When I was in college in Madison, Wisconsin, I discovered the cacophonous joy of writing in coffee shops. Maybe it was the warm refuge from the Wisconsin chill that brought me such comfort in those days. Maybe it was the taste, smell, and effect of the coffee. Maybe it was just being around the creative energy that coffee shops and their visitors engender.
When I began writing, I was lonely and yet I wanted to be alone with my thoughts. Writing in coffee shops was a perfect antidote to my ambivalence.
Ever since ingesting those first, creamy lattes sweetened with packets of Raw Sugar, I have loved being by myself in a room full of people talking and writing and working, espresso machine hissing, cash register dinging, music overhead, wind swirling the smell of coffee throughout the room each time the door opened.
Invariably, as I would sit absorbed in my writing, someone near me would lean over, pulling me out of my reverie, and ask me what I was writing.
“Oh, I’m just journaling,” I replied.
I never considered myself a writer. I wrote almost every single day throughout my twenties, longhand, filling journal after journal with the ordinary tidbits of thoughts and emotions and ordinary stories from my days. And still, I did not consider what I was doing as writing.
However, after two decades of “just journaling,” I have unwittingly written a very detailed, very, very long, unedited memoir of my life beginning in the middle of college, and continuing throughout my twenties, through my year-long backpacking adventure in Australia and New Zealand, through years of waiting tables at bars and restaurants and diners throughout Minneapolis, through road trips across the country, through beginnings and endings of relationships, through the drawn-out death of my best friend from cancer and the sudden death of my mother, through my marriage, into my first pregnancy, birth, motherhood, and second pregnancy, through going back to school to get my graduate degree, through waking at 6:00 in the dark of Minnesota mornings throughout six winters to write my first book, through seeing both of my children off to their first days of kindergarten, to this very moment as I sit in on this gray November day in my Treehouse above the garage next to the garbage house my husband and I renovated and where we are now raising our children.
This is the massive memoir I have written without meaning to because I sit down for ten or so minutes a day and “just" journal.
It wasn’t until I was in my thirties at Anodyne Coffee Shop in southwest Minneapolis when I wrote, “I want to be a writer,” for the thousandth time that I actually saw those words for what they were. In that one singular moment, after having written regularly for the past fifteen years, I realized that if we are what we do, than I am a writer.
This was a revolutionary revelation for me. A time of finally owning this art, which has been my near-constant companion since college, which has not only seen me through my life thus far, but which has helped me shape my life as it is now.
Let us be clear: journaling is writing. It is writing about your life. Your life contains all of the material in the world to write volumes of books, so if you want to be a writer, or a Writer, know that you can get there by “just” journaling.