I hope my writings on the subject have at least piqued your interest in journaling just a bit. Hopefully you’ve at least thought about journaling, and maybe you’ve even written an entry or two. Or you might be a seasoned journaling veteran. Wherever you are in your journey, you might want to seek out the help of a wise guide to help you navigate the waters you find yourself in. I can think of no better book to assist you in your efforts than How to Keep a Spriritual Journal by Ronald Klug.
I was first introduced to this book when I was reading Richard Foster’s landmark Celebration of Discipline. While he (surprisingly) doesn’t include journaling as a spiritual discipline, he makes an oblique reference to the practice, and mentions Klug’s book in some of the notes. Upon Foster’s recommendation, I tracked the book down. By this point I had been journaling for over five years, but it was great to hear some new ideas on the topic. Also, this was the first book I’d read that specifically focused on the spiritual dimension of journal writing. I found Klug’s writings to be immensely helpful at the time, and I still refer back to them often.
Klug starts the book with a chapter called “Why Keep a Journal?” He gives an overview of what will be discussed in the book before launching into some great reasons why a journal can be a valuable tool, specifically as it pertains to the spiritual life. Klug rightfully points out that spiritual growth encompasses all of life. Therefore it is quite reasonable and necessary that even a spiritual journal will contain writings about personal and work goals alongside questions about the deeper things including Bible study and finding purpose in life. Klug also points back to Richard Foster, speaking of the role of spiritual disciplines in the Christian life and how journaling fits into that context.
Chapter 2 then dives into some of the specific benefits of journaling as a discipline, and some of the variety of ways a journal can be used. Chapter 3 might be the most important entry point for someone new to journaling. All of the questions about when, where, and how to journal are answered.
At the heart of journaling is a style of writing that Klug calls “The Daily Record”. This is the practice of writing at the end of every day. In doing so, you are trying to capture anything meaningful that happened that day. This will vary for different people, but Klug hits on events of the day, conversations that you’ve had, books that you’ve read, and travel that you’ve taken, among others.
I should probably point out here that Klug’s Daily Record is a little different than the free-writing I’ve advocated. His style of journaling would best be used at the end of the day, or maybe as notes scribbled down in the margins of your life. I think there is great value in this type of writing – in fact, I do a version of this myself that I’ll write about later. The best approach would be to incorporate both free-writing and personal reflection into your journaling practice. You could do 20 minutes of free-writing in the morning and 5 minutes of reflection at night.
Journaling can be a great tool for clarifying what’s important to you. Klug devotes two chapters to discussing how to go about this important practice. First he discusses a journal as a way to write about and move in the direction of your life goals. Realizing that you can’t reach your goals unless you maintain your focus at the daily level, there is also an excellent chapter on journaling and time management.
Perhaps my favorite section of How to Keep a Spiritual Journal is when Klug specifically talks about the journal as an “aid to the devotional life”. The way he transitions seamlessly from talking about goals and time management into deeper spiritual topics serves to highlight that a spiritual journey doesn’t happen on the mountaintop but rather on the well-trodden roads we walk every day. This chapter is loaded with great ideas for writing your way to a richer faith, to the point that it could be a book in itself.
Klug next describes the journal as a tool for writing a personal memoir. Finally, he offers brief insight into writing for publication. While these are both excellent uses for a journal, it almost feels like he’s trying to cover all his bases. It feels a little beyond the scope of this conversation. The book would have benefited from more discussion on devotional journaling and perhaps pointing readers to other people who have written on these other topics.
One other nugget of gold to be found in Klug’s book is the chapter on “harvesting your journal”. Even though you think your thoughts are throwaway, they can still be of great value for future reference. Klug presents a couple of ways you could revisit and interact with older writings. This section alone makes the book worth checking out.
One final note: I wish there was an updated version of this book. When he first wrote this, it was assumed that the journal was handwritten. This went without saying. Today, in addition to handwritten notebooks, we have an array of digital tools at our disposal, making journaling a digital, and if we want, multimedia affair. It would be of great benefit to have a discussion of the pros and cons of digital journaling.
This book has been the one I’ve turned to more than any other when I’ve had a question about journaling. As you begin or continue your own foray into the subject, I can’t think of a better place to start than with this classic.