Friday, April 26, 2013

Writers and Journals--and Online Journaling

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig
I’ve always loved keeping a journal and started keeping one when I was in fourth grade.   
There's nothing fabulously interesting in my diaries, but it provides snapshots of long-forgotten days.
I wrote daily as a teenager.  I read those posts now and I can barely identify with the content or the person who wrote the entries.  Was that me?  It’s a horrifying, fascinating read in a deer-in-the-headlights kind of way.
Since having children, my journaling has been sporadic.  I would love to say that I have a wonderfully detailed account of my children’s early years.  I don’t.  And I've meant to journal more.
While reading blogs last month, I came across a post by Hannah Braime on the Lifehack site:  5 Killer Online Journaling Tools You Should Try Out.  One of the journaling programs they mentioned was the free site OhLife.  She hooked me when she used the word simple to describe it.  Who has time for complicated when you’re trying to establish a new habit?
Once you sign up, the site sends you an email every day (at whatever time you specify) and asks “how did your day go?”  You email it back and it stores the information privately on a cloud.  At the bottom of the emails they send what you were doing that time last week (or last month or last year, if you’ve been with the journal that long.)  OhLife also encourages you to write only a sentence if that’s all you want to write…and to  skip days, if needed.
You can attach a picture to each post, if you want to enhance your post.
You can also download a .txt version of your journal if you want to make sure you have a backup in case for some reason the site discontinues.  I ordinarily wouldn’t even think about this possibility much, but the sudden discontinuation of Google Reader has made me a paranoid user in all aspects of my online life.
I've really enjoyed OhLife and have recommended it to several of my family and friends. I've apparently become an OhLife evangelist.
Getting the emails seems to do the trick for me in terms of keeping up with it. I haven’t missed a day yet. I type quickly and it’s much easier to remember to write an entry if I’m being reminded each day.  And it’s not like I don’t check my emails. :)  Although I like the idea of writing in a physical journal each day and I still love pen and paper…it just doesn’t seem to come together for me or fit into my busy schedule like it used to. 
Journal uses for writers?  For one, establishing a daily writing habit, if you’re not a daily blogger.  Journaling can help you warm up, too, if you write afterward. Introspection.  It can be therapeutic, if you sometimes have stressful days.  You could also use it to track progress on various projects…meeting your daily word count goal or looking into finding a cover designer and formatter, or tracking queries.
Or, if you’re like me, it’s nice to have a searchable memory.  :)  My memory is abysmal and is certainly not getting any better the older/busier I get.
One thing I know as a lifelong diarist—don’t try to catch up.  It’s just too frustrating to try to cover everything in a journal.  Just jump in where you are now. Sometimes simply making a list of the day’s highlights is a nice change, if you don’t have much time.
Do you keep a journal?  Ever used an online journal?  If you do journal, what do you get out of it?