Re: why and how do you journal?

What follows is an excerpt from a private exchange that I am sharing with the express permission of my correspondent, without publishing their identity. It is a series of questions about my journaling habits. The quoted parts (which appeared indented on my website) are from my correspondent.

I have seen several posts on your website that included the note “The following is an excerpt from my journal”. This made me curious about your journaling habits, but also your way of writing in general. I have these questions I would love to know about. Perhaps they are interesting for others as well.

Sure, I will answer. If you agree, I can publish this part of the exchange, without disclosing your identity. What do you think?

  1. Why do you journal?

It is one of the many routines I have to practice discipline. I find it beneficial to maintain habits that require upkeep; habits which create accountability structures to keep me in check, while providing me with the motivation to do something instead of nothing.

The journal is an outlet for my thinking. I pick a topic and expound on it. Its specifics seldom matter. My goal is to write well and elucidate my thoughts, without jumping between unrelated subjects. I express my creativity in one go—“alla prima” to borrow a concept from the history of painting—as I find it more satisfying and authentic. I tend to stay focused for longer when I go with the flow without losing momentum. Otherwise, I get bored when something appears easy and lose interest.

The alla prima method gives me a reason to improve myself, as it leaves no margin for major mistakes. If I err, I live with it and that is wonderful. I learn from my mistakes by being honest about them and value them as much as everything I do.

Perhaps the journal does not capture this authenticity the way my public videos do (e.g. on philosophy), though the mechanics are the same. I know I did not defy my own rules, which is what discipline is about (following the rules of another is “obedience”).

  1. Do you journal by hand or typing? Why, and why not?

I do it on the computer (with Emacs and my denote package, if that matters). The reason is that it is easier for me to keep a record of everything. My life has been too unstable to maintain physical writings. They take up space, which is a problem when you relocate frequently…

Besides, I like to challenge myself: the computer can be a source of distractions, as everything you can think of in the moment is a few clicks away. So I choose to journal on the computer to prove to myself that I can remain in control.

Not to sound obsessed though: I only journal when I feel like it. For me, the most important quality in every expression is its honesty: it has to come about organically. Otherwise, I will be mindlessly performing rituals, like daily journaling, whose ulterior end I forgot.

  1. Do you journal in English? Or do you journal in your native language (στα Ελληνικά), then you translate certain pieces for publication? Why – and why not?

I write in English, with few exceptions. It is easier to search the contents of files. In Greek we have accents on vowels, which make searches a bit more cumbersome. For example, a search for Πρωτεσίλαος does not match any among ΠΡΩΤΕΣΙΛΑΟΣ, πρωτεσιλαος, Πρωτεσιλαος. Granted, this is minor issue, but it still bothers me when the program does not do what I expect. I have thought about writing without accents, or with full capital letters, though each of these workarounds comes with its own considerable problems. A better alternative is to produce the requisite code that interprets vowels with and without accents. I have had no time for it—maybe one day in the near future. Until then, I opt for English.

  1. Do you write your essays, poems, and other publications by hand or typing? Why – and why not?

I type everything, as I explained above.