The Value of Journaling

The Value of Journaling

I was a chronic, daily, obsessive journal-keeper for years. I started in fourth grade and have a huge box of diaries and journals in my closet that date all the way back to 1971. When I lived abroad in France, Zaire and Morocco, I wrote every day and sometimes even twice a day! Those journals helped me to process the culture shock as well as the feelings of loneliness and dislocation. I also recorded the unique experiences that I’d never remember without writing them down.

With the advent of the Internet, my journal-keeping ways went to the wayside. I found a lot of gratification through blogging, Internet forums, email lists, and chatting. I became a “public” processor – talking about ideas and issues with strangers or new online friends. I imagined a reading public as I wrote, even if the audience was fewer than ten readers. My writing became a less private and more public activity. Slowly, I lost touch with journaling.

During a personal crisis, though, I pulled out an empty, several-year-old diary. It was leather with a Celtic cross on the cover. The pages were gilded. I had been saving it for some reason… but that reason never appeared. The day I bought it, I copied Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” onto the front page. It became “The Journal Un-used” for the next five years.

So when I hit a wall, a small voice inside reminded me that I used to process my life through private writing. With new complexities to consider, I had nowhere to think privately, no way to process the events of my life without having to craft and edit my thoughts for readers.

The Value of Journaling

One day, while hunting for another book, my eyes landed on the leather diary and I thought, “So when will I use this beautiful volume anyway?” And that’s when I realized: the time had come.

I flopped on the couch in the living room, grabbed a black ink pen and cracked open the stiff spine. The pen hung in the air while my mind raced. What should I write? Shouldn’t the opening be powerful? Interesting? Memorable? Do I really want to fill this journal with pain and crisis? Shouldn’t it be for copying famous quotes?

In the old days of diaries, I didn’t think about whether or not what I had to write was worthy of putting to paper. But now that I had spent so much time writing for public consumption, I felt stilted, nervous, awkward as I faced the blank page. I wondered if I would write things that bored me later, or if I’d reveal things I didn’t ever want “found out” accidentally. I worried that I’d make a mistake and have to take a line through the word and “muss” the gold-edged pages.

As all these conflicting thoughts went through my mind, I heard an even deeper voice inside say, “Stop! Journaling is about poor writing, half-thought thoughts, awkward sentences, fragmented ideas. It’s about crossing things out and starting over, saying what you want no one else to read and taking care to keep that journal in a place where no one would read it.”

The truth is, journaling is a valuable, hidden act of the soul that allows us to unburden the mind-life that is preoccupied while homeschooling, parenting, working. It’s that precious space we create for ourselves (for my eyes only!) so that we can observe our own thought process and find peace and insight along the way.

Journaling has become one of those daily cravings, like chocolate. I can’t believe I went so long without private writing. One thing I’ve noticed is that my journal writing is especially poor. It’s tedious, introspective, poorly constructed, lacks power, and creativity. Rather, it’s a portrait of a busy mind allowed to unwind without any responsibility to entertain. What a relief!

If you’ve been too public with your SELF and feel a need to pull away and find out what you really think, give journaling another try. It may be the key to self-knowledge that you’ve been missing.

Encourage your children to journal.
Join our Journaling Jumpstart online class.

9 Responses to “The Value of Journaling”

  1. Lenora says:

    Thanks for this powerful post… and for drawing us back to ourselves. I wanted to “pass it on” to my few buddies who read me…so I quoted & linked you in my blog.

  2. Patricia says:

    I’ve kept a journal for more than twenty years. I also started up a blog in the last three months. I read your post, thought about it, and realized that my journal writing has dwindled as the blog has developed. I don’t want that to continue! I appreciate being reminded of the value of an unedited, uncensored journal. No other writing quite fills the same role.

    Months ago, you wrote about writing some literary nonfiction on
    homeschooling over the summer. I’m curious about the progress you made! I do the same sort of writing myself, but it’s a challenge to find markets for it. (Although “Mothering” did publish one of my homeschooling essays recently, which was a thrill.) I’m sure there are many, many homeschoolers out there who would read literary essays on homeschooling; it seems like an untapped market. I’d love to know what you’re doing with your work.

  3. Diana Raab says:

    Great Blog!

    As a journaling advocate for more that 40 years, i can really relate to what you’re saying. I am a writer and all my books originated on the pages of my journal.

    For more journaling inspiration, check out my blog. You might also want to read my book REGINA’S CLOSET:FINDING MY GRANDMOTHER’S SECRET JOURNAL for an idea of how journaling can have long-term positive effects.

    Happy writing!

  4. Kez says:

    Thank you for this timely prompt. My personal journal fell by the wayside when I started blogging – like you I found a gorgeous notebook that I’d been “saving” and started journalling some private thoughts several months ago. I was out of the habit and only kept it up for a week or so – however I’ve been very stressed about a few things lately, so you inspired me to head for bed early tonight to pour out into my journal…

  5. Christine says:

    Thanks for sharing this . . . transition . . . reunion . . . with us. I am just starting homeschooling (with young children) and have been thinking that I, too, would benefit from carving out time in the day for journaling or meditation. The work of listening to myself and tapping my best, most open person is crucial to navigating that unique path that will work for my family. Unfortunately, I’ve only been *thinking* about journaling or meditating. Your post has inspired me to carve out a little space for it. Thanks!

  6. Christine says:

    Ick! I typed “none” in the website slot above and it made me look like I have a dark and unworthy website! I do not have a website. I do not even have a microwave. Just want to fix that typo!

  7. JoVE says:

    I’ve never been a good journal keeper. Tried a couple of times and it never sticks. But I’m glad it works for you and I hope whatever the crisis was it seems more manageable now.

    As I read this bit “Stop! Journaling is about poor writing, half-thought thoughts, awkward sentences, fragmented ideas. It’s about crossing things out and starting over, saying what you want no one else to read and taking care to keep that journal in a place where no one would read it.” I couldn’t help but think about current educational fashions, though.

    It seems that journalling is become a mainstay of educational practice. And yet it is a parody of journalling because it is by definition public and will be graded. I fear that this fashion will, despite the good intentions of its purveyors, turn a whole generation of kids off journalling because they will lose that essential characteristic of privacy and the permission to write badly.

    Ahhhh… I can see a topic for a future post for you…

  8. Julie Bogart says:

    Patricia, thanks for asking!

    I didn’t make the progress I wanted to. My life went through a big change this summer that has prompted a lot of this introspection and need to turn inward. Interestingly, the book writing led to some of it! So that project is temporarily on hold. But thanks for asking!

  9. Julie Bogart says:

    JoVE, you are exactly right about journaling in schools. The coercion element is an example of how a wonderful free process can be squelched through undue interference!

    Somehow schools have a hard time with messes. It’s one reason home education can be so wonderfully liberating for our kids, but also for us as we overcome memories of our own coerced experiences.