We know a lot about famous historical figures based on the writing they left behind. From the diary of Anne Frank to the notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci, these records provide unique perspectives on points in history and the inner workings of brilliant minds.
As a kid, I loved the idea of becoming an artist so famous that people would one day read my journals in order to better understand me. To me, it seemed like all the most fascinating people — especially the truly creative ones — kept journals. I wanted to be of that ilk, so even though I rarely finished one, I always had a journal of some kind close at hand. Of course, my childhood journals were, well… they weren’t brilliant masterpieces, let’s put it that way.
These days I don’t keep a journal because I think doing validates my creativity or because I believe the world will one day pore over them in search of the secret to my brilliance. (I literally laughed out loud while writing that sentence. Please, for the love of puppies, don’t read my journals!) But I still keep one, and I maintain it’s one of the most magical tools in my creative arsenal.
3 great reasons to keep a journal
Makes writing a habit
I’ll be the first to admit that I have a hard time journaling every single day. I used to fall off the wagon because I was trying to write these deep, sweeping reflections on each day, which took way too much time and energy. Giving myself permission to write however much or little as I feel like really helps me keep up with it, although it’s a habit that still comes and goes.
But like NaNoWriMo, whether I write a dozen pages or just a single sentence, every word matters. Every time I create a new entry in my journal, I am actively working out that writing muscle (I find this especially helpful during periods where I’m not working on a manuscript). As I’ve said before, writing is a craft that improves the more you do it; keeping a journal is an easy way to build on that habit!
Helps you keep track
I’m a true crime fanatic. In their 49th episode, Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark of the podcast My Favorite Murder (SSDGM) had reformed lawyer Guy Branum on the show, who talked about — among many other things — how important it can be to have written records during criminal cases. In response, Georgia admitted her fear of being falsely accused of murder is the reason she keeps detailed accounts of her days, writing everything down in planners.
Now, that’s a pretty extreme example. I’d say most people like to keep records of their days just for the sake of good ol’ fashioned nostalgia. Some of us are just really forgetful. Regardless of your reasoning, keeping a journal is a good way of keeping track of the things that happen in your life, first hand.
It’s good for you
As someone who is constantly doing battle against the dynamic duo of clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder, keeping a journal is one of the most effective coping strategies I have (outside of, y’know, medication). Writing down how I’m feeling is a great way of working through complicated and often irrational emotions and thoughts. In a way, getting it all out on paper feels like an exorcism; it’s that cathartic.
Writing is a common and useful form of therapy, no matter what your damage is. Even if you’re just having a bad day or stressed out because of work, school, or family life, keeping a journal can help provide valuable perspective and/or get some of those negative emotions out of your head.
Different ways to keep a journal
Not everyone is cut out for writing daily entries in a journal. The good news is, that’s okay! There’s no one “right” way to keep a journal — you just have to find the method that works best for you. Here are a few ways you can try if you’re looking to get into the practice or are just in need of a fresh approach.
‘Dear Diary’ classic
Daily entries that reflect on your day, thoughts, plans, etc. Whether or not you keep it under lock and key is up to you.
I’ve never been able to wrap my head around bullet journaling but I know a lot of people who swear by this unique method of keeping track. This is a great choice for people who are into planning, goal setting, and staying organized.
This is how I journal. As the name implies, free-form journaling can be whatever you want and can change from one entry to the next. Written reflections, lists, doodle, poems — anything goes.
Perfect for writers in a rush. All this method requires is a single sentence or line to sum up your day. It can be about your mood, something you did that day or even the weather. Planners work well for this style, but I also love line-a-day journals that cover five years at a time.
Blogs, apps, Word files — just because you’re not writing by hand doesn’t mean it’s not a journal. Creating a personal blog is a great way to get feedback if that’s what you’re looking for (although keep in mind that it might not always be positive). There are also tons of journal apps for your phone, which means yours will always be close at hand when the need strikes.
How do you journal? What’s your favourite part about keeping one? Share your thoughts in the comments!