I really enjoyed reading Melissa’s post regarding how keeping a journal made her a writer. Though journals are my business, and though I’d love to convince every person I meet of the benefits of keeping one, I realized I don’t talk about it much here. Perhaps it is because journals are essentially private things, no matter which type you choose to keep. Perhaps it is because I’ve been journaling for so long I take it for granted. It’s time.
The real reason is this: to tell anyone what journaling has done for and meant to me is the purest form of naked writing I have experienced to date. It exposes me and leaves me vulnerable. I apologize if parts of this post seem TMI…I can’t explain the benefit without explaining the motivation.
I kept, casually, one of those cute little lock and key diaries given to most girls when they are young. When I filled it, I was given another of the similar type. At the age of 12, I talked my mom into one of those soft cover journals with the gilt pages. I filled it and then others, casually and without design.
The year I turned 16, I made a big transition (between parents, between states, between schools) One day I grabbed a left over 3-subject notebook, tore out all the schoolwork, and started writing. I filled it in a week. I went through every empty page in every notebook I possessed. It helped with the confusion and where I might fit in between my two families and my half siblings on both sides. It helped with the teen angst, with plans for after high school, with relating to my parents, friends, and even myself.
By the time I was 17, I kept a journal consistently. I haven’t always written in one every single day (though I have in recent years), but I’ve written several times a week when times were good, and for hours a day when times were bad.
My journal got me through major life events, such as my first painful breakup, a turbulent marriage, pregnancies, and more.
When the marriage abruptly ended, my world was turned upside down. My journal received the keening wail of my heart, the outpouring of my worries and fear of how I would feed my kids. It brought healing, perspective, and hope. I abandoned any writerly aspirations for the grind of single parenthood, but I kept my journal.
When times are good or changes are coming, my journal helps me make sense of my feelings and all the little things I notice but can’t express in words. It allows the inner me to speak to the frazzled, hectic or frustrated outer me. It became an expression of faith and, again, hope.
In 2004 I suffered two devastating events back to back. I was advised to seek counseling to work through the emotional trauma (and I tried, for a few sessions). What worked for me were twelve 70-page dime store theme books. I filled them cover to cover over a two month period and another six in the four months following. I wrote from the epicenter of pain in an outwardly spiraling journey until the worst of it was on the horizon.
I have since kept writer journals, in which I develop tidbits of plots, character sketches, explore story ideas, record interesting bits of dialog, lists of character names, titles, and settings, the beginnings of book proposals, notes on non-fiction projects, and more.
I have kept career and growth journals in which I do the deep thinking of life direction.
I have kept prayer journals, which have proven invaluable for their insight and comfort.
I’ve kept work journals at every job I’ve held since 1995.
All of those journals are valuable; yet it is that personal journal…that prose or angst or fear or joy that comes tumbling out of my inner being…that has kept me sane, taught me about myself, and given me direction.
I have kept a journal consistently for 24 years. It is such an ingrained habit to go to the page, that when I turned my attention again to writing for others, I already had a voice and style. In many respects it put me way ahead of the game. I never struggle with writing as a daily practice. It is as natural as breathing.
If you have never kept a journal, I encourage you to try. There are no rules. Just tell the paper what’s on your mind. It works.