I received a great reader question this week. It’s a common question I hear quite a bit, so I decided to answer it here so the rest of you can benefit, too.

(If you have a question, always feel free to drop me a line and I’ll do my best to answer it.)

Maureen asked:

Is it okay to whine in my journal? To moan and groan and complain? Or am I supposed to keep things more positive, more solution-centered?

As you may have guessed from the title of this post, my short answer is: Yes – moan and groan and complain. That’s what your journal is there for.

The long answer comes back to my #1 philosophy for journaling: write exactly what you need to write, when you need to write it. And as often as you need to write it.

The key lies in the phrase “supposed to.” I don’t believe in supposing to anything in your journal. I believe solely in writing exactly where you are at the moment.

There’s quite a few reasons for this.

1. Keep yourself honest

Our journals are perhaps the only place on earth where we can totally be ourselves, for ourselves. Even those among us who strive to be truly authentic may find we censor ourselves out in the world.

I do my best to keep it real, but not everyone at my corporate workplace would appreciate my truck-driver vocabulary (f-bombs abound) or my opinion on Working for The Man. So while I push the envelope with negotiables like dress code, sometimes I need to pick and choose what comes out of my mouth.

In my journal? Not so much. I let it all hang out. It’s perhaps why I’m okay with editing myself in other areas of my life. I refuse to compromise when it comes to self expression on the page.

If you get into the habit of censoring yourself in your journal because you feel like you “should” be more upbeat or solutions-oriented, your free-flowing ideas will slow to a trickle. Your subconscious will lose trust in you. You may find it difficult to access your true feelings, which is the reason we started journaling in the first place.

2. Protect the rest of the world

When you vent your most petty, whiney, woe-is-me crap on the page, you spare the rest of the world your self-sorry angst. Same goes for your anger, vindictive rage, jealousy, and fear.

While I know my partner and close friends are always there for me and willing to hear whatever I need to vent about, I don’t think it’s fair to bring every single complaint to them. It would erode my relationships if all I did was gripe. That’s a lot to put on one person, especially someone you have an intimate relationship with.

So I focus most of my whining on the page. When there’s a particular sticking point I could use feedback on, I bring it to the peanut gallery and ask for input. Or if it’s a complaint requiring a change in someone else’s behavior, I’ll write about it until I’m clear on the situation and then approach the person in question.

If I didn’t journal, I don’t think many people would like me. I’d spend an awful lot of time bitching about traffic, politics, and my inability to find decent shoes in size 12.

3. Rebel against the “Shoulds”

I’ve got a bone to pick with Should. Really – don’t we get enough Shoulds from the rest of the world? Do we really need to assign ourselves more Shoulds? (One of my cherished friends is fond of saying, “You’re shoulding all over yourself.”)

I should sweep the floor more often. I should return my library books on time. I should prepare and eat proper dinners, at a table. I should probably blow dry my hair once in awhile.

But I shouldn’t do anything in my journal other than write exactly what I feel like writing at the moment. Having this guilt-free place to rage when I need to is an exercise in anti-Should. It’s freedom from shame and guilt and fear of shortcomings.

4. You’ll get over it quickly

When you vent on the page, you’re more likely to make a necessary change. Solutions become more clear spelled out in black and white. (Or purple sparkles and white, in my case. Love those Sakura Stardust pens.)

I get sick of listening to myself pretty quickly. If I find myself bitching about the same problem for more than a few days, I get irritated enough to take action.

So ironically, not focusing on being “solutions-oriented” will often force you toward a solution. I talk about this in my recent interview in context of a crappy mattress. If every morning you write about how much you hate your mattress because you’re not getting good sleep and it’s making you cranky and affecting your quality of life, you’ll replace that mattress much more quickly.

This is also true of less concrete problems, like frenemies who are sapping your energy or obligations that you just can’t take anymore.

5. Venting is a straight line

While I believe in writing the same stuff over and over if you need to, I don’t condone dwelling or rehashing in your head. There is a distinct difference between obsessing over a topic in your mind and putting it down on paper.

Thinking about a problem obsessively is a circle. Writing something out is a straight line. It’s definitive, it gets it out of your head. Even if you return to it, writing about your issue provides forward movement. Letting it stew in your head is just spinning your wheels.

Some folks fear that if they start whining in their journals, they’ll never stop.

That has not proven true for me. My advice is: try it and see what happens. Like I mentioned above, allowing myself unfettered ranting usually gets me over myself pretty quickly.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that when I look back through my journals at times of intense ranting, they often follow a distinct pattern. Say, three or four days a month. The same three or four days – every month. I think you understand what I’m getting at here.

If you find that venting makes you focus on the negative too much over time, balance it out with a gratitude list or detail your favorite simple pleasures. Do your venting, and then move on to “Well here’s what’s going well.” Do a round of Working/Not Working or More/Less.

But by all means, let yourself complain. Most of us have earned the right to rant every once in awhile. My guess is that includes YOU!