Mama Journaling 101: The Tools of the Trade

Writing about my postpartum experiences was such an essential part of my recovery from PPD, that I am now writing a series of blog posts to inspire more moms to write their stories. In the first part of this series, I am sharing tips and ideas for journaling. 

I feel a bit pretentious devoting an entire post to “the tools of the trade.” It’s not like we are talking about skydiving or climbing a mountain. If you know how to write, you already know that you need (1) a writing tool and (2) a writing surface and boom, you are set.

But there are a lot of opinions about the “best” way to journal. Many writers insist – insist! – that there is something magical about the connection between pen and paper. They think something mystical gets lost when you write on a computer, so typing should be reserved for later, more polished drafts.

I think there is something magical about writing. And I think, for many writers, there is something magical about putting actual pen to actual paper. For me, though, the tools do not matter. I use a notebook and pen at night for my health journal. (My nightly record of how I slept the night before, food I ate, exercise I did, my moods, self-care, etc.) The rest of the time, I mostly write on my laptop. Sometimes I use a dedicated notebook to journal by hand for a few weeks, but I write faster when I’m typing and that helps me get into the flow.

If you know how you like to write, then write that way. Don’t get hung up on anyone else’s advice.

If you have no idea how you would like to write, then play around and have fun with a few different ways:

  • Sit down at your desktop computer and try writing there.
  • Buy a cheap notebook – or better, dig up an old one gathering dust – and get some cheap pens and just write already.
  • Try your laptop while lounging on your bed.
  • Put some blank sheets of paper on a clipboard and write with a stubby pencil.
  • Try graph paper!
  • A legal pad with the swankiest pen you can afford.
  • Short entries on index cards with a mechanical pencil.

There are dozens of possibilities for writing. Do what works for you. I do not buy fancy notebooks because then I worry about writing perfectly, but maybe a fancy notebook will inspire you to spend an hour each morning musing and ruminating on its lush pristine pages.

Don’t spend too much time trying to decide on your personal tools of the trade. The time you spend debating the virtues of a laptop versus a spiral notebook is time you could spend writing!

Remember: you don’t have to figure out your magical combination of writing tools the first time you sit down to journal. I flip-flop between computer and handwriting. The change is probably good for my mind. So just use whatever you have on hand today, and, you can always try something different tomorrow, next week, or whenever you want.

Journaling Prompts

  • Have you kept a journal before? How? What were your tools of the trade?
  • Do you crave a fancy journal?
  • Do you have all the tools you think you need?
  • Do you ever spend time thinking about reasons to not write when you could be using that time to actually write?
  • Do you think you might be secretly looking for excuses to avoid journaling?
  • Do you hate these journaling prompts?

 

Mama Journaling 101: Neglect the Housework

ou are a mother. You do not exactly have heaps of excess free time lying around. I’m telling you to journal to help you fully recover from your postpartum experiences, but when exactly is that supposed to happen?

First and foremost, get enough sleep. Sleep is essential to mental health. Please don’t stay up late or wake up early because Courtney said you should journal. You need to have in place the basic building blocks of health – I’m talking about sleep, food, shelter – before you can worry about journaling.

But let’s say you are getting enough sleep and all the other essentials to feel sort of like a human being. You still have a tiny helpless human who needs your help! When are you supposed to find five minutes to write?

I wrote when Pippa was napping. I could only do this once I was getting enough sleep at night myself. But once that piece was in place, I wrote while Pippa napped.

I know what you are thinking: nap time is the only time I can get chores done.

Pippa, though, never liked napping in her crib. To many outside observers, this seemed like a curse. For me, it was a blessing. Because she took most of her naps in the baby carrier, with her sweet baby head pressed against my chest, I could not worry about things like meal prep and dirty dishes during nap time. But writing with a baby in the carrier? No problem!

I love the book If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland. Ueland says that writers must neglect the housework. I could not agree more. You only have 24 hours in a day. If you currently do not have enough time to write, then you are going to have to steal time from an activity. So this is my advice to new mamas: let the counters get a little sticky. You do not have to sterilize the tables every day. It’s okay if there’s some toothpaste goo next to the bathroom sink. Let the dirty dishes accumulate until there’s a huge mountain and then cue up a podcast and tackle them all at once. Choose writing before you choose housework!

It’s okay to do housework when the baby is awake. That’s what I did when Pippa was a baby and that is what I do to this day. Guess what? Kids like chores! My children help me with dishes, laundry, sweeping, and wiping off dirty counters. If they get bored, they wander away and play.

When Pippa was a newborn, I thought I was supposed to watch and observe her every waking moment, always at the ready to shake a rattle or make silly faces. But then I realized: she needs time to play independently. She needs time to explore her world by herself. If I’m always entertaining her, then she never learns how to be an independent, creative thinker.

So as I recovered from postpartum depression, I learned to sit on the couch and journal while Pippa crawled around the living room and put everything (everything!) in her mouth. I brought my journal to indoor playgrounds and when she was occupied, I wrote. There were plenty of interruptions, but I figured writing time with interruptions was better than no writing time at all.

I have to be fully honest: I’m still coming to terms with the fact that my house does not look like a house that has been styled for a magazine shoot. Sometimes it drives me crazy that toys are scattered everywhere and do not get me started on the dried up bits of oatmeal on the kitchen walls.

But my expectation of an immaculately perfect house comes from external pressures. It comes from magazines, television commercials for cleaning products, and even the IKEA catalog. To this day, I am haunted by a commercial I saw when I was seven or eight years old. A mom was stressed that her mommy friends would disapprove of the state of her kitchen floors. That one commercial gave me a seriously twisted attitude about housework.

But guess what? My kitchen floors are far from immaculate. There are all sorts of crumbs. But when my mom friends visit, they do no hesitate to put their children on the floor.

The next time you want to write, but you feel compelled to vacuum, I want you to think about housework as a feminist issue. Housework is just busy work that keeps us in the kitchen and out of the board room.

Our children learn to live by watching us. If you spend your days agonizing over housework, then your children (especially your daughters) will do the same when they grow up. If you cannot ignore the vacuum for yourself, do it for your kids. I’m not saying you have to let your home turn into a den of filth and inequity. I’m just saying it’s okay to ignore the crumbs so you can have a few extra minutes to write.

Journaling Prompts:

  • Do you have enough time to journal?
  • When do you write?
  • Do you wish you had more time to write?
  • Are there any household tasks that you could let slide so you could have a little more time for writing?
  • How do you feel about housework?
  • What is your least favorite chore?
  • Are there any chores you enjoy?

As always, pick and choose or ignore the prompts as you see fit. It’s your writing practice! I just hope you find the time to let yourself write.

Mama Journaling 101: Don’t Worry About Grammar or Spelling

Just write

and write

and rite

and right

and don’t let a little thing like spelling or grammer or prose or what yur third grade teacher or fifth grade teacher or who cares what grade, just dont’ let the things they taught you slow you down

write and write and write and write

and magic will happen

its your journal so eff apostrophes and spell check and the correct placement of commas

if you are going to write things for publication, there is this beautiful thing called “revision” but you do not have to write for an audience in your journal

just you

so write and fuck spelling, fuck grammar, and fuck all your preconceived notions about what it means to be a writer

everyone is a writer!

Journaling 101: Write Whatever You Want

Earlier this month, I blogged about how I want to inspire other mamas to write their postpartum stories. That post is right here. In it, I recommended starting small with journaling before committing to a big project like writing a book. If you want to write a book, that’s awesome, and I’ll eventually write some posts about that since I learned so much from writing my memoir. But for most moms, journaling will probably be enough.

For today, I have two thoughts. (That’s about all my mama brain can churn out in the morning!) (Especially since I quit caffeine.) (I know, I’m crazy.)

(1) Call it whatever you want. If you like the word “journal,” call it a journal. But if you like the word “diary,” call it your diary. Or if you are a Trekkie, call it the Mama’s Log.

Just don’t get hung up on the word “journal.” Words are sometimes loaded with baggage. Maybe you had a ninth grade English teacher who made you keep a journal, and the journal was the bane of your existence. In that case, just the word “journal” might keep you from writing. But what if you come up with a fun phrase like “Mama’s Mental Health Gazette” or “The Continuing Chronicles of Mama’s Motherhood Adventures”? Then you can move past any preconceived notions about journaling and get to writing.

2) Because that is all I want you to do. Write. If you have any inclination to write, then please oh please, just write all ready! And what should you write? Whatever you want! You do not have to keep a meticulous record of the things that happen on a daily basis.

I think of my journal as a “journal,” but it’s really just a document on my laptop where I do “free writing.” Sometimes I write about the things happening in my life, but sometimes I just write a string of affirmations. Or I write the words that pass through my head. Sometimes I write lists of things I want to do just to get them out of my brain and on to the page. The point is: I write what I want to write.

Journaling Prompts:

Have you ever kept a journal in the past?

What did you call it?

How does the word “journal” make you feel?

Let’s say you want to start a practice of regular writing. What word do you want to use to refer to that practice?

And remember, prompts are just meant to get your neurons firing so you do not sit and stare at a blank page or empty computer screen for twenty minutes and then realize nap time is nearly over and shit, you need to answer some emails. Ignore the prompts completely or pick and choose and use the ones you write. You can even write about how lame you think journaling prompts are! I’m not offended. I’m just happy if you take the time to sit and compose a few words and tap into the healing power of writing.

Write Your Postpartum Story!

Writing my memoir was so cathartic, I would like to help other parents write their postpartum stories. My brain, the eternal perfectionist, wants me to spend months and months outlining a series of helpful blog posts before I share a single thought with you. My gut, however, says it’s time to start.

And so this is the first in a series of blog posts that will hopefully inspire you to write your postpartum story. I don’t know how many posts there will be, but I do know there will be a lot, because writing is awesome and I want to help any moms or dads struggling with writer’s block. So let’s get started!

My first tip for writing your postpartum story….

[insert drum roll]

Start journaling.

That’s it. You don’t have to commit to writing your memoir or a formal series of blog posts. Don’t get me wrong: publication is incredibly healing and cathartic. But I suggest you start small so that you don’t get intimidated and come up with a thousand lame excuses to procrastinate. If you are meant to write a memoir, don’t worry. The journal entries will (eventually) become the memoir. But if you are overwhelmed with parenthood, don’t think about writing a book. Just contemplate a singlejournal entry. Start with that. That’s enough.

I started with journal entries. I worked with a cognitive behavioral psychologist after I was diagnosed with postpartum depression, and he encouraged me to write. In fact, he gave me homework assignments, e.g. “Stop checking the locks at night and write about how that makes you feel.” The homework assignments motivated me to journal daily, and eventually, the journaling turned into an 80,000 word memoir.

But the 80,000 word memoir started with a single journal entry.

My first postpartum journal entry wasn’t very good. It was just me babbling the thoughts pinging around in my head. But damn, it felt good to get those words on to paper.

If you feel any inclination towards writing about your postpartum experiences, I think you should give it a try. Start small. Start with a single journal entry. It does not have to be very long. In fact, I’m giving you my permission to just write a single sentence and call it a journal entry. If you want to, write another. Or don’t. Maybe write one sentence today, two sentences tomorrow. Like a baby learning to walk, step by step, you can build a writing practice, sentence by sentence. There is no right way to write your first journal entry.

But I promise: I’m going to do my damnest to help you loosen up and hone your writing muscles and write your postpartum story.