Does it matter what I write about?
Not a bit, so long as you’re being honest. Topic is not important. The main thing is that you keep your pen or cursor moving. You will likely find your topics, and even your writing style, to be mundane. That is the idea. You are immersing yourself in the everyday, and capturing a snapshot of what is going on through your head at that point in time. You will complain a lot. You will complain that you’re tired, that your hands are tired, and that this is the stupidest thing you’ve ever done. Gently push past that. Over time you will get past complaining about the obvious to complaining about what’s going on in your life. And then, surprisingly, you will find that you are often able to answer your own questions.
What are your thoughts on setting aside a specific time every day or trying to squeeze it in whenever you can?
Many advocates of journaling encourage people to write first thing in the morning. While there are definitely merits to starting your day off with introspective writing, you will still benefit from the practice whenever you do it. I would experiment with writing at different times – you will get different results for sure. I like morning because I’m more honest with myself when my brain isn’t on all the way. Evenings could be a great post mortem for your day so you can check in and make sure your daily activities were in line with your vision.
You mentioned time limits…how do you feel about word counts?
When first starting out, it is more important that you write than for how long. So I mentioned writing for 20 minutes. This seems to be the magic number with beginning physical exercise – it’s long enough that you will actually start to sweat. The writing equivalent is that you will write long enough to get past just faffing about. That being said, after you get into the habit of journaling, I would set a word count goal to make sure you are actually writing. Many advocate 750 words or 3 handwritten pages. That’s what I shoot for.
Do I have to go back and read what I’ve written?
Not at all. In fact, you can throw your pages away if you’re worried about somebody ever reading them. It’s more about the writing than it is the reading. There is some merit to “gleaning” or “harvesting” your journals at a later time (I’ll post about this down the road a bit.). I’ve saved everything I’ve written since college, and every now and again will revisit old entries. That being said, if the fear of it being read again is holding you back, just throw it away.
I keep a travel journal (fitness log, food log, blog, tumblr, etc.). Do I still need to do this free writing exercise?
Yes. While writing things down can be a beneficial exercise in a variety of contexts, daily free writing is the only way you will be able to drill down to the core of what’s going on in your life. And it’s got to be private. The thought that somebody else is going to read it will make you edit what you’re writing. You won’t be writing your thoughts at all – you’ll be writing what you want other people to think you’re thinking