Columns > Published on July 17th, 2014

The Importance of Journaling

Photo Credit: TheFancyLamb

It all started when I was eight and I got a super cool diary for Christmas. It was soft and squishy to the touch, covered with drawings of teddy bears, the pages were rose scented, and it had a lock on the side so my sisters couldn’t read it. Most importantly, it was the first place where I felt comfortable writing down my thoughts, even if they were simply, Joey tried to hold my hand today and I hated it, or Homework is fun. I think I am the only person in my class who likes it. I kept that diary for three years, and its pages contain everything from my love for custom colors on AOL 3.0 to the first poem I ever wrote (it was about Joey). I have been journaling ever since.

After I finished my teddy bear journal, I moved on to journaling online. Xanga and Livejournal were my favorites, but there were many, many different journal websites, and you better believe I had accounts on every one.

Almost every writer I know is plagued with the idea that if they aren’t writing everyday, they are failing somehow.

Almost every writer I know is plagued with the idea that if they aren’t writing everyday, they are failing somehow. Whenever I hear a writer say this, I immediately suggest they keep a journal. Yes, journaling is writing, and there are different kinds of journaling that I have come across that will work for different people. 

1. Paper Journal

This is the classic option. Buy a moleskine, a cute journal made by a local artist, or a plain composition notebook, and fill it up with your days. When you finish, label it with both the start and end date and begin another one. If you’re somebody who likes to write on the go, invest in a smaller notebook you can slip in your pocket or purse. If you like to sit at home and write, a larger notebook that will last a long time may be the way to go.

2. Wordpress/Tumblr

We’re all on our computers all the time, and typing is much faster than writing longhand, so why not create a journal online? Wordpress and Tumblr are my favorite sites, but again, there are many. You have the option of keeping some, or all, entries private, making it more like a “true” journal. I find myself posting my creative work on these sites more often than doing hardcore day-to-day journaling, but they could work for either.

3. Specific Life Event Journals

If you’re planning on going to Europe for the summer, or you’re going to try to keep a plant alive for the first time, why not have a journal specifically dedicated to that experience? My father was sick for a year and a half, and throughout that time I kept a ‘Dad Journal,’ documenting all the time I spent with him, and the progression of his illness. I look back on it now, four years later, and remember little, beautiful moments that I would have forgotten otherwise. For good times or bad, a life event journal is invaluable.

4. Five-Year Diary/Line-a-Day Journal

My five-year diary is the greatest thing of all time. Some days are so hectic that I really only have time to write one line. This journal gives me just enough space to write one or two sentences each day for five years, and also has logs in the back so I can keep track of the places I’ve traveled and the books I’ve read. It’s one of the best investments I’ve made, and I sincerely look forward to writing in it quickly every night before bed. There are many different versions of this diary, and they probably carry them in your local indie bookstore.

5. Pen pals

This option is the wild card, and it’s something no one else I know does. My pen pal and I write each other journals. We actually fill out entire notebooks, documenting our lives, and we don’t send them off until they’re totally done. The last journal I sent him chronicled an entire year of my life. The idea is that we’ll hold onto the journals for each other and exchange them years and years from now. I find that, if you trust the other person enough, this method of journaling is the easiest to do because you’re writing to a specific person. It’s best to choose someone with whom you can be completely candid. I highly recommend it, the whole process enriches my life deeply.

Just do it: write about your day. Write out the bland, boring details, like how you dropped an egg and it broke on the kitchen floor. How a woman rammed her elbow into you on the subway and left a gnarly bruise on your arm. The dirty action figure you saw, abandoned on the sidewalk. These things seem inconsequential now, but you may see something extraordinary in them when you reread your journal a month from now, or ten years from now. These everyday occurrences, once documented, become more and more astonishing with the passing of time. Pretty soon, it’s the only way you can even recall them or be sure that you witnessed them. They become universal stories.

And come on, when you become a famous writer, you know your readers are going to want to feast their eyes on your letters and journals, dissecting the path you took to reaching your goals. I’m reading Sherwood Anderson’s journals currently, myself! 

About the author

Christine J. Schmidt is a writer originally from New Jersey. After receiving her BFA in Dramatic Writing from SUNY Purchase, she worked at Seattle Repertory Theatre as their artistic literary intern. She recently left Brooklyn, where she was a bookseller and events host at WORD, to reside in Los Angeles. She has previously written for New York Theatre Review, and her plays have been read and produced at theaters in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Washington. Coffee is her favorite thing.

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