In a heated moment of self-reflection, I asked myself a simple question—why do I write in my journal?
This simple question became an inquisition. More questions flooded in—is my drive to write in my journal related to my being human, or with my being a human trying to live the writing life?
It’s a complicated question to be sure, but I think I’ve come up with a decent set of answers. I write in my journal for different reasons that come from different places. If you are reading this article, it must be because you’re thinking about keeping a journal or you already do and are looking for a little inspiration.
This article is going to underline the reasons I think everyone should keep a journal.
To some, journaling seems like a silly, useless, or embarrassing thing to do. Others simply say “it’s not for me” or claim that they can’t think of anything to write about.
These excuses don’t work for me, and they shouldn’t work for you, either.
Can’t think of anything to write about?
I would like to think that what people mean when they say this is that they don’t believe that they can think of anything of consequence to write about. Must all your writings be of consequence?
Write about the birds you saw that day, what you’re planning to do at the weekend, or a phrase you heard your co-worker whisper. It doesn’t matter what you write and it doesn’t have to be deep/earth-shattering/completely brilliant. Though that would be nice, wouldn’t it?
“It’s Not For Me”
To contradict the “it’s not for me” argument, writing in a journal is for absolutely everybody, no exclusions. Cats even, but good luck getting that lot to do anything but eat, sleep, get cuddles, and be adorable.
To speak to the silliness factor, for sure, the things we write in our journals have the potential to be silly, but surely you can allow yourself that freedom? Worst case scenario, there’s always fire. And paper shredders. Or paper shredders and then fire. But not the reverse, that would be an unholy mess.
If you feel embarrassed writing to a Dear Diary entity, you can write to yourself, to your future self, to your past self, to a friend, to a relative, or to an imaginary person. Or to a dead one. You can write to the universe. You can write to the turtle the world may or may not be balanced upon. You can write to no one. Even the sky is not the limit here. Write to your favourite planet or a star that strikes your fancy.
Some folks get blocked by the very word Diary. My instinct is to call it a journal. You can call it a notebook, and fill it with concert tickets; a grimoire, and fill it with pungent herbs and the blood of your enemies. (Joke. Don’t do the blood of the enemy thing. Do do the writing bit, though).
- sketchbook (prerequisite: that you can at least draw a stick figure)
- book of things
Pick a name that doesn’t offend you and get comfortable with it. Hold your notebook. Carry it with you wherever you go. Use it to discreetly scratch your backside while standing on the tube.
Just no. I can think of many entirely useful reasons why you should be keeping a journal, and I’m not just talking about bum-scratching.
The most basic and general reason for keeping a journal is that it’s deeply therapeutic. I believe this so hard that I don’t even know if it’s a cliché. Maybe it is, but bear with me.
Airing of Grievances
Writing in your journal can serve to vent private thoughts that you would rather keep to yourself, whether it be forever or for the time being. Nothing prevents you from talking about them later. Sometimes we have secrets from friends, family, and from the ether of the internet. You’re allowed to have thoughts and feelings that are just for you and no one else. Writing them down releases the tension of the secret and better prepares us for talking and expressing ourselves on the subject in the future if the need should arise.
WE FORGET THINGS
We want to think that our ability to remember things is flawless but the truth is that our brains are not wired to record data like a computer does. Sad but true. But who knows what the future holds for us. (Looking at you, Borg.)
Scientists have done incredible studies to see how and why our memories work the way they do. If I have understood the things I have read on the subject correctly, the idea is that keeping notes is a tool to—not remember things completely mind you—but to improve our ability and capacity to remember things. The act of writing about something you’re listening to or reading provokes a reaction in your brain that can mean you will have an improved remembrance. Having a brain (it helps) + having a language (also helps) + listening/reading + performing an action like writing = strong memories being formed because more centres of your brain are being used in the creation of that memory. I think. I’m not a neuroscientist. Fact-check at your own leisure, but I’m pretty confident about it being accurate.
Life Lessons Through Dreams
Dreams. What are they, even? Do our complicated brains use them as a way to deal with anxieties we would usually repress in waking life? Are our unconscious minds trying to speak to us? Are our Shadow-selves trying to bust in with their two cents? Is someone else? Something else? (Creepy.)
I despise the recurring phenomenon of having an epic dream only to forget it halfway through my porridge, then be really cranky that I didn’t write it down when I had it, then remembering it again in a flash at some other inopportune moment where I am without my writing gear. Moral of the story—write! Keep that memory! Because reading through past dreams can help you think a little bit deeper about yourself, what drives you, and how do deal with myriad joys and anxieties. The path the selfhood is definitely a strange one.
Reflect on Past Thoughts
Reading a notebook you kept once-upon-a-time seems to be a fair way to map personal growth. Did you believe something last year that still holds true? Have you changed since then, and in what way? Is there a thought that you can now recognise as erroneous?
Reflect on Memories
They say long term memory fades with each subsequent recall. That’s a scary thought, yes? There are things that I’ve experienced that I never want to lose, so I write them down. There are things that family members tell me that I want to record, funny stories and anecdotes about things I did as a kid, like that time I broke a really expensive teapot that set off a teapot curse, and that other time I threw up a green apple. (Still can’t eat green apples. Still have teapot curse.)
BECAUSE IT’S COOL
If I can’t convince you that writing in a journal is good for you both emotionally and physically, then I’ll have to resort to peer pressure.
Cool people write in their notebooks. Here is a list of really cool people that keep/have kept notebooks.
- Benjamin Franklin
- Isaac Newton
- Emily Dickinson
- basically every writer in history
- Marie Curie
- Hildegard von Bingen
- basically every musician in history
- Leonardo Da Vinci
- Frida Kahlo
- Emily Carr
- basically every artist in history
- moody babes in films like The Virgin Suicides
- these celebrities
- other people that own pens and notebooks
Conclusion—go forth and do the thing.
Also, see this follow-up article—5 Reasons Writers Should Keep a Journal
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