Deb Molly’s Rules for Keeping Journals

To continue the, ahem, tradition that Debs Joanne and Erika started by talking about their writing traditions — or, in Deb Erika’s case, creepy superstitions — I thought I’d share some of my own. I’ve been keeping journals since ninth grade, and over the years, I’ve developed a whole list of weird little rules and rituals around them.

(Warning: some rules are completely insane.)


Molly’s Rules for Keeping Journals

1. You can write as much as you want, whenever you want, however you want.

When I was little, I had this idea that a diary only counted if you wrote in it every single day. My grandma used to give me those little diaries with the date already printed at the top of each page, and they used to stress me out beyond belief. First of all, it was impossible to write in the dumb thing every single day, so I’d miss a day, and then I’d feel guilty and try to write two days’ worth, but then I’d miss two or three days, and the idea of catching up on all those days was so overwhelming I’d just quit entirely. So the first thing I had to do in order to keep a journal was give myself permission to write whenever I wanted to. Every day for a week? Fine. Three times a day, and then not again for a month? No prob. It sounds dumb now, but giving myself that simple rule allowed me to stop guilt-tripping myself for not writing, and I went from writing because I had to to writing because I wanted to.

Those little diaries also gave me the crazies about how much I could write. I felt like I should fill up the page, but I couldn’t go into the next page, because it was already dated for the next day! So in order to start journaling, I made the rule that I could write as much as I wanted — one sentence, a page, six pages, anything.

The “however” part of the rule was the last tool I used to break free from the oppression of those dated diaries — in my journals, I could write in huge letters or tiny ones, in marker, crayon, pencil, or pen; I could turn the whole book sideways and write like that, I could write in a spiral from the center of the page, I could write backward. I could paint pictures with the tiny watercolor kit my cousin gave me one summer, or color with the free crayons at Perkins. I could write giant and angry or small and fussy, I could write poetry or plays or fiction or long lists of inside jokes. I could cover the back pages with phone numbers or lists of books I’d read. I could write whatever and however I wanted.

2. You don’t have to write about what happened.

I always joke that I must have been an archivist in another life, because I have always been driven by the need to preserve the present for the future. Ever since I was little, I’ve loved photo albums, time capsules, letters to Future Molly, scrapbooks, old papers, and — yes — diaries. But my weirdly obsessive need to archive everything got in the way of my writing freedom, and writing started to feel like a chore. “I really should write about what happened at that party,” I’d think. “But I just want to talk about how the cute boy kept accidentally brushing my arm!” Even in elementary school, I’d dutifully record the events of the day: “Today we had a math test, then I had basketball practice, and Mom took us to Pizza Hut for Book It.” BO-RING! So when I started journaling, I made the rule that I would only write about what happened if I wanted to, and told myself that Future Molly would be more interested in my FEELINGS than what happened anyway. (Not sure if I was right on this count, but it’s too late now!)

3. Every journal must have a title. 

In college, I had a poetry professor who wouldn’t allow us to turn in poems without titles. “Untitled #47” didn’t count. He believed that titles were important, and that we could all use more practice giving things titles. I was happy to hear it, because it affirmed the rule I’d developed for my journals years earlier: they all had to have titles. I don’t even remember why I started titling them, but it helps me to keep them straight in my mind (again with the archives thing). And honestly, it IS good to practice titling things! Titles DO matter!

3b. Every journal must have a list of all the journal titles that came before. 

Okay, this one is just crazy. Sometimes I like to pretend it’s a ritual akin to a Buddhist Lineage, where each new monk can trace their teachers all the way back to the Buddha, but it probably has more to do with my love of archives and weird lists.

3b.5. The list must be generated by memory.

Even crazier. I get it. This one I’ve relaxed in recent years because a) I don’t go through journals as quickly as I once did, and b) I am going senile in my old age.

4. The pages should be numbered (odds only). 

This one started because I liked to count how many pages I’d filled since ______, and I was constantly flipping through pages and counting out loud. I realized I could number them instead and save myself lots of time. I do odd pages only because it’s faster.

4b. Date, time, location. 

Not a hard and fast rule, but I usually note the date, time, and location at the top of the page whenever I’m writing. Sometimes I get really specific, like “9:38 pm, Saturday, November 25, 2006 — Mom’s kitchen with 105.5 FM and hot apple cider.” Other times it’s just “Tuesday afternoon, 14 July, StoryStudio.”

Incidentally, in addition to writing my name in my books, I also note the month, year, and city of purchase. What can I say: I’m a nerd for dates and places.

5. You may not rip pages out of your journal. 

Journals are sacred, even if they’re just school notebooks. They shouldn’t be used for homework or grocery lists, and if you take notes in them, as I frequently do when I find myself at random meetings, those notes will be preserved FOREVER. You can, however, paste pages INTO journals, which I also frequently do, because I know that — unlike random folders, boxes, envelopes, and other places I store old papers — I’ll never lose my journals.

6. Not having your journal with you is no excuse not to write. 

That’s when you grab a sheet of loose-leaf, or a flier, or a napkin, and plan to paste it in your journal later.

7. You must begin a new journal immediately after finishing an old one. 

This one is plain superstition — I feel more susceptible to accidental death when I’m between projects. Truth.


How about you all? Please tell me I’m not the only one with a whole list of weird rules and superstitions about keeping journals! 

32 Replies to “Deb Molly’s Rules for Keeping Journals”

  1. What’s wrong with me? I am not a fan of journals. When I taught teachers, many fellow profs required their teachers to journal about their teaching. I couldn’t bring myself to have the requirement in my class. Did that make me a bad teacher?

    Seeing your list makes me think that I was never taught how to journal. I noticed that our 5th grader has a journal and her teacher is teaching her to use it just like she’s teaching her how to use the agenda book. They have some of the same rules that you have listed.

    I am going to have to think about this more. Maybe journaling is not so bad after all.

    1. I was always bad about journaling in/for school, even though I’m a strong believer in reflective practices (especially in education!). I always resented when the teacher would respond to my journal entries. A good friend of mine taught fifth graders and responded to their writing with post-its for this reason — so if the kids didn’t want their teacher’s writing all over their journal, they could just remove it.

        1. She’s the best. I’d like to think I have something do to with it — after I spent all of college complaining to her about my stupid high school teachers who wrote all over my journals! 🙂

  2. I think if more people (including me) observed #1 and 2, journaling would be more popular.

    The #3 rules, however, are indeed completely insane. But you’re cute, so we’ll forgive you.

    1. It’s funny, as I was writing this out, I kept thinking that Rules #1 & 2 are so obvious, and I must have been dumb for needing to state them so explicitly to myself!

      Also, *BLUSH*!

  3. I LOVE this post. This little peek into Molly is great (and likely not as crazy as it seems to she who wrote it). I always wanted to be a journaller, but I’m lazy and inconsistent and growing up in a home with three older brothers, it never seemed a safe endeavor. NO KEY is impermeable to nosy brothers, trust me.

    1. Yes! That’s why I wrote in school notebooks all through high school — less likely to be interesting to prying eyes. But by then, my sister wasn’t interested enough to go out of her way to spy on me, beyond the occasional picking up the phone and listening when I was talking….

      Incidentally, I strongly strongly believe that parents should NEVER confront their kids about something they learned by snooping in journals. (Note that I didn’t say parents shouldn’t READ journals — I get why you’d want to, if you were worried about your kid — but confessing to your kid that you read them? And worse, PUNISHING your child for something s/he wrote? Awful.)

      1. Amen to that! Like you, I’m not saying parents should never snoop — frankly, I think that’s part and parcel of the whole “protect your kids” thing — but to react negatively to a child expressing his/her thoughts is awful. Not to mention, stupid. IMHO, of course.

        1. I am pro-snooping. 🙂 But if you confront your kids about what you find, you take away their journal — and maybe writing — as a safe space, possibly forever.

  4. Let’s see…I haven’t kept a journal since 1978, and that one only has one entry in it. Guess you could say I’m not much of a diarist. *grin*

    I suppose my blog is the closest thing to keeping a journal I’ve ever done. Maybe it’s the accountability of having an audience that keeps me going there. (Well, except for the occasional breaks, like now.)

    Love your rules, though! Wish I had that kind of discipline. 🙂

    1. Not sure I would call it discipline — it wasn’t until I gave myself permission not to write for months at a time that I managed to journal on a regular basis! Also, “journal” seems a small word for what I keep — but I don’t know another word for “writing notebook plus scrapbook plus emotional drama sounding board.”

  5. This post makes me so happy! I love journaling! Like you, I used to be the type who felt the compulsion to write every single day about the most random things ever. These days, I, like you, just write whenever I feel like it — and I’ve found it to be much more meaningful that way 🙂

    1. Yay! Writing is already hard enough — it shouldn’t have to feel like a chore! Also, I believe journals should be totally self-indulgent, which doesn’t really mesh with the whole compulsive discipline thing!

  6. I totally do the date-time-location thing. I like to remember where and when I wrote specific entries.

    It took me years to realize I didn’t have to write every day or write about what happened – but once I did, it was SO freeing. (I end up writing most days, anyway – and sometimes I do write about what happened. But I don’t HAVE to. Which makes all the difference.)

    And I’ve been known to start a new journal mere hours after finishing one. I seriously get twitchy if I don’t have a journal in progress.

    1. Journal soul-sister! Maybe we should go into business, make journals that say “Write in me when you want to!” on the cover. 🙂

  7. I remember sitting with Molly Backes at the Forum Grill, writing a letter to future Erin in my journal that made her promise to never destroy her old journals no matter how angry she was at her old self. I think I even let you write something in that journal…unheard of! I’ll have to go looking for it (I recall never finishing it because the pages were too small. I am so freakin’ picky about the color and size of the pages and the lines and how the book sits open, and how the cover feels, and on and on and on….).

    1. Oh, college. Drama + free time + loneliness + great writing teachers + intense procrastination = the golden years of journaling.

      I definitely remember writing in the forum with you! I also remember a time when someone looked over my shoulder at what I was writing and then started yelling at me. “You’re writing about your HAIR???? I always see you writing in that book & I assume you’re writing these beautiful, poetic, profound observations about life, but you’re actually writing about your HAIR?”

  8. I have also been a sporadic journal writer but have recently gone back to college (there is about a 40 year age difference between me and other students). My professor has convinced me of the therapy of journal writing. I like your post, especially about adding time and location to journal entries. What is important to me besides getting my emotions and thoughts on paper is leaving them for my children. Also a great source for the essays I’ve been writing…and my blog posts.

    1. I love the idea of leaving them for your children! My mother kept a journal when she was pregnant with me, and it’s amazing to read her giddy, nervous, and SO YOUNG voice!

  9. I’ve never kept a journal. I’ve tried plenty to keep a diary, as I liked to call it back in the day, but I couldn’t get myself to remember really. Well, actually scratch that. I do keep a blog, so that must count for something. And I have kept travel journals on big trips so that I know where I went, which has come in handy. Although now I usually just write my mom an email with everything we did that day, and then I refer to said email if necessary. How very techy of me! And very mom-dependent,too.

    I think that you’re absolutely right about one thing–future Molly will care MUCH more that the cute boy gave you goosebumps (adorable!) than the fact that you went to math class (and?).

    Finally, I LOVE LOVE LOVE lists. Journals, no. Lists, yes. I keep a running list of every single book I’ve read since 2002. Now that goodreads exists, I use that too, but I still keep my handwritten list. I love writing to-do lists (though I hate doing them.) And I love writing lists of lists! No wonder we get along so well.

    1. Once my best friend and I sat in Perkins and listed every. single. inside. joke. we had after years of knowing each other. It took like 20 pages. To this day, it’s one of my favorite lists (though I have NO IDEA what have of them mean anymore!)

  10. Love journals! I invent reasons to buy new ones. And I always have my novel journals (to go with my index cards, as mentioned yesterday on Erika’s post). I have my novel journal and my bedside journal and my Artist’s Way morning pages journal (don’t use that one often) and my dream journal and my therapy journal (when I’m going through one of my therapy bouts, as all neurotics must now and then :-)) and my books-read journal and my desktop journal and my eating journal and my writing workshop/classes journal and…

    But, I can say that I don’t have many rules around those journals. 🙂

    1. Oh my goodness! That’s so many! I can barely keep track of one (though it’s usually in my purse). I feel that way about pens though. A good office supply store is like heaven.

  11. Molly, I am so lousy with journals. I kept them for a while–and cringed upon revisiting them (is that the point?) so I (I hope you’re sitting down…) TOSSED them last year.

    That said, I might have to try again now that I have this guide!

  12. I not too long ago got here across your weblog and have been studying along. I believed I would go away my first comment. I don�t know what to say besides that I have loved reading. Good blog, I’ll hold visiting this blog very often. Little doubt this is a superb put up I bought a number of data after studying good luck. Theme of blog is excellent there may be almost all the pieces to read, Sensible put up
    very useful information for me.As a result of i’m new in blogging and i’m in need of excellent tutorials like your post. Nice to visit right here, and don’t forget to go to our blog too and provides me extra spirit to continue my running a blog activities
    Hi � very nice web site you could have put up. I had a blast studying this posting. I did need to publish a comment to inform you that the structure of this web page could be very aesthetically pleasing. I was a website designer, now I’m a easy worker for a software improvement company. I’ve all the time loved enjoying with computing machines and am trying to study web site constructing in my spare time (which there’s by no means enough of lol).
    The 2 of us really like this post.It seems like you have put loads of efort into your blog and human race needs much more like this these days. i don’t have a giant deal in retort,i simply wanted to inform nicely done.fantastic article.I by no means think of that.
    Thanks for sharing this. It is so lucky to learn your blog, filled with knowledgable message.I believe we both can do still higher in the future. it’s an awesome honour for those who go to our website and give some valuable suggestions.many due to the one who wrote this publish,this was very informative for me.please proceed this superior work.
    Thank you so much for sharing this source. It was fascinating and in the mean time you watch it, you certainly won�t forget it Very informative blog. I believe many may benefit from reading your blog due to this fact I am subscribing to it and telling all my buddies
    As soon as a careful browse I believed it was actually enlightening. I get pleasure from you taking the time and effort to place on this weblog post together. I once once more uncover me personally spending approach to a lot time both studying and leaving comments.
    I’m not going to say what everyone else has already said, but I do need to remark on your data of the topic. Youre truly effectively-informed. I cant consider how a lot of this I just wasnt conscious of. Thanks for bringing extra info to this subject for me. Im really grateful and actually impressed.
    It is a brief publish to state, very simply, thanks a ton. I’ve had an opportunity to compensate for this submit and the comments as we speak and I am actually grateful for knowing the content of this blog
    My dad continues to be writing a book precisely on point with th is weblog web site, I’ve emailed him the online deal with so maybe he could select up a couple pointers. Implausible Work.
    This will be the good weblog for anybody who desires to find out about this subject. You recognize so much its nearly arduous to argue with you (not that I significantly would want…HaHa)!!! You certainly put a brand new spin on a topic thats been written about for decades. Great issues, just good!
    It seems that you have put plenty of effort and arduous work into your put up and I require rather more of these on the net in latest times. I sincerely got a kick out of your post. I don�t actually have considerably to say responding, I solely wanted to comment to reply amazing work.
    Have you ever thought of including up extra videos to your weblog posts to hold the readers further entertained? I imply I simply read by means of the entire piece of writing of yours and it was very first-class but since I’m more of a visual learner,I discovered that to grow to be further useful well let me know how it turns out! I love what you might be always up too. Such shiny work and reporting! Continue the good works guys I’ll add it to my blogroll.
    It is a good article thanks for sharing this informative information.. I’ll visit your blog often for some newest post.
    Among the best articles I have read in a while. Thanks and keep up the great work.
    Superior setup, thanks for the help. This helped me big time with my decision.
    Another nice article once again. I like your writing style and the way you current your information. You truly are a favourite of mine to read. Keep up the way you do! Thanks!
    I wish i may write the best way you do sometimes. I am definitely going to take pointers on how you write and apply it to my own. Thanks for all of your hard work!
    I simply got here in from Google. This looks like a terrific site. I had a beautiful time studying your web page, and I’ll make sure you come back. I saved your web page and I also passed your page to a few members of the family as well. I hope you don�t thoughts!
    First off, allow my family appreciate an individual�s order within this subject. Regardless that this is definitely innovative , nevertheless quickly after registering your blog, these brains has burst extensively. Permit many individuals to take hold for one�s rss to help be in contact with within the least attainable promotions Direct absolutely grasp but will transfer it on to assist admirers and the precise reside employees
    I was questioning if you want to be a guest poster on my web page? and in commerce chances are you’ll embody a hyperlink your submit? Please reply everytime you get an opportunity and I’ll ship you my contact particulars – thanks. Anyway, in my language, there will not be a lot good supply like this.
    Took me time to learn all the feedback, but I really enjoyed the article. It proved to be Very useful to me and I am sure to all the commenters right here! It’s always nice when you can’t only be told, but additionally entertained! I’m certain you had fun writing this article.
    Hi I really like your article and it was so fabulous and I’m gonna bookmark it. One thing to say the Indepth analysis this article has is significantly remarkable.No one goes that extra mile today? Bravo! Simply another tip you caninstall a Translator Utility in your Worldwide Audience !
    This submit was very properly written, and it additionally contains loads of useful facts. I appreciated your distinguished method of scripting this post. Thanks, you’ve made it straightforward for me to grasp
    Thanks this post really opened my eyes. it is not solely eye opening reasonably very helpful for the folks those that need to do something good in his life .
    Thank you for this blog. Thats all I can say. You most definitely have made this blog into one thing thats eye opening and important. You clearly know so much in regards to the subject, youve lined so many bases. Nice stuff from this a part of the internet. Again, thank you for this blog.
    I’ve been looking around for this website after requested to visit them from a colleague and was pleased once I was able to find it after looking for some time.
    Effectively, the article is in reality the highest-high quality on this exemplary theme. I accord along with your selections and can thirstily stay up for your following updates. Solely telling thanks will not just be enough, for the great limpidity in your writing. I will now grab your rss feed to continue informed of any updates. Delicious work and far success in your corporation relations.
    I loved studying your blog and I needed to inform you that I completely agree with you. It is tricky to find those who assume alike these days. Stick with it
    I recently got here across your weblog and have been studying along. I assumed I would leave my first comment. I don�t know what to say besides that I have loved reading. Nice blog, I’ll hold visiting this blog very often.
    Thanks for nice info. It�s useful for me. Are you able to give me some more data with particulars? I’ll wait for your next post.
    On a extra encouraging word, one out of commented earlier. This augers effectively for the long-awaited recovery of demand to your companies, in all probability it’ll remain elusive for months to come.
    I need to agree that this blog is value all my time spent in reading it. Individuals posting blog ought to really exert some effort to educating the readers.This could be the superb weblog for anyone who desires to search out out about this subject.
    That is one blog that has made me actually ponder on the things that I have been doing. Actually mind-boggling and thought-provoking. Thanks and I’m wanting forward one other helpful blog like this.
    Hey about i do believe your weblog is relatively full pleasurable i discovered it in google and i set it on my favourite record want to see additional great posts from u shortly.
    I discovered your blog website on google and confirm a lot of of your early posts. Proceed to keep up the very good operate. I merely additional up your RSS feed to my MSN News Reader. Looking for ahead to finding out more from you afterward!�
    I am always a foul will you get constructive response from me,nonetheless modern and informative.thanx buddy.
    It’s evident that you simply love doing what you do as your enthusiasm can be seen in all of your work. Don�t ever let the passion move on as we are here always anticipating what you’ve gotten in store for us. Thanks for your willingness to share your beautiful masterpieces. extremely impressed your writing skills and also with the structure on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you customise it yourself? Both approach sustain the nice high quality writing, it�s rare to see a nice blog like this one these days.Thanks for sharing online.
    I’m very happy with the hassle and don�t really feel like adding anything in it. It an ideal thing which is being done. Hold the great work! I’ve simply bookmarked this website for future reference. On the lookout for your common post.
    I have thought fairly a bit about this matter since I’ve started to read blogs which comparatively speaking is not all that lengthy a time. I appreciate your insights and experiences here. They’re very candid and it will be arduous to find this data elsewhere.
    I am happy to find your distinguished manner of writing and just lately finished reading through your blog and I’m very impressed. I do have a pair questions for you personally however. Do you suppose you’re desirous about doing a follow-up posting about this? Will you be going to maintain citing-to-date as properly?
    I normally don’t comment on blogs however your blog has such a mode and writing type that I’ve no options but to remark here. Great publish, keep it up.
    I must agree that this weblog is worth all my time spent in studying it. Individuals posting weblog ought to actually exert some effort to educating the readers.This might be the superb weblog for anyone who desires to search out out about this subject.
    Hey about i do believe your weblog is moderately full pleasurable i found it in google and i set it on my favourite list want to see further great posts from u shortly.
    I discovered your weblog website on google and confirm plenty of of your early posts. Proceed to maintain up the superb operate. I simply additional up your RSS feed to my MSN Information Reader. Looking for ahead to studying extra from you afterward!�
    Really glad I got here across this blog post. It was extremely useful. In any case, I was questioning what type of theme you are utilizing? I like the colors because they mix so good. Properly, keep up the good articles and I�ll come back. I’m completely going to inform others about this.
    I am always a bad can you get optimistic response from me,nonetheless revolutionary and informative.thanx buddy.
    I particularly like and agree with this strategy to writing: “The truth is that any writing is just one individual�s very skewed version of the story.” Not only do readers must take that to heart, however as writers, we would do ourselves a favor by embracing that more absolutely and openly.
    I have thought quite a bit about this topic since I’ve started to learn blogs which comparatively talking is not all that lengthy a time. I appreciate your insights and experiences here. They are very candid and it would be onerous to search out this information elsewhere.

Comments are closed.