I’ll admit I may be a bit biased about this. For almost six years now, since July 2010, I have written every day in my journal. I didn’t necessarily intend for this to happen, and nor do I claim it as some special achievement. It does, however, demonstrate the value I place on journaling. Somewhere along the way, it has become essential to me. I cannot imagine my life without writing about it and I do not know who I would be if I did not write.
The rewards of journaling are plentiful and varied, offering everything from personal development and healing to stress reduction and a scrupulous reckoning of life. For writers in particular, keeping a journal has definite benefits. Many eminent authors, including Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, John Steinbeck, Anaïs Nin and Henry David Thoreau, are well known as dedicated diarists. Despite being originally penned in private, the published versions of their journals afford interesting glimpses into the writing life and the minds behind some great works of literature.
Whether or not we aspire to the heights reached by these authors, journaling can be useful to all of us as writers. Among its gifts are exploration, experimentation and expression.
The times we write about may be difficult or delightful. In either case, journaling allows us to explore our experience. Collected and contained in a journal, our perceptions, reflections and questions can be examined more thoughtfully. We can begin to recognise aspects of our personality and become more aware of our preferences, both as people and as writers. Fascinations and frustrations are revealed in the words we pour onto the pages of our journals, sometimes resulting in insights and sometimes not.
This is an important aspect of journaling, yet our explorations can and should extend beyond ourselves. The ability to observe and describe the world around us can be enriched through journal writing. People who write journals may find themselves developing an attitude of curiosity towards circumstances and events, with impressions that are usually fleeting finding form in words. In this way, a journal can be a safe space in which to refine our awareness, deepen our discernment and cultivate our craft.
One of the most significant distinctions between journaling and other forms of writing is that a journal is usually kept confidential. Released from the pressure of writing for an anticipated reader, we are free to frolic, make mistakes, experiment and invent. The words in our journals are for our eyes only. This means we can write whatever truth or fiction we like in whatever form we desire. We can give ourselves the rare grace of writing without judgement or expectation.
What we put in our journal doesn’t have to be ‘good’. There is no need for it to be grammatical or even comprehensible. The act of writing itself and a readiness to engage in the process is what matters, rather than any notion of a finished product.
In your journal, you can try on different styles, test out techniques, set yourself challenges, and delve into discomfort if you wish. No one is watching. Writing purely and playfully for yourself allows you appreciate the writer you are, but it also lets you apprehend the kind of writer you might become. Most likely, that exists somewhere beyond your current vision, but you may discover hints of it through your journaling practice.
The gem at the heart of journaling is expression. The opportunity to vent or reflect, rejoice or recriminate, describe or define, and to enclose our own vital but otherwise incoherent experiences in words is truly invaluable. By letting out our thoughts and feelings, we can (perhaps) also let them go and clear some space inside. A journal can be a confidante, a mirror, a companion and a guide. Into it we can write our deepest truths and our truest depths, expressing ourselves fully, openly, intimately and creatively.
I believe we all need a place to do this, and that writers especially require a private space to inscribe the words that converge in their minds. This capacity to translate all the chaos and splendour of life into language through journaling makes us, in my view, not only better writers, but better human beings too.
Do you write a journal? What benefits and challenges have you found in your journaling practice? What have you learned about writing or yourself through journaling?