Pros: Simple ideas; surprisingly helpful prompts; useful format
Rating: 5 out of 5
First published 6/13/2002
Until recently I couldn’t understand the attraction of journals. I always felt too self-conscious to write in them. I never wanted to put the things that really mattered to me on paper, and I didn’t want to go back later and read about them. I couldn’t even remember to write in them regularly on those occasions when I tried to keep a journal. Recently, however, I started reading a bunch of books (writing books and self-help books) in an effort to untangle a bout of writer’s burnout, and found myself untangling all sorts of other knots I hadn’t known were there. I didn’t want to forget the things I was learning and the problems I was uncovering, and journaling seemed the perfect answer. It would get me to continue thinking about the issues that were important to me long after I’d finished reading one book or another. It would encourage me to untangle and remember things.
Lucky me, just then the Writer’s Digest Book Club (am I a book junky, or what?) had a sale on a bunch of journals, all from Walking Stick Press. They were about a third of their usual price, so I got four of them. So far the most useful is turning out to be “What Really Matters to Me: a Guided Journal,” by Robyn Conley-Weaver.
What Is A Guided Journal?
A “guided journal” includes blank pages for writing on, but it also includes more than that. It includes thoughts on the particular subject at hand. It includes writing prompts related to a specific area. In this case, the journal revolves around figuring out what is important in your life and finding ways to get that. The nice thing about this particular journal is that it groups the prompts together at the beginning of each major section of blank pages, one set per chapter, rather than putting one prompt at the top of each page.
This means you can concentrate on the parts that matter to you. If you want to write about something for two or three pages instead of one, you aren’t faced with the choice of trampling all over a couple of other prompts or moving to other pieces of paper. If you want to skip a particular prompt, you aren’t leaving a blank page behind. If you want to do a particular prompt more than once, you can. You can do it in whatever way is best for you.
What Does This Particular Journal Contain?
“What Really Matters to Me” is divided into sections. Each section starts with an introduction written by the author addressing the relevant topic. Each provides a collection of writing prompts and blank pages to go with them. Each also contains a handful of interesting and relevant quotes by other people. At the end of each section of blank pages you’ll find a “checkpoint” that discusses some of the difficulties and rewards of journaling. Ms. Conley-Weaver includes stories from her students, herself, and other people’s life-stories, giving us concrete evidence that people can work on their lives and make them better.
This journal is hard-cover (or at least, the copy which I found is), which makes it easier to write in. The pages are of decent quality, and the blank writing pages are un-lined.
Acknowledging the Chaos: In which you sort out some of the things that are keeping you from making of your life what you want of it. These are the very first steps in figuring out what you want from life, and what really matters to you. “Discovering what matters to you isn’t selfish behavior; it’s necessary… In order to choose healthy priorities, those priorities have to matter to you.” 17 prompts are provided, including such simple and surprising questions as:
What items in your schedule keep you from focusing on what matters most to you?
They’re simple questions, but writing about these subjects can lead you to surprising conclusions.
Accepting Responsibility: Taking responsibility for how you use your time (or allow it to be used by others) is the first step in realizing that you can change how your time is used. 20 prompts accompany this chapter, including:
Give specific examples of tangible goals you would want to achieve if you could do what matters to you.
Writing through the Pain: This section is all about the pains and difficulties of cleaning up our lives. It’s very frank about the fact that these things aren’t easy – neither writing about them, nor actually fixing them. “There’s always a certain amount of stress or conflict involved in adjusting our lifestyles to find a healthier and happier balance.” In order to fix the problems in our lives, we must understand why those problems started in the first place, and this isn’t an easy task. 19 additional prompts will help you to start this process, including:
List any phrases from your past that tell you not to choose what you have always wanted to do.
Choosing a Simpler Life: This section is all about making choices. How do you choose? What do you give up in order to get what you want and need? What is it all right to give up? “More than anything, choosing to go forward is choosing to take action.” A full 21 prompts accompany this section, such as:
Make a list of the time-consuming activities you’ll sacrifice for what matters to you.
Enjoying the Simpler Life: This section is about enjoying and maintaining that simpler life. It’s never quite so easy as choosing to live simply and then having it magically work out right. There are always bumps in the road, but you can deal with them and move onward. This chapter provides another 19 prompts:
Fast-forward five years: name some things that will be different about your lifestyle if you continue to choose what really matters to you.
It’s a surprisingly effective method and journal. It’s amazing what you can find out about the things in life that bother you and the things that really matter to you. As journals go, I can’t find anything to complain about (and I’m a pretty nit-picky person), and I think that most people could learn a lot from “What Really Matters to Me.” If you are in any way unsatisfied with the way your life is going, then I highly recommend finding a copy. It allows you to find your own way, rather than telling you what to do.