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.
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.