52 Ways to Shift Your Focus

Shift #18: Start a New Journal

Several years ago, I taught a journaling class to a grief support group for parents who had lost a child. The group was run through Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. We met in a room at a church in St. Paul. These parents were looking for tools to cope with the forever absence of their sons, their daughters. I remember telling them about the practice of having more than one journal for their journeys. One journal would be a cheap, spiral-bound notebook where they could pour out their anger over their child’s death, ranting and raving and swearing and bemoaning the horrible unfairness of their loss. That was the journal they could eventually burn as a release of that anger. It would make room for the other journal. The other journal would be the nicest one they could afford, a lush, lovely journal just for the memories they wanted to keep nearby. That journal was to be the one where they could pour love and joy, remember laughter, honor the beauty of their child, the promise of a young life. That journal would find a permanent place in their home.

Some of those parents were surprised at the multiple journal technique as a tool for grief. They simply hadn’t thought of journaling that way. They equated journals with diaries, with something to do every day as a record of life. But I knew how much a part of processing ideas journals can be. I hadn’t lost a child, but I had been through other life upheavals for which journaling was a helpful tool. And I new that journaling was an important tool in the creative process, something that allowed ideas and visions to become clearer.

I have a number of journals laying around that hold different things. I have one for scribbling notes and monthly line-ups for Every Day Poets. That one is a working journal for the business of publishing other people’s work; it’s a substantial spiral notebook that my husband picked up at one of his science conferences but didn’t want, so I recycled it. I have a handmade paper journal that holds my morning poems that was a gift from an old colleague. I have one that is all about personal things like what’s happening in my family, things I’m worried about, things I’m happy about, etc. That one has a magnetic cover flap, a leathery maroon cover and was a gift from one of my best friends. I have a stalled-out spiritual journal from a class I took once; that journal is a repurposed notebook from one of my son’s old girlfriends. I liked the cover and couldn’t stand to see him throw out a blank notebook. There are a number of old spiral-bound notebooks that I have used for other classes, for The Artist’s Way work, outlines, etc.

Which brings me to last week. For my birthday, my daughter Abby gave me a new journal. It’s just the kind I like: a leather cover with an embossed Celtic design, a nice heft to it, softly-lined off-white pages to hold my words. When I get a new journal that’s this nice, I’m always worried about what I’m going to put in it so that I don’t waste it. This journal honors what I do and I want to honor the gift with what I put in it.

Since I’ve been thinking about how to shift my focus through this blog series, I began thinking about this journal in terms of focus shifts. What do I need to focus on in my life in this next year? What has been on my mind that I could get clearer about if I processed it through a new journal? And, as often happens, that answer was right in front of me. I’ve been intensely focused on taking Abby to college campuses this summer. I’m in the process of letting her go. Both our lives are shifting and we will both be focused on ourselves a little more intently in about a year. What better use for my new journal than to give it over to moving through this phase of parenthood and seeing how it affects my ideas about writing and other creative work?

Yes. To go with the seismic shift of my younger child going away to college, I will do what writers who are parents have done forever: sift through the process with pen and paper. Honor it in a journal from that same child. Celebrate that I have raised a thoughtful daughter.

What would you honor with a new journal?

One new journal, one old journal


  1. Kathleen,
    It is amazing how much of a difference in perspective that can be created by keeping a journal, depending on the focus we choose, whether negative to unload, or positive, to remember. I love how you came up with a focus for your new journal your daughter gave you: Your daughter! Journaling is especially helpful when dealing with transitions; I wish you well with yours.

    I have chosen your post, Start a New Journal, for the #JournalChat Pick of the Day on for all things journaling on Twitter;
    I will post a link on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, my blog and website Refresh with Dawn Herring, and in Refresh Journal, my weekly e-journal: http://tinyurl.com/8bmg7pg.

    #JournalChat Live is every Thursday, 5 EST/2 PST, for all things journaling on Twitter; our topic this week is Your Journaling: What You Really Care About.

    Thanks for sharing your journal shift with focus!

    Be refreshed,
    Dawn Herring
    Host of #JournalChat Live and Links Edition on Twitter
    Author of The Birthday Wall: Create a Collage to Celebrate Your Child


  2. Dawn,

    Thank you! I'm honored that you've chosen my post to highlight for the #JournalChat Pick of the Day. Journaling has been part of my life for such a long time; it's impossible not to share. Of course, I'll be checking out #JournalChat on Thursdays for the foreseeable future.

    Thanks again.


  3. I suspect(know) that what I need to work on is ways of looking after myself; ways of moving me up the priority list from bottom to first. I also need to detail what looking after myself would mean, and perhaps also track how sucessful (or otherwise) these moves have been.


  4. I used a journal that way once for negative thoughts and yes it really helps. I ought to do more of that stuff but I really dread the mess I make of lovely white pages. I am the most untidy thing on Earth!


  5. Hello Ana – “morally acceptable” is an odd way to look at multiple journals; perhaps that's not quite the right word. It's certainly authentic to have many journals for different things and it allows the writer to focus on specific aspects of their life or on a specific project. I highly recommend it.


  6. I worked at a job where I was utterly miserable and every day I would come home close to tears with anger or frustration. I bought a pretty but small journal and every day that I had a bad day I would write ONE PAGE. I limited myself to that one page because I didn't want to get so caught up and consumed in expressing my anger that I never let it go. It helped me and there were days, few and very far between, when I did not write in it when I came home. While not quite the same, it has similar qualities to what you recommended which I know is beneficial to those who are grieving. I've done too much reading and research on journaling not to “get it.”


  7. Hi Satia – I like that technique you used with just one page so you wouldn't become obsessed. That's kind of like freewriting with a timer – 10 minutes to dump stuff onto the page and that's it. I can see how that would work really well. Thanks for sharing!


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