"The habit of writing for my eye only is good practice," wrote British author Virginia Woolf in her diary. "It loosens the ligaments."
Whether we call it a diary or a notebook, a commonplace book or a journal, whether we compose on a computer or take pen to paper, the only rule for such private writing is that there are no rules. As we point out in Your Writing: Private and Public, keeping a journal means writing what you want whenever you want without the pressures of deadlines or grades. Writing for your eyes only can be relaxing, therapeutic, even fun.
In addition, writing regularly for ourselves can also help us to become more confident writers. Again, consider Virginia Woolf's experience:
Never mind the misses and the stumbles. Going at such a pace as I do I must make the most direct and instant shots at my object, and thus have to lay my hands on words, choose them and shoot them with no more pause than is needed to put my pen in the ink. I believe that during the past year I can trace some increase of ease in my professional writing which I attribute to my casual half hours after tea. . . .
What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something looseknit and yet not slovenly, so elastic that it will embrace anything, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind. I should like it to resemble some deep old desk, or capacious hold-all, in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking them through.
In a journal, you can write about whatever you please--your thoughts, dreams, observations--and nobody can ever criticize you for bungling a sentence, misspelling a word, or leaving out a central idea. In addition to practicing your writing skills, you'll also be creating a file of images and ideas. And who knows: some of your private jottings may eventually find their way--recast and revised--into a more public composition.
For some tips on getting your writer's journal off to a good start, visit Your Writing: Private and Public. And if you'd like to spend more time with Virginia Woolf, read this entry from her diary, Writing for My Eye Only, and her fine personal essay "Street Haunting: A London Adventure."