Writing your thoughts down in private is a nifty way to discover what you think, especially if you’re puzzling through something complicated or emotionally charged. Recording events lets you relive them with a double ownership. Putting the words on paper or typing them letter by letter focuses your attention into concrete expression, and at the same time, it frees the mind to go racing ahead toward the next idea. It’s at once liberating and therapeutic.
By contrast, reading a journal can be a mixed experience. I hardly ever go back to read anything I wrote. The few times I’ve made a point of doing so, going back to look at what I wrote when I was in high school, for instance, the evidence of who I was then hasn’t match my memories of who I was, probably because I tended to write at length when I was confused or unhappy. A journal can be the opposite of a photo album in that way, recording dark days instead of bright ones. Since I prefer my memories unsmirched, I rarely go back.
Some people resist keeping a journal out of a fear that someone might find it someday or steal it and read their secrets. That is a risk, certainly, especially for those who like to lie or exaggerate or confess crimes in their journals. I suspect it’s likely for most of us, however, that our journals will be too boring for anyone else to peruse. They’ll probably molder away in a basement alongside our lost socks and a fondue pot.
For me, keeping a journal helped me become a writer. No doubt about it. I started my first journal in 7th grade when I was required to keep one for Mr. Sanborn’s Humanities class. I soon found I liked getting my ideas down, and I’ve kept a journal ever since. In fact, I now have two journals: the paper one by my bedside where I jot a few lines each night before I go to sleep, and my computer one where I can babble on as long as I like, at a whim, whenever I feel the urge. Sometimes weeks go by when I don’t write in my computer journal, and sometimes I’ll write several entries in a single day. It’s how I stay acquainted with myself. Hello, self.
If you keep a journal, you probably know what I mean. If you don’t, you might be surprised how nice it is to give it a try. To write for oneself is a brave and empowering thing to do.