Summer Is Coming. Buy A Journal.
April 1, 2017
by Andrew Eggerding, Graduate Assistant
Summer break is the perfect time to take full advantage of the free time we are not always afforded as students: the time to have some fun, gain professional experience, or see an unfamiliar part of the world. No matter how you spend your summer, don't let your writing skills get rusty. Whether you will be back on campus in the fall or starting a brand new, post-college adventure, keeping your writing skills fresh will be valuable when August arrives. I've discovered over the past few years that the best way to improve my own writing skills is to keep a journal.
You might associate journaling with "kid stuff," but its benefits are more applicable to adults. Keeping an account, in any form, of your daily activities and thoughts helps to improve memory. Journaling also makes learning easier. It helps commit to memory what you're learning, especially if your journal is handwritten. You are basically training your brain to discern and capture information in your own words. Most importantly, journaling is a form of writing practice that improves your skills and builds your confidence as a writer.
Writing confidence comes over time. It's like training for a marathon. You would not show up the day of a race and expect to run 26 miles with ease and full confidence without having trained for it months in advance. The same is true for writing. Your writing will not be Pulitzer Prize-winning from the very first sentence or even the first, even second draft. Writing confidence and knowledge takes time and practice. Keeping a journal provides the space to write without the pressure to be perfect.
In the time I've spent as a Graduate Assistant in the Writing Center, I've noticed that student writers, myself included, strive for perfection. It's not a bad thing to expect the best from ourselves, but it can often lead to writer's block, or worse, disappointment. Anne Lamott, author of the book Bird by Bird among many others, gives perfect advice for fighting off perfectionism: keep writing. It doesn't matter what you write, how incorrect your grammar might be (you can always correct it later), or even how many words you use. It's just important that you write something. The more you write, the more you will trust yourself to write well.
Keeping a journal this summer will be the warm-up for whatever writing assignments come your way when summer break ends, whether it's an essay, a work of fiction, research article or a blog post. I'm not encouraging you to write an essay every day, but I am recommending that you take up some form of writing that feels most convenient and pressure-free. In his book On Writing Well, William Zinsser says to "approach writing...with some enjoyment" (246). If the goal is to write regularly, you better make sure it's something you can get excited about (this should always be the case, no matter the assignment). You could keep a running list of ideas at the beginning of the summer and pick one to write about each time, or make a simple list of each day's activities. There is no right or wrong way to journal; your objective is simply to write.
If you're going to keep a journal this summer, and I strongly encourage it, commit to doing it. Make a goal that by the end of the summer you will fill an entire notebook or one entry per each week, no matter how short or how long. Make it a habit and set aside time each day or week to sit down and write. You don't have to commit away hours a day; set aside just a few minutes at a time. Then let your thoughts and fingers do the rest. If you make a strong commitment to writing, the likelihood that you will do it is stronger.
Remember, the more you write, the more you will trust yourself to write well; that confidence will help tackle whatever writing assignments you confront. So buy a journal and get practicing.