A diary, a journal, a memoir or – for the Star Trek fans among us – a personal log. Regardless of the name by which it is called, the intent is still the same: to record our life experiences.
As a writer myself, I am sure it will shock absolutely no one to learn that I keep a journal. For me, journaling serves many purposes, chief among them being the ability to write without worrying about appeasing an audience. When I write in my journal, I am less concerned with proper prose than with just getting my thoughts down on paper. No one’s eyes except mine see it, so I have no one but myself to impress.
While most people never allow another person to peruse their private writings while they are still alive, journals can be a wonderful find for friends and family long after a loved one has departed. I recently finished reading the Auburn McCanta novel “All the Dancing Birds,” in which the main character, who is suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s, writes a series of letters for her children to find after she is gone. The writings talk about how she met their father, her childhood and how it feels to her to be slowly losing her memories and were a source of comfort for her children after her death. Things we often cannot bring ourselves to share while we’re alive often are cherished after our deaths.
There are other reasons for keeping a diary, including as a way to record ideas for future projects. As someone with a creative mind, I often find myself jotting down ideas that may not be fully formed as of yet, but show promise for the future. Some of the best-selling novels that have been published are personal memoirs of sorts, including “The Diary of Anne Frank” and the most recent NY Times best seller “Guantanamo Diary.”
Keeping a journal also can help an individual become more self aware. “One advantage in keeping a diary is that you become aware with reassuring clarity of the changes which you constantly suffer and which in a general way are naturally believed, surmised and admitted by you, but which you’ll unconsciously deny when it comes to the point of gaining hope or peace from such an admission,” said Franz Kafka (From Diaries, 1910-1923).
Another useful purpose for a personal log is to reflect on one’s past and grow from the many experiences. One of my favorite things to do – especially during times when I’m finding myself whining about a particular circumstance – is to go back and read some of my old journals. The mind is a funny thing. It can choose to remember an event years after its actual occurrence, or totally wipe it from existence. Reading my old journals reminds me of where I’ve been, where I’ve gone and where I’ve yet to go. It can be quite reassuring to reacquaint myself with events that, at the time, I felt I surely would not survive – yet here I am, still making my way in the world and being all the more the better for it.
If you’ve never tried keeping a diary, it’s never too late to start. I prefer to keep a handwritten log, which can seem like an outdated practice in a world where everything has become computerized. For me, there is nothing quite like the feel of my pen as it glides across a fresh piece of paper. I also keep my journals dated, as I have many of them and it’s easier to reference them when they are in some semblance of order.
It’s important to write about everything and anything in your journal. And on days when you feel you have nothing relevant to record, don’t feel pressured to come up with something just for the sake of writing that day. And last but not least, if you truly do not want prying eyes to read your written thoughts, it is probably best to keep your journal hidden away.
Have your own tips for keeping a personal diary? Feel free to share them here in the comments section. And until next time, happy journaling.
Shari L. Berg is the owner/operator of The Write Reflection, and a writing professional for over 20 years.