The Manual

For years, she’s searched for The Manual.

Somehow, she’s always thought life on earth came with a perfect guidance on how to live, that lies somewhere, in some random stranger’s life story, or a dusty book nobody has ever heard about.


You see? Every time she discovered a new manual, she would act accordingly.

Dress like this, talk like that, look at it from this perspective, they would say.

And she would gladly follow, thinking this was it, this was the key to living well.

But it was never “it”.

There often come oppositions, other ways of lives that claim to be better than the current manual in her hand.

Pursue riches, get a house, dream of fame, one would say.

The other would nudge her to travel, to be adventurous while another would sing for her to enjoy the simplicity of life, the little drizzling rains hitting her own bedroom window.


One manual would tell her to always be there for her friends while another told her to put her self-love first.

One told her to bear hopes; the other scoffed at her for even attempting to find any meaning in this empty life at all.


You see? For years, she’s flitted from one manual to another, like a confused fruit fly.

Surely, with all these contradicting guides, there must be the ultimate manual that would put these all to shame. Surely, if she talked with enough people, and read enough obscure books, she would find it.

But it surely did not turn out that way. The piled-up manuals she’s gathered one day chocked the air inside her rib cage, muddled her will to live.


And at that moment, during her last gasp for air, she finally realizes there’s no one true manual to rule them all. In fact, different people have different guides, and it’s okay if those contradict.

She realizes she was born manual-less, not so she can copy it from other people, but that she should write her own manual. How? She doesn’t know quite yet, but at least she knows this time, it will be her blood in the ink, her thoughts in the squiggles and her heart in the paragraphs.

How to Write a Journal?

In the previous post, I managed to convince myself that journaling is definitely a worthwhile activity that not only heal the soul but our physical body as well. In this article, we look at how to write one.

According to Brett McKay from The Art of Manliness, there are three basic steps to get you started on your journaling journey. Let’s adopt that method for now.

1/ Choose a medium:

  • There are many electronic options out there.
    • You can write in the good old fashion word processor of your computer.
    • You can use programs such as OneNote, EverNote to store your writing from all devices
    • Or a blog entry in popular blogging sites such as Tumblr, WordPress, Blogspot, Livejournal or even email yourself the entries.

2/ Schedule a time:

Starting anything the first day out of impulse is easy, but consistently doing it is hard. I have no doubt even avid diarists miss out a day or two, but to get yourself to write your journal entry everyday, you’ve got to decide what time you want to write. Some people prefer to write it at night, just before they head off to dream land because it helps them unwind, and sum up their day. On the contrary, some people prefer to do it in the morning as they are too beat at night to reflect on anything. Others just jot down in their journal from time to time as the day progresses. There’s no fixed method, actually, you just try them out, and pick the one that suits your schedule, liking, and energy level the most. After you’ve picked your time, you have to be adamant about it. It’s a non-negotiable time, and if you break it to do something else once too many time, you might just weaken your resolve, self-discipline and end up half-finished!

3/ What to write?


McKay suggested to write whatever the hell is swimming in your head at the moment, but that might be hard for those who do not have the habit of writing. In the last article, I’ve shown how journaling can lead to different results. If you have a certain result in mind, here are some suggestions.

  • Better English: if you want to improve your writing or language skills by journaling, you should do it in that language (obviously). Try to include as many words/phrases and jargons you have learnt into your entries as possible. You should make it a rule to write in complete sentences, and develop the habit of catching a mistake in spelling or grammar while you write.
  • Legacy: if your desired result is to keep a legacy, then you’d have to be a bit more personal with what you write. You should write about the activities that you do, and your feelings and reflections. Maybe include a lot of interactions with other people, too.
  • Problem solving skills: now, obviously if you want to improve your problem solving skills, you would have to write about problems. Write about what’s bothering you, your fears, your doubts, and everything that needs dealing with. It’s almost magical how one can see so much clearer, and thus deal with an issue more quickly.
  • Improved knowledge retention: if you want to remember more of what you’ve learnt by journaling, then it makes sense if you write about it in your journal.
  • Critical self-reflection: it is exactly how it sounds like. You should spend time just reflecting the hell out of your feelings, perceptions of yourself, of others, of everything! Try to dig into the root cause of things. It’s nothing short of miracle when you realize a reoccurring pattern in several problems you’re dealing with. Without probing into yourself, you may never really know who you are.
  • Self-shaping: if you want to arrive at a better self by writing a journal, then you should pay particular attention to what you really want to become. For example, if you want to become more disciplined at your work, you can make it a point to reflect on your discipline on various tasks over the day, recognize it as what it is, and make necessary plans to improve it in the following day.
  • Let loose: now, this is an easy one. Just freaking write whatever you want, whatever is floating in your consciousness at the moment!


Now, that was a tad restricting, wasn’t it? After all, journaling should be a private act of enjoyment rather than just another writing assignment. I agree with you. For my part, I only write whatever the hell I want. Sometimes, I write about my travel reflections if it’s exciting. Sometimes, I write about crushes, and sometimes, I write about my obsessive feelings to a fandom. Really, just let loose, and get to know your mind!


Here are some general tips for your journaling though (for real):

1/ Perspective: According to Seih, Lin, Huang, Peng, and Huang (2008), writing using first, second and third person perspectives make a difference. Basically, writing that uses first-person pronoun promotes emotional disclosure while second-person pronoun stimulates a dialogue with a supportive partner. Writing in third-person pronoun makes the experience objective and distant. The research concludes that anxious people who oppress their emotions benefit the most from shifting their writing among these three perspective. I think its benefits do not only apply to the anxious ones. When you want to vent off, you should write in first person. (I got bullied. It made me sad. Clexa gives me life.) If you need support or motivate yourself, use second person. (You know, you’re a pretty cool gal. Don’t listen to what they say. Just go on shipping your OTP) And after making sense of everything, you may want to distance the event by describing it in a third person perspective. (Sokcheng got bullied, but she’s alright. Clexa shippers are strong.)

2/ Meditation/reflection: The School of Life has an amazing video on how to meditate by writing. I find it helpful to do it once every two weeks or so just to catch up with my soul. You can learn to do it by watching the video here. Basically, there are prompts that will give you a chance to dig deeper into what you’re excited, doubtful, and fearful about in the moment.

3/ Read this article to see how Bruce Lee kept his diary just because he was awesome and philosophical.


Well, that’s about it. Now get that writing material, take a deep breath, and write!



  • Seih, Y., Lin, Y., Huang, C., Peng, C., & Huang, S. (2008). The benefits of psychological displacement in diary writing when using different pronouns. British Journal of Health Psychology, 13. 39 – 41.

Journal or Nah?

What does Sylvia Path, Virginia Woolf, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Benjamin Franklin had in common? Great strides? Ambition? A quirky sense of fashion? An overwhelming Personality? Maybe, I don’t know, but one thing I know for sure though is that they were all avid diarists. Many a great accomplished person from every field, be it of science, politics or arts have been dedicating their precious time for journal writings which continue for more than half of their lives. Is that a coincidence? Or a not-so-hidden secret that might have contributed to their success and quality of lives?

Let us examine the benefits of journal writing, and see for ourselves.

(There seem to be an overwhelming amount of pros here, so brace yourself, my reading beans.)

  1. Better language and/or writing skills: the very obvious reason most Cambodian youths take up journaling is to improve their English. Of course, if you write your entry in English, overtime, you will undoubtedly have a better grasp in English, and writing in general. In fact, I started keeping a diary in Mandarin to sharpen my Chinese competency (and it didn’t work for long), and switched to English for the pretty same reason. It has definitely helped me practice putting phrases and words I’ve learned into good frequent use. Also, most of my classmates from English class is amazed at my ability to write about almost anything in a short amount of time. Well, it’s nothing miraculous, really. I’ve just been writing on so many things that my brainstorming process gets more efficient. Sylvia Path, one of the most renowned poets, and novelist of the 20th century was an avid diarist; she thought it was a great warming up exercise for her
  2. Legacy: wouldn’t it be nice to read about what your grandparents did when they were your age? Were they equally lost and somehow depressed? Did they have a crush on anyone? How did they meet? How did they fall in love? All these questions might also be asked by your future children and grandchildren. Your diary can become material for your memoirs later on. It might become one of the best-selling books in the world like Anne Frank’s (if you get famous or something), or just a hidden legacy for your private family. Without diaries, how many lines can you write about what you’ve been through for the past *insert your age*? I know I can write just about one page of my 21 years on Earth without the help of a diary.
  3. Improved problem solving skills: according to Karina K. R. Hensberry and Tim Jacobbe (2012) who did an experiment on the effects of Polya’s heuristic and diary writing on children’s problem solving found out (with a pretty limited sample) that children who wrote down the process of their math solving had an improved set of problem solving skills in their post-test. I do not believe it only works for children. Writing makes our heads clearer, thoughts more precise, and as a result, we get a better chance of pin-pointing what exactly is nagging our nerves away, and the best way to treat it.
  4. beatiful-fountain-pen-old-pen-favim-com-1324916Improved knowledge retention: according to the educator, Roger Hiemstra (2001), learners are “urged to … use one of the journaling formats as a means for assisting them to obtain the maximum amount of interaction, knowledge and personal growth from their reading efforts or other learning experiences.” Apparently, just by reflecting and jotting down what your learning process help you maximize the amount of knowledge you can retain from the said experience.
  5. Critical self/professional reflection: Heimstra also suggests that journaling gives one the opportunity to conduct critical reflection upon oneself, one’s ideas, insights and world views. It can also give one a space to grow professionally by critically assessing a professional matter. Heimstra is not alone in this view as the Nobel laureate, Andre Gide at the ripe age of 22, thought that keeping a diary is a way for him to peel back the layers, and rediscover what lays beneath.

    220px-gide_by_laurensWhenever I get ready to write really sincere notes in this notebook, I shall have to undertake such a disentangling in my cluttered brain that, to stir up all that dust, I am waiting for a series of vast empty hours, a long old, a convalescence, during which my constantly reawakened curiosities will be at rest; during which my sole care will be to rediscover myself.” (The Journals of Andre Gide Volume I, and II).

  6. Improved health: studies have also demonstrated that journaling leads to better emotional health, especially when we deal with trauma, and stress. According to Itziar Fernandez and Dario Paez (2008) whose research had 607 participants some of whom are indirectly and directly affected by the terrorism attack in Madrid, generally called M11, use expressive writing to recall the traumatic event. Participants reported a lowered amount of negative emotions, while positive emotions were not significantly affected. Apparently, the study concludes that some aspects of expressive writing such as using positive emotion words can alleviate negative emotions in a 2-month follow-up, while emphasizing negative experience does not help.tumblr_static_3lpkfxrbp9gkg40oc804soss0Strangely enough, journaling is also tied to better physical health. According to Karen A. Baikie, Kay Wilhelm (2005), long-term benefits of expressive writing include:
    Health outcomes
    – Fewer stress-related visits to the doctor
    – Improved immune system functioning
    – Reduced blood pressure
    – Improved lung function
    – Improved liver function
    – Fewer days in hospital
    – Improved mood/affect
    – Feeling of greater psychological well-being
    – Reduced depressive symptoms before examinations
    – Fewer post-traumatic intrusion and avoidance symptomsSocial and behavioural outcomes
    – Reduced absenteeism from work
    – Quicker re-employment after job loss
    – Improved working memory
    – Improved sporting performance
    – Higher students’ grade point average
    – Altered social and linguistic behaviour
  7. Letting loose: Anais Nin, and Virgina Woolf both agreed that by writing in their journals, they were able to put everything that was swimming in their heads spontaneously on paper, or in Woolf’ words

    pes_509988“I note however that this diary writing does not count as writing, since I have just re-read my year’s diary and am much struck by the rapid haphazard gallop at which it swings along, sometimes indeed jerking almost intolerably over the cobbles. Still if it were not written rather faster than the fastest type-writing, if I stopped and took thought, it would never be written at all; and the advantage of the method is that it sweeps up accidentally several stray matters which I should exclude if I hesitated, but which are the diamonds of the dustheap.” (A Writer’s Diary)

    By doing so, they were able to jot down the most impulsive of thoughts which have the potential to spark a creative flare later on in the form of inspiration, or writing materials.

  8. Self-shaping: The great writer, Susan Sontag seemed to believe that by journaling, one not only discovers oneself, but one creates oneself as well.
    That harmonizes with Hiemstra’s ideas as well. They both believe by writing down our thoughts, perceptions, and actions, we are creating an ideal self which we aspire to be. It can also be used as a place for you to be your own cheerleader.The famous writer, John Steinbeck used his diary as a tool for self-discipline and self-motivation for the work he made himself undergo to produce the masterwork that earned him several literary awards, The Grapes of Wrath. His diary is a rollercoaster of motivation and self doubts.In one entry, he wrote in Working Days: the Journal of the Grapes of Wrath :

    john-steinbeck“My many weaknesses are beginning to show their heads. I simply must get this thing out of my system. I’m not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people. I wish I were. This success will ruin me as sure as hell. It probably won’t last, and that will be all right. I’ll try to go on with work now. Just a stint every day does it. I keep forgetting.”

    But in another, he picked himself up:

    “I’ll get the book done if I just set one day’s work in front of the last day’s work. That’s the way it comes out. And that’s the only way it does.”

  9. What we are writing now may not be the same as what we will write in 10 years, 5 years, 1 month, or even tomorrow. We are constantly shifting, tipping back and forth in various dimensions of fluidity. Maybe, nothing is better than recording and being able to see how we evolve in this beautifully ragged journey we call life.

How about the cons of journaling then? Well, it’s a task that requires time, time that most people would rather spend otherwise. It also requires resources such as notebooks, pens, or electricity (in case you do it on electronic devices). Another issue from journal writing (which I am experiencing) is that writing becomes too addictive until what I write does not hold true anymore. Strong convictions, written down become mere marks on a crisp page of paper. I write and write and write, and never seem to get anything done! I guess, I’m just experiencing one of the motivation fall not unlike the one Steinbeck faced.

I guess the answer is pretty clear that journaling is definitely a worthy habit to form. How? Read how to write a journal here!