One Saturday over three years ago, I caught the train to the city to do a one-day course on journal and memoir writing. After the course, I met my partner nearby, and we went to watch a documentary followed by an Italian dinner. What we didn’t know was that this would be the last time we would go to the city, the cinema, or a restaurant for several months. The following week Sydney, like many places in the world, went into lock down. I know the exact date of the course (10th March, 2020), the name of the movie (Honeyland) and the restaurant (Andiamo Trattoria), because I wrote it all on my journal a few weeks later.
I had never worked from home before, and a great deal of my role involved the promotion of the many workshops my organisation runs all over the state. With the world coming to a standstill, all our events were suddenly cancelled, so I feared my work would quickly dry up; as would the dinners, shows, movies, exhibitions, catch ups with friends, hikes and trips I was used to doing in my spare time.
Like the majority of people, I was facing the prospect of sitting at home, with nothing to do during months of lock down, so I made a list of projects to keep me busy. My list included going for long daily walks, practising meditation, learning a new language, unpacking the Yamaha keyboard I’d stored away years earlier and playing it again, reading more books, acquiring new skills online, and keeping the journal I promised myself I would start after doing my Saturday course.
My work, however, did not dry up. Instead, it multiplied, because we started delivering all our workshops as webinars. Apart from promoting the events, I also had to learn how to run them so I could coordinate them and provide technical support to the various teams. It was so busy that, of the many things on my ‘lock down list’, only three came to fruition: learning new skills online (specifically for work), walking a minimum of five kilometres a day, and journaling.
I remember vividly the day I decided to start the journal. It was a Sunday, in early Autumn, 2020 – my favourite time of the year, when it wasn’t yet too cold and the bushfire season, with all the horrors that it brought that year, was well and truly over. My intention was to document the unprecedented times we were facing – what life looked like during a pandemic. These would be my Corona Chronicles, or as a colleague playfully called them, my ‘Coronacles.’
My journal became much more than that, of course. It is the place where I can express my fears and see that once they are written down, they are not as overwhelming. It is where I exorcise my depressions, pushing through them with an armour of hope until they inevitably lift. It is where I capture my current experiences, both remarkable and mundane, so I can remember them tomorrow; and where I record yesterday’s memories before they’re forgotten. It’s where I write about the people in my life and the things we do together. The music we listen to, the food we eat, the walks we make, the work we do, the shows we watch.
It can also have practical purposes. Recently, a colleague was heading to regional NSW, and she asked around for recommendations of things to do in that particular area. I was able to send her, down to the minimum detail, a list of the restaurants we ate at, the towns we explored, the attractions we visited, our highlights, our lowlights … because I had recorded them all, with photos, as soon as we returned.
In the past, I tended to turn to reflective writing mainly when I was going through a bad patch. If I was to read those notebooks in the future, I would be reminded only of my tribulations. Though they also present in my journal, they are interspersed with hope for the future and recollections of happy times. Most importantly, the mere act of writing, even if it is about nothing remarkable, still has the capacity to bring me joy, and the power to put me ‘in the zone’.
Although the language in my journal hasn’t been as beautiful or elaborate as I would have desired, its main purpose was to get me back into the habit of writing regularly. It definitely achieved that. For the first two years I wrote most Saturdays and if I had the time, some weeknights as well. Although one would think there was not much to record, particularly during the worst of the pandemic, I was still writing at least 1,000 words per week. I often didn’t know what I was going to write about when I opened my laptop, but the words just flowed.
Journaling also worked wonders when it came to getting the creative juices flowing again. After finishing my debut novel, Exuberance, and delivering it to the world, I started writing a second novel. After several false starts, I put that project aside. For many years, I wrote this blog on a monthly basis, with my thoughts on the creative process, travel, inspiration, film, and the power of words. I promoted it on social media and often had positive comments from my readers, and could see, through analytics, that it received quite a few hits. But as life and work got busier, my blog petered out and became six-monthly, then yearly.
It has been nearly three and a half years since I started with the journal, and it is going strong. International travel has resumed, restaurants, shows and theatres are open again, and I am back to my pre-pandemic levels of activity, but I am still journaling. I can only manage one entry every few weeks, but it is several pages long.
My journal is 120,000 words and counting, which is longer than the average length of a novel. This has restored my confidence in the fact that I have the discipline to write long form, even if it takes a while. Second novel, here I come! The blogging was also reignited, because the journaling planted seeds for new posts.
As I wrote in a previous entry, I am a gregarious writer, and am loving being able to get out and about again. But I have to admit that days like today are also my idea of heaven: having a lay-in, a leisurely breakfast, a morning spent communing with nature, getting my boots muddy in the bush near my home; a quiet afternoon ensconced in my study, recording my thoughts in my journal; and a quiet evening writing this blog.
Bel Vidal - Débutante novelist (author of Exuberance), blogger,