When I was a kid, I remember how I used to write (or doodle) everything in my special journal. Just like many kids would do. We’d hide them under our dreamy pillows – keeping our secrets away. Then we all grew up, but so few of us actually kept the habit of keeping a journal. But why is it so important to write a journal? There are many writers and other artists who swear in the benefits of journals, in the importance of reflecting on the thoughts of our souls. These are just few…
…began keeping a diary at the age of eleven and maintained the habit until her death at the age of 74, producing sixteen volumes of published journals in which she reflected on subjects as love and life, the elusive nature of joy, the meaning of life, and why emotional excess is essential for creativity.
“It was while writing a Diary that I discovered how to capture the living moments.
Keeping a Diary all my life helped me to discover some basic elements essential to the vitality of writing.”
In her extensive meditation on the creative benefits of keeping a diary, found in the absorbing A Writer’s Diary (public library), Virginia Woolf speaks to the value of journaling and accessing the gems of our own minds, ordinarily dismissed by the self-censorship of “formal” writing:
“I note however that this diary writing does not count as writing, since I have just re-read my year’s diary and am much struck by the rapid haphazard gallop at which it swings along, sometimes indeed jerking almost intolerably over the cobbles. Still if it were not written rather faster than the fastest type-writing, if I stopped and took thought, it would never be written at all; and the advantage of the method is that it sweeps up accidentally several stray matters which I should exclude if I hesitated, but which are the diamonds of the dustheap.”
At the outset of The Journals of André Gide (public library), the 21-year-old future Nobel laureate ponders what would become a six-decade commitment:
“Whenever I get ready to write really sincere notes in this notebook, I shall have to undertake such a disentangling in my cluttered brain that, to stir up all that dust, I am waiting for a series of vast empty hours, a long old, a convalescence, during which my constantly reawakened curiosities will be at rest; during which my sole care will be to rediscover myself.”
Henry David Thoreau
…was among history’s greatest and most lyrical diarists, as evidenced by The Journal of Henry David Thoreau, 1837–1861 (public library) — full of Thoreau’s timeless meditations on everything from the true meaning of success to the greatest gift of growing old to the meaning of human life.
“Is not the poet bound to write his own biography? Is there any other work for him but a good journal? We do not wish to know how his imaginary hero, but how he, the actual hero, lived from day to day.”
In her eternally moving The Diary of a Young Girl (public library), Anne Frank at first questioned the very act that immortalized her and touched the lives of millions:
“For someone like me, it is a very strange habit to write in a diary. Not only that I have never written before, but it strikes me that later neither I, nor anyone else, will care for the outpouring of a thirteen year old schoolgirl.”
A man of strong opinions and even stronger passions, exercised his characteristic wit in The Importance of Being Earnest (public library):
“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”
In an entry from April of 1823, the influential French artist Eugène Delacroix writes at the age of twenty-five:
“I am taking up my Journal again after a long break. I think it may be a way of calming this nervous excitement that has been worrying me for so long.”
Sylvia Plath, began keeping a diary at the age of eleven and penned nearly ten volumes, which were posthumously edited and published as The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath (public library). She saw her diary as a tool to “warm up” her formal writing, but perhaps the most ensnaring passage from her published journals is one of strange synchronicity as two literary legends of staggering genius and staggering tragedy meet across space and time through the pages of their diaries.
“Just now I pick up the blessed diary of Virginia Woolf which I bought with a battery of her novels Saturday with Ted. And she works off her depression over rejections from Harper’s (no less! – and I hardly can believe that the Big Ones get rejected, too!) by cleaning out the kitchen. And cooks haddock & sausage. Bless her. I feel my life linked to her, somehow. I love her – from reading Mrs. Dalloway for Mr. Crockett – and I can still hear Elizabeth Drew’s voice sending a shiver down my back in the huge Smith class-room, reading from To The Lighthouse.”
We are creatures of loose memory, but if there’s a way to keep our thoughts always remembered, why shouldn’t we take this opportunity? Not only do journals help us rethink our deepest desires and feelings, but they also give us a little bit of consolation in this overwhelming world. By writing a journal, we learn to be present with our own selves.
Do you still keep your old journals?