Why I Keep a Journal (And You Should Too!)

How are you today? How is everything going? Today we’re not talking about books, we’re talking about notebooks. The personal kind of notebook: the journal.

Keeping a journal was something I shied away for quite a long time. The thought of opening with the line “dear diary” and then tell a notebook all about my day, every day, for the rest of my days sounded tedious, not to mention boring.

What does it mean to keep a journal? Is it to have a small notebook in which I can retell my routine for the rest of my life? Or is it perhaps meant to be a safe space that I can permeate with my thoughts and impressions? Where I can express myself as freely and as openly as I can?

Today I want to share with you a short list of what I’ve learned since I started journaling, with a little help from our literary friends.

“What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something loose knit and yet not slovenly, so elastic that it will embrace anything, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind.”

Virginia Woolf, A Writer’s Diary

A journal is not an account of absolutely everything that happens in your life

My journal didn’t start as a journal. Initially, it was supposed to be a simple travel-notebook where I could organize and comment on my trips, but during the first trip I started writing down notes about what I saw and what I read. A few days later I started adding thoughts from when I read my Bible and soon my travel notebook was filled with quotes, articles, reminders, notes, lyrics and other anecdotes.

I realized then that a journal doesn’t need to be a detailed account of what happens every day. It is simply a space where I can deposit whatever thoughts I had during the day, where I can explore them a little further and develop them into more concrete ideas. I think I would have understood this earlier if I had read what American author Joan Didion had to say about her own notebooks:

“The point of my keeping a notebook has never been, nor is it now, to have an accurate factual record of what I have been doing or thinking.”

A journal has to be completely private and personal

The point of having a journal is that I can express myself with absolute certainty that nobody else is going to read it. Not because I have deep secrets to hide from those around me, but because I need the freedom that my privacy entails.

In his journal, A World of My Own: A Dream Diary, Graham Greene wrote:

“It can be a comfort sometimes to know that there is a world which is purely one’s own – the experience in that world, of travel, danger, happiness, is shared with no one else.”

A journal should make me more aware of myself and my surroundings

Here is where the best part of having a journal starts: awareness. Ever since I started writing, I started paying attention. Whenever I feel something or I think something that I think is worth writing down, I have to dig a little deeper into it, I need to explore and explain why I should pay attention. This, in turn, has led me to reflect on a lot of things since before I consider writing them. I look at people and wonder why they act the way they act, I look at my own feelings and try to trace them back to a source, I see my interests and evaluate why they interest me.

“It was while writing a Diary that I discovered how to capture the living moments.”

Anaïs Nin

To Søren Kierkegaard, another diary keeper, if we don’t sit down and quietly contemplate our lives, we might completely lose our true selves and absorb the ideas of others.

A journal is a space to be creative

Okay, this one is not mine. This point has been made by a number of writers and thinkers, but my favorite will always be the one made by Virginia Woolf, who famously used her diary to put her thoughts and pains and reflections, and also to experiment with new forms of writing. She used her diary as a platform for both content and style.

“I confess that the rough and random style of it, often so ungrammatical, and crying for a word altered, afflicted me somewhat. I am trying to tell whichever self it is that reads this hereafter that I can write very much better; and take no time over this; and forbid her to let the eye of man behold it. […] But what is more to the point is my belief that the habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments. Never mind the misses and the stumbles.”

Virginia Woolf, A Writer’s Diary

Virginia, inspiring as always, is right. I must say that I do think my writing has somewhat improved since I started journaling. A writer, like a pianist, a football player, an architect, or anyone else, needs to practice in order to improve. Can I say that I am a talented writer after a year of stumbles and misses? Not really, but I sure will keep practicing. A journal is a space for creativity. Even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, the beauty of a journal is that you get to store whatever it is you like to do. You can doodle little monsters, you can sketch airplanes, you can do math, a journal gives you the extra space to practice and be creative.