time I counted I had around 50 filled notebooks), but as I’ve grown older I’ve mostly stopped. I guess I feel like even though I’m putting my big scary feelings onto a page, they still haven’t left my head. But as an art student I use a sketchbook constantly. That helps. And having feelings talk with people helps more than journaling does right now.

    That being said, I took this amazing class last semester called Journal and Sketchbook and it was about combining written and visual art. I super recommend anyone (even non artists) having a go at combining art with writing. Especially try different mediums than just pen. Think crayons, stickers, watercolors, collage – I could go on and on!

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    The first page in my journal actually is just a quote from the movie Gia (potentially from the real Gia’s journals, who knows?):

    “Dear Book, this is another day in the life. A life is like a book. A book is like a box. A box has six sides, inside and outside. So how do you get to what’s inside? How do you get what’s inside out? Once upon a time, there was a very pretty girl who lived in a beautiful box and everybody loved her.”

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    I realized recently that I’ve been journaling for a little over ten years. TEN YEARS! It’s so great to have a record of my ever evolving self, and to look back at things that seemed like the end of the world at the time that have since worked out fine, reminding me that most things do work out fine.

    I’ve found it’s best to be as honest possible, even when it doesn’t sound so pretty. The way that time can distort memories, it’s the entries where I try to write things out exactly as they are, with as many details as possible, good and bad, that I find most useful to look back on later. Also, full day recaps. They’re easy to write and usually contain the most telling little details that you can’t even see at the time. But of course a journal can be anything you want it to be, these are just things I’ve found useful.

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    I’ve always wanted to be the kind of person who keeps a journal. I find it so fascinating to read biographies of people and see what they’ve written in their journals and what that can tell us about different periods in history.

    But when I try it myself, it…does not turn out like that. I never know what to write. I don’t want to write for other people, even if they’re reading it after I’m dead, so I just can’t bring myself to describe shit that I already know. Plus, my life is comprised of long periods of boring shit that no one cares about (not even me, and it’s my life) punctuated by intense bursts of Fucking Awful Things that I don’t want to think/talk/write about at the time, much less go back and re-read and reminisce about at a later date.

    Still, I try sometimes, which this last time has resulted in disaster. I tried to write interesting stuff at first, and that failed pretty quickly, and then I tried to write slice of life stuff, which speedily degenerated into my old food journaling habits from my teens, which kicked off a fall down the ol’ Eating Disorder Rabbit Hole. Good times :/

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    I’ve been journaling since I was 11 years old, and I’ve never found a blank journal page daunting, unlike the blank Word screen or creative writing notebooks. But I quickly and unconsciously developed “rules” for my journaling – words only, no pictures (that’s for sketchbooks), and no random things like recipes, quotes, to-do lists, etc – those are for other notebooks. My journal is a space to write my thoughts about various things in my life, my day, my feelings, experiences, etc. But that’s just me! I love hearing about how other people journal.

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    I’ve been journaling sinice I was 8. It’s so helpful to me (I also have planty of sketchbooks) My only issue now is what to do with them all when I kick the bucket? I also have this (vain?) idea that someday someone will actually be interested in reading them. But what if my son reads them?? I really don’t want to traumatize him…

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