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Journaling is a self-indulgent, narcissistic waste of time. It’s nothing more than self-administered therapy – the writer simultaneously on the couch and in the psychiatrist’s chair, endlessly picking apart the minutiae of her life to no good end. Time would be better spent alphabetizing the spice cupboard.
I have kept journals on and off since I was seven years old. My entries have ranged from copies of Shakespeare’s poems to what I did today to philosophical musings to documentation of the soap opera antics of the teenage years. I have professed love, eschewed love, and pined after lost love. I have envisioned my future, questioned my past, and reveled in my present. I have railed against the world and explored the dark and sparkling caves of my inner self. I have written letters that were never sent and scrawled meaningless sentences of disconnected prose just to keep my hand moving. I have spent a lifetime between the pages of various notebooks, sketchpads, and diaries, and I don’t count a single minute wasted.
In her book If You Want to Write (originally published in 1938), Brenda Ueland encourages writers to “Keep a Slovenly, Headling, Impulsive, Honest Diary.” She recommends letting go and letting it rip and says that by doing this, you will become a better writer.
Here are my top ten reasons why journaling will make you a better writer:
Number 10: It helps develop better writing habits. The more often you make time to put words down, the more often you will make time to put words down. Don’t wait for some Big Project, just sit down with pen and notebook and let fly with the words.
Number 9: It helps you find your voice. Writers are obsessed with discovering, developing, and refining “voice.” When you lift the expectations and just write as who you are, your unique voice will come out naturally.
Number 8: It clears your mind. In her much-loved work The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron recommends writing “Morning Pages.” The method involves writing for a bit first thing each morning. The purpose is to clear your mind of any clutter that might clog up your creative process. Putting thoughts on paper, frees up space in your mind for the task at hand.
Number 7: It saves relationships. A journal is an excellent place to blow off steam without the risk of saying something in haste that you won’t be able to retract later. Angry at your lover? Write it down. Hating your job? Write it down. Have a secret crush on the boy next door? Well … you get the idea.
Number 6: It brings you closer to perfect. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell says that to be an expert at something, you must invest at least 10,000 hours in practice. The hours you spend journaling count. Start logging pen time today.
Number 5: It improves your health. There have been a number of studies that demonstrate how people who write about their feelings (good and, especially bad) have less stress and stronger immune systems. It’s not surprising – keeping things bottled up inside is a recipe for disaster while learning about yourself is a good bet for increasing well-being and confidence.
Number 4: It creates a vast personal archive. Much of what I’ve written in my journals is schlock unfit to be read, even by me. Still, there are also many ideas and snippets that could inspire stories or articles. I’ve even included writing exercises in my journals – practicing writing dialog, description, action, etc. (Tip: If you think you’d like to go back into your journals and you’re not using a searchable software, think about creating an index so you can locate passages later on.)
Number 3: It delivers gems. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back to re-read a passage and thought, “Damn! Did I write that? It’s pretty good!” When you free up your creative self and make the commitment to be completely honest and uncensored, good stuff is bound to come up. The diamonds will be buried amidst tons of rubble, but they will be there.
Number 2: It flushes out the crap. We all write crap. In another of my other favorite writing books – Bird by Bird – writer Anne Lamott talks about writing “shitty first drafts.” We all do. It’s part of the process. Journaling is the fastest, easiest way to get more of your crap onto the page so you can get on with the business of writing your best stuff.
Number 1: It alleviates the pressure to be “good.” Journaling frees you write with joy, abandon, and unbridled creativity. Writers are often hog tied by their own stress about living up to some manufactured standard. It paralyzes and stunts – sucking all the life out of our writing, leaving us with a diluted version that is limp and colorless and completely lacking in inspiration. A journal gives you permission to write without any fears, without editing, without any “shoulds.” It lets you “just” write. What a gift.
And those are my top ten reasons. What are yours?
Have you ever kept a journal? How did the practice impact your other writing? What other reasons do you think journaling is a good practice for writers?
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who, among other things, works as a marketing strategist and copywriter. She helps creative entrepreneurs (artists, writers, idea people, and creative consultants) discover their “natural” marketing groove so they can build their business with passion, story, and connection. She also blogs. A lot. She is a mom, a singer, and a dreamer who believes in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Look her up on facebook or follow her on twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.