If the writers of the Book of Mormon had recorded their experiences the same way that you do yours, what would the Book of Mormon be like today? Would it have episodes full of intrigue and excitement, like Alma chapters 46–62 [Alma 46–62]? Would it be a deeply spiritual treatise, like 2 Nephi 4 [2 Ne. 4]? Would it be a few brief sentences, like Chemish’s entry in Omni 1:9? Or would it even exist?
Okay, so you’re not writing the Book of Mormon. But chances are, someday someone will read the record of your experiences—your journal. Perhaps it will be your daughter after you die, your great-great-great-grandson doing his genealogy, a gospel scholar looking at what life was like for Church members before the Millennium, or an archaeologist trying to piece together daily life in your town in the late 20th century. Whoever it is, what will they find? Will they find anything?
But a journal isn’t just for people in the future; it also has value now, for you. Your journal can be one of your best friends. When there’s no one else you can talk to, you can tell it to your journal. Share with your journal all your joys, hopes, and successes. But also share with it your frustrations, problems, and failures. Writing about your problems can help you come up with solutions as you think through them. As you express your thoughts in writing, your journal can also help you make difficult decisions, get rid of anger, think clearly when you’re confused, and understand yourself better.
As you read your journal, you can be reminded of blessings you may have forgotten. And your faith and testimony can be strengthened as you read again and again of sacred personal experiences you have recorded over the years.
So how do you write a journal that will have value for people in the future as well as for you today? Here are some thoughts that may help:
Set a time to write. Choose a regular time to write in your journal. That will help you remember to do it. Your journal-writing time can be every evening or just on Sundays. Or it can be in the mornings or at lunchtime. Pick a regular time that works for you, and then do it.
Pick an audience. Often it is easier to write if you feel you are writing to someone. Choose an audience, and write as if you were talking to or writing a letter to that person. Your audience could be an imaginary friend, a real friend, your children or grandchildren, or a future historian. Write as you talk; be casual. Don’t worry about trying to impress anyone. Be yourself.
Write about you. One of the hardest things about writing is trying to decide what to write about. Here’s one way to look at it: If you were reading your great-great-grandmother’s journal, what would you want to read? You would probably want to read about her, right? So write about you. Here are some ideas to help you get started:
Describe people and places. People who read your journal will want to know the details of your life. Write interesting descriptions of people—your mother, teacher, and others you associate with. Describe them physically, and also describe their personalities. Describe yourself. Describe where you live, your school, your meetinghouse, and where you go on vacation. Describe the things that have meaning in your life.
Talk about your feelings. Describe how you feel and why—and what you do when you feel that way. Be sure to record how you feel about the Lord and about your experiences as a member of the Church.
Try to see yourself from a distance. This can be good for other readers, but it is especially helpful for you as you examine your life. What are your biggest problems or challenges in life? How are you going to overcome or resolve them? What are your greatest blessings? How is your testimony growing or changing? President Spencer W. Kimball said that “your journal should contain your true self” (New Era, October 1975, page 5). Don’t create a false picture of yourself. Try to see yourself not as the person you hope others see, but as the person you really are—a child of God struggling with the challenges and imperfections of life but growing, learning, developing, and improving. However, do not record confidential matters that would be inappropriate for others to read.
Make lists. List your blessings, your friends, your classes at school, your favorite foods, songs, movies, books, scriptures. Then describe the items in your lists.
Write letters in your journal. Write to a future person in your life, like your child or spouse—or to someone in your past, like an ancestor. You could also include copies of letters you write to others, such as to family members or friends.
Be a historian. Someone reading your journal may live in a different country or time period and may not know much about the history of the place you live in. Tell them about what is going on in the world and in your area of it. By understanding your circumstances and situation better, your readers will better understand you. Also remember to date every entry and include the location and full names of the people you’re writing about.
7. Include selected keepsakes. Put in your journal things that you create—such as a picture you’ve drawn or a poem or story you’ve written. You could include in your journal programs from plays you’ve been in or pictures of you, your family, and your friends. But don’t turn your journal into a scrapbook or photo album—these should be kept separately from your journal.
(Some of the ideas in this article were contributed by Tamara Leatham Bailey and Jeanette Goates Smith.)