You’re probably not surprised to learn that I keep a journal. (In my usual let’s-make-this-more-complicated-than-it-needs-to-be fashion, I actually have more than one type of journal, but that’s another story.) Journaling has accompanied me from high school to college, from my first full-time job, to getting married and moving cross-country to Florida—and beyond. There have been times when life kept me too busy or distracted for regular journal entries, and times when I wrote several pages every day.
The oldest journal I have (other than the pages I still have from my creative writing class) is from 1982, when I was a freshman in college. Part of that year I wrote in a battered black and white composition book, and part of the year I used a cloth-covered blank book. Those journal entries contain lots of exclamation points and underlining, and a palpable desire to grow up. I flipped through a couple of the journals pictured below, where I found entries from when I met the guy who was my “first love” and a brief mention of the first time I had a significant conversation with the girl who is still my best friend. There were entries after we experienced a 6.1 earthquake, and after my husband asked me to marry him. (And plenty more, but I decided I needed to put down the journals and walk away or I might not be seen again. Reading old journal entries can be addictive.)
Choosing a journal or notebook and just the right pen is a source of pleasure as much as the actual writing. The best journals are just the right size and heft, but I’m also happy to use journals my friends give me, even if they aren’t quite ideal. Their love and thoughtfulness more than make up for any perceived imperfection in the book itself.
As a writer, I find my journals indispensable, but what about if you’re not a writer? Is there any value in keeping a journal? I think so. There are many reasons to keep a journal—as a way to remember important-to-you events, as a way to blow off steam, to clarify your thoughts, or to focus on something in particular (such as what you’re grateful for). Journals can be anything from a few lines written in a notebook now and then to a daily diary sort of document. You might keep a nature journal, an illustrated journal, a words-only journal, or something in between. As Alexandra Johnson wrote in Leaving a Trace: On Keeping a Journal, “Keeping a journal is one of the few ways to remind oneself of life’s unnoticed gifts.”
If you want to journal but don’t know where to start, you can always use those pristine pages to make lists, paste in ticket stubs, business cards, and other bits of daily life. You can examine questions like: how am I feeling? What do I want to accomplish today (this week, this year)? What do I like about myself? What would I like to change? Describe your surroundings, your family, your pets, yourself.
You can fill a journal with favorite quotes and bits of wisdom, record your dreams, write down your family history. Or treat it like a scratch pad, as author and photographer Karen Walrond does, and jot down phone messages, ideas, grocery lists, whatever you need to record during the day. Click here for a list of journal-keeping ideas. (And if I haven’t convinced you, click here to read Leanne Sowul’s “Ten Ways Journaling Can Make Your Life Better.”)
My journals have been friends to me, absorbing grief, anger, elation, and joy as need be. They contain my story, even if no one but me ever reads it. Memory can be false, but journals can reveal the truth (for instance, I don’t remember staying up until the wee hours on a regular basis when I was my son’s age, but my journals from that time reveal that I often did!). Writing things down helps me work through what I really think, before those thoughts get unleashed on the world, if they ever do. Journaling through life has made it that much deeper and sweeter—and happier.
If you keep a journal, what type is it? Do you ever go back to reread it? What have you learned from keeping it?