I didn’t want to clutter the main essay, so here live specific details on my journaling process. (I probably won’t ever update this page though, so email me if you have questions.)

Note: I would personally be hesitant about using anyone else’s process for journaling. I created my system from scratch and I think that’s in large part why it has been so useful for me.

I will explain these details chronologically, in sync with the main essay.

How I developed my practice: specific details

2020 Summer

Writing Process

  • My writing process is as follows:
    1. Whenever I have a new idea, I create a text document for it in a folder of ideas.
    2. Whenever I want to write, I go through my ideas folder and add sub-ideas to each note.
    3. Over time, a few of these notes coalesce into essays which seem like they could be coherent to others if I posted them publicly.
    4. Occasionally, I review essays that I have already posted, and revise as wished.

2020 Fall - 2021 Spring

Taking notes on individual people

  • During this period I also started taking notes in the conversations I had with others. I was in my first year of university, and for the first time I was meeting plenty of people, and I took notes to keep track. I also began to take notes on paper during the conversations I had (most were over Zoom, anyway). I would then reference these notes next time I spoke to that person.

Organization

  • At this point in time I had only a few dozen files total: one for every season, and one for a couple of topics. However I found the topical notes difficult to manage.
  • Near the end of this period I began to notice that there was structure to my chronological journal entries— they seemed to factor into a few core topics: individual people, courses, health, exercise, and a few others. I also found my current journaling format frustrating: everything was in a massive chronological markdown file, one file for each season— I wanted instead to be able to scroll by date and by topic.

2021 Summer

Organization

  • In order to fix that frustration, I looked for journaling apps and found one that allowed me to organize by date and topic.I now use Obsidian, which I prefer over alternatives because it’s local-first.
    • Note: I believe that fancy apps are mostly useless! Don’t get stuck!
    • Note from 2022: I first started using this app because I thought linking was cool, but the real utility for me is that Obsidian makes it easy for me to have many notes, as I can easily view multiple at once, not forget about all of the notes I have, and cross-reference content between notes. I just checked and apparently I have more than 2,000 notes.
    • I find links to be very useful, but backlinks to be almost useless. Links are nice because they remove the need to remember the name of files, so I can have more files than I can remember names.
  • I started making a new note for everyday (Daily Notes) and journaling accordingly. Within these daily notes, I also started linking to topical notes (e.g. specific people; specific ideas; and, later, specific emotions). It was quite messy though, so I improved this system later.

On Personal Knowledge Management

  • Context about writing: Outside of my essay drafting, I don’t journal for research purposes or knowledge management. (And I don’t archive articles from the internet or do lots of things with book notes.) I say this only because I know some internet people go wild about this.

2021 Fall

Organization

  • At this point I had a note for every person who was significant in my life, but I had only been taking notes on conversations and interactions with said people in my daily notes. I found this messy, though, so I began to journal information about person X on person X's page.
  • How I organize people pages:
    • The top of each page would contain background/other information about the person. For example, I tag the cities in which my friends live.
    • Each person page has a level-1 markdown heading called “stream of interactions”, with level-2 subheadings for each time I interacted with that person, e.g. “[[2022-01-05]] we spoke (irl)”.
  • During this period I also began to enforce that every journal entry be in bullet format. (Bullets play nicer with some of Obsidian's features. Before now I would use an arbitrary amount of line breaks to separate topics.)

2021 Winter

Organization

  • I took analogy from how I journal about people and started journaling in stream-and-date format in notes like the following. Here are some of the notes I currently find helpful with introspection:
    • Some notes I use a few times a week, most of them I use rarely.
    • I occasionally (a few times a month atm) decide to make new notes like the above, but I’m not sure how to describe my process for that.
    • I also have notes on everyone I talk to, and many other notes pertaining to my website and idea drafting.
    • A month before I wrote this essay a reader spontaneously reached out to me and explained her eerily similar journaling practice. She sent me her index, and I find it cute. © Aria Lakhmani:
  • When I write a journal entry that fits into multiple topics, I use my writing app to cross-link it.
    • E.g. Recently I wanted to an entry with the header “[[2022-04-13]] I think I have a fear of following my intrinsic motivations” into a new entry in the note [[my personal development]], so I used the embedding syntax for Obsidian: “![[my aesthetics and enjoyment of experience and life#2022-04-13 I think I have a fear of following my intrinsic motivations]]”.
    • (The cross-links are what created the connections in the graph (see final image) on the main essay.)
    • I also often use Obsidian’s ability to cross-link individual bullet points across notes.
  • I briefly stopped using daily notes during this time, however this led to an incident of confusion where I didn’t know where to put thoughts that I didn’t already have pre-existing categories for. My solution was to still occasionally use daily notes, and also to create a fallback note called [[notes about me that I don’t yet know how to articulate and am confused about]].
  • I think the YYYY-MM-DD date format is the best date format.

On sharing journal entries with others

  • Since 2019 I had had a strong rule of never sharing my journal entries with others— I knew that if I knew my future self might share something that my past self had written, that I then might be unwilling to be completely honest with myself now. Still, I was experimenting with an abundance of “vulnerability” at the time and experimented with sharing a large amount of my journals with others. These experiments were locally somewhat helpful, but not something I would do again.
    • Moreover, at least one of these sharings was overeager and I regretted it later. (But, hey, for the first time I understood why others seemed nervous about being vulnerable.)
    • I also saw this influence how I journaled: I began to censor and skew my writing in case someone else read it later.
  • In 2022, I often send friends short, individual entries from my journals as a way to sync.

Warnings if you try this yourself

  • There’s a way of reading an essay like this and then concluding “Ok, I will journal now.” But “journaling” isn’t real— I think what’s real are the intentions like caring for, paying attention to, and listening to yourself. Journaling is just one way that I carry this out, and maybe for you this looks completely different.
    • I also expect that one day I will outgrow journaling; I would not be surprised if I later decide that this was a temporary crutch for me.
  • I don’t know how to journal about most of the conscious experiences that I have. I do not know how to write most of what I see. I try to make sure that what I journal does not come to define what I think my experience is. There’s a lot more that I don’t know that I know.

If this essay influenced your journaling practice, I’d like to hear from you! And maybe I can add one of your examples to the main essay:)