1. General memory recall. Recently I came across my journals while doing a spring clean. I opened them up and read through portions. How much I’d forgotten shocked me to the core. I’d written about events that had a huge impact on my life at the time, and I’d simply forgotten them. Reading through my scrawled entries jogged the memories.
2. Remembering the details. Even for the events I’ll never forget, the little details had still slipped away. The way someone’s smile made me feel, the way a path wove through a forest like an invitation, the way conflicting emotions can turn a moment inside out. As a writer, these details are crucial if we want to create realistic characters and places and lace our stories with an honesty that speaks to our readers.
3. Maintaining your writing skills. For many years I wrote in a journal every day. Eventually the habit petered out as I let the busyness of life take over (or perhaps it was a perceived lack of a life worth writing down). Whatever the reason, returning to my writing career after an extended break, I discovered my skills had rusted over. Capturing the clarity of language needed to write well had become difficult. Stringing those sentences together in a way that could evoke an emotion or crystallize a moment on the page became like knitting spaghetti: messy and not something I’d ever want to share. Like any skill, writing needs to be practiced regularly.
4. Honing your writing skills. While your journals may never be read by anyone but you, which means they can be as sloppy as you’d like, the simple act of writing in them has the wonderful benefit of sharpening your writing skills. The more we write—any kind of writing—the easier it becomes. It’s because the act forces your brain to step out of passive mode and actively break down your thoughts into the written word.
5. Finding your voice. The beauty of journals is that they don’t need to be perfect, which means they don’t carry the same weight that our writing projects seem to lug around with them. For example, the weightiness of doubts and fears: Is this story working? Will it be worthy of getting published? Will anyone like it? Without those fears, we are free to write whatever, and however we like. For this reason, journal writing can help find our elusive voice because we stop trying to write like other writers.
6. Sharpening your observational skills. Journaling helps to add an extra layer of attentiveness when observing the world if you know you are going to write about it later. That power of observation will bring your stories alive. This not only includes enhancing the ability to describe a place in a way that makes it real, but also to be insightful enough when it comes to people’s emotions and motivations to make characters pop from the page.
7. Understanding yourself. The reason I started writing was to understand my place in the world and what I felt about everything. Writing it all down helped me understand the layers of emotion that raged within. It helped me to be honest with myself when it was so easy to lie. Perhaps journaling can do the same for you.
There are many other benefits, of course, so what benefits have you discovered through writing a journal?
Lynda R Young