Reasons to Keep a Journal

I first started journaling years ago because Julia Cameron told me to.

Not literally; I’ve never met or communicated with the renowned author and screenwriter personally.

However in her bestselling creative self-help book/program The Artist’s Way, which I completed in 2011, she advocates a practice of “morning pages”—three handwritten, stream-of-consciousness pages of journaling first thing every morning.

I would actually do my morning pages in the late afternoon, after getting home from work.  Yet I did do them for four years while on hiatus from writing fiction.

My journaling practice ended not long after I started writing again.  I also started blogging and posting to social media, which for a long time felt like more than enough of the written word.  Some days oppressively so.

But for 2019, I’ve committed to journaling once more, for it yields a number of tangible benefits that have been missing from my life that many people might likewise find desirable:

1) Journaling helps clear your mind

This is the raison d’être Julia Cameron promotes the most strongly.

From her perspective as a coach for helping people reclaim their lost creativity, clearing all the distractions from your mind—both the valid ones and the vapid ones—provides an opportunity for creativity to fill the vacant space left behind.

Even when not chasing the muse, a mind mercifully free of nagging thoughts, doubts, and distractions can make you calmer, more focused at whatever task you have at hand, and able to sleep better.

As well, sometimes just the act of writing a problem down makes it seem less amorphous and worrisome, removing some of the power it has over you and further prompting you to write down possible solutions.

2) Journaling helps you recognize what you’ve accomplished

In our modern uber-busy capitalist lives, it’s very easy to fall into a pattern of always doing, which often leaves neither time nor the inclination for commemorating what we’ve done.

I’ve personally fallen into this trap for years, and it’s especially pernicious when it comes to small accomplishments that, while personally significant, don’t make any kind of splash in society at large.

To journal your accomplishments is to assert that they are worthy of being committed to paper, which has been a mark of importance throughout history.

Especially for people who aren’t the sort to boast of their achievements to others, or who don’t have the time/money/energy/desire to celebrate in a grandiose way, journaling is a small, simple celebration of tasks that deserve to be remembered.

3) Journaling provides a paper trail of your life

Companion to #2, life is busy and every year time seems to pass faster and faster.

By the end of a year, it is so easy to forget all that you’ve accomplished; so often, it winds up subsumed in the mindless blur of day-to-day living.

In addition, any sort of trauma or extreme stress you endure throughout the year can punch large holes in your memory.  So too do I have firsthand experience with this, which ultimately produced a feeling of having achieved nothing.

That sort of feeling can be hell on one’s self-esteem.

With journaling, you’re creating a written record of your life that you can refer back to and re-examine as necessary, both as a jog to your memory and a tool for greater mindfulness about your life.

4) Journaling allows you to buy (or make) pretty notebooks

When you journal, you need some kind of notebook in which to capture your thoughts.  There are so many beautiful options out there in a variety of price ranges.  You can even make your own.

If you’re the sort of person who loves stationary and/or craft supplies, journaling is the perfect excuse to indulge in that passion.

5) Journaling helps keep your hand in shape

A journal that I made years ago

With the modern prevalence of computers, tablets, and smartphones, many people’s written correspondence and communication is done predominately via typing.

In my case, I find I can only hand-write for a couple of minutes before my hand muscles start to cramp.  So too is my handwriting nowhere near as legible as it was years ago when I was doing morning pages, and especially not when I was a student in the pre-computer age.

Journaling is the ultimate exercise for your hand; the more you do it, the stronger you’ll become.  Especially for people to whom physical fitness is important, your writing hand is yet another muscle to keep in top form.

6) Journaling provides a relaxing moment for yourself

Whether you do it in the morning, the evening, or anytime in between, the act of sitting down to write in a journal is a quiet moment carved out just for you.

In some ways, this is more valuable than the written content itself.

A friend of mine, who at the time was working three jobs, used to pair her journaling with a nice breakfast.  This further benefitted her health by ensuring she had at least one proper meal every day.

For 2019, I’ve adopted bullet journaling, which is a system of rapid logging that takes me no more than 10 minutes a day.

However you decide to shape your journaling time, and for however long you choose to devote to it, it’s an opportunity to press pause—to take a moment to re-center yourself and reflect on your day, your life, and your intentions for both.

Do you keep a journal?  What benefits does it provide you?

(Image source #2; #1 and #3 – J.G. Noelle)

3 thoughts on “Reasons to Keep a Journal

  1. Good that it works for you – it did for me for many years.

    Then I got Scrivener.

    I journal, but not this way. I just write everything that goes through my head down in one of the many online journals connected to the current WIP. Being online makes it searchable, and that is occasionally useful.

    I regret all the handwritten journal notebooks I have – I can’t find anything without a huge search through them, and then I have to type it in. And they took up so much space in the moving boxes because I thought I could extract only the parts I wanted to keep, and found myself keeping almost every page when I tried it.

    The other possibility is to take the time to run them all through my scanner – there are quite a few notebooks, though, and that would take a while – and still not produce searchable text.

    Every once in a while I have to go to them, so I don’t dare toss them.

    Wish I had digitized from the beginning. Plus I type with ten fingers, and both hands are involved.

    I am leaving instructions they be tossed. Fortunately, I have always been reticent even in my own journals, so I shouldn’t offend too many people.

    Like

    • You make a great point. Conventional (i.e. longhand) journaling is not easily searchable. When I did the Artist’s Way it did require us to re-read all of our morning pages in search of specific things, but generally they are a brain dump that are not meant to be re-visited. For my various writing projects, I also keep separate “writing journals”, which I do in Microsoft Word. These contain bookmarks and hyperlinks and are very easy to search when the need arises.

      The Bullet Journal method does try to get around this problem by having you first number every page in your notebook and then create an index containing self-selected headings (some of mine are “work”, “health”, “family”, “pleasure reading”, “reference reading”, and of course “writing”). Every time you journal about one of your index topics, you then note the page on which you did so in the index. It would still require a lot of re-reading to find that one thing about writing you journaled several months ago, but at least you wouldn’t have to re-read the entire notebook.

      Like

      • I did that. Many of the things I expected to want to revisit are on numbered, indexed pages – but I still have to retype everything if I want to use it, and, as hard as I tried during the writing, I still find many things that I was getting down so fast that key words and phrases are indecipherable.

        I was as organized as I could be, but still wish I had done it on the computer.

        Like

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