Creating a Shared Journal

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Pulling It All Together

One of the toughest things about writing a journal is simply keeping it going. In fact, staring at the blank page, many people have a hard time getting started at all.

A list of generic questions can jump-start the process, says Bouton, whether the journal is to focus on a person, place, or event. Here are some suggestions:

  • What is your first memory of...?
  • What do you most love about...?
  • What is your funniest story about...?
  • What is something few people know about...?
  • How have you most changed since knowing/seeing...?
  • Describe a typical/special day with/at/during...?
  • What advice would you like to offer...?

Also, it helps to keep an open mind about what can go into a journal. "If you don't like to write, use photographs or drawings for your contribution," Bouton says. This is especially helpful if children are involved. Encourage participants to attach other types of mementos as well, such as a flower or leaf, newspaper clippings, ticket stubs, or a lock of hair.

(As an aside, online journals, diaries, and Weblogs -- "blogs" for short -- are an increasingly popular way for people to share their thoughts, experiences, daily activities, poetic musings, political rants, reading lists, and favorite Web links. To find out more about the phenomenon, log onto

Often, a collaborative journal that circulates among participants will get stuck along the way. To avoid logjams, try to get everyone's commitment to the project up front. Or instead of passing the journal around, have contributors submit individual entries, which then can be photocopied or bound into one volume. Give a firm deadline for submissions, preferably at least one month prior to the event. But also give people permission NOT to contribute, if that's what someone ultimately chooses.

"One of the rules of a collaborative journal is: No one feels bad for simply putting it in the mail and sending it on to someone else," says Barry. "Once it becomes like homework, it defeats the purpose."

Finally, a few practical considerations: Use only acid-free paper and pens with permanent ink or high-quality computer printers. And be sure to have contributors sign and date their entries. "Journals are great keepsakes to be handed down through the generations," Bouton says. With a little care, the memories, experiences, and insights they contain won't fade as the years go by.


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