Christina Baldwin,
Life's Companion: Journal
Writing as a Spiritual Quest

(Bantam, 1990)

I'm an avid journal-keeper. I'm one of those people that have kept one since being a kid, holding on to them as I've grown up as a time capsule, of sorts, of particular ages and times.

Like most long-time journallers know, there comes a point when it feels like all the stories have been told, all the feelings explored, all the growth done. It's for these plateaus that Life's Companion was written to counteract.

The book is a unique and bright take on the art of journal writing. Instead of being about things that happen, journalling can be used to unblock yourself and your creativity, learn new insights about yourself and the world around you, and to discover the heart of your spiritual self, no matter what religious format you choose to embrace. Writing, she says, opens up the heart of the writer, expands all the inner vistas and helps the writer relate to people and events in his life.

Life's Companion is uniquely organized, as well. It has the instruction written on one side, while quotes, examples and actual journal entries grace the other side. There are questions for the reader to answer, exercises to undertake and self-quizzes intended to prompt the writer into opening up on the written page -- encouraging him to find his own soul in the process.

If all this sounds distinctly new agey and fluffy to you -- well, it is. But I can also attest that ignoring those prejudices and going forward with the book can add a great deal of depth to your writing, whether in the journal or elsewhere. The exercises and prompts can give you a wealth of opportunities for writing, and that, in itself, is worth the cover price.

Of all of her advice, two points stand out as being among the best, and are, essentially, Baldwin's "rules" for journalling. Always date your entries, no matter what or where (at the beginning or the end). This allows you to look back over your work later and know where you were at a certain time period, which is infinitely helpful. The second is less concrete: there ARE no other rules. If you feel like painting on the page, do it. If you feel like writing your entry in rhyming couplets, do it. If you want to write in mirror-image text, in lime green crayon -- it's your journal.

Somehow, I found that freeing. The concept of not being able to do anything wrong made things feel a little more clear to me, and I've kept the book around so that I can review that section when I'm feeling like I can't do this writing thing "right" anymore.

As I mentioned before, the book is about the spiritual aspect of journal writing. Unfortunately, at times this comes across preachy or yoga-teacherish, and could probably turn off some people. Though she makes an effort to keep it totally non-denominational, the reader can tell that she isn't necessarily a typical Christian, which doesn't bother me, personally. However, it may turn off people looking for that type of book.

Life's Companion is a fantastic book for those who are stalled in their writing disciplines. The prompts and commentary could prove invaluable for the daily writer who needs things to jump-start his or her creativity. Though it draws from a broad philosophical base, the actual text (commentary about journal writing as opposed to prompts or exercises) can get a little preachy and overdone.

Despite this drawback, Life's Companion is relatively inexpensive for a so-called "self-help" book, and is well-worth the purchase price for the prompts and example entries alone. If you keep a journal, this is one book to be sure to own.

[ by Elizabeth Badurina ]

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