The Benefits of Keeping a Journal

There have been a couple of articles by renowned bloggers over the past few weeks, extolling the benefits of keeping a journal.

Most recently, Maria Popova wrote on the Brain Pickings blog that ‘Journaling, I believe, is a practice that teaches us better than any other the elusive art of solitude’ and provided examples of famous people’s attitudes towards keeping a journal, and the benefits they discovered through the process (Famous Writers on Keeping a Diary).

For me, a journal, or diary if you prefer, is simply my way of de-cluttering my brain. Personally, I find scribbling down my thoughts at the end of the day helps cleanse my mind before I go to sleep. I’m an insomniac, and for some reason, jotting down a page of notes does help ease the problem.

I hadn’t kept a journal for about four years – I think it’s because once I’d published my first novel, I wanted to concentrate on my writing, and spent most nights scribbling into a notebook before switching the light off.

Except that writing a novel, or making notes about a story, isn’t the same as writing a journal.

For one, you’re writing to a designated storyline – whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, you’re on a predefined path.

Tim Ferris recently wrote an article on his blog The Four Hour Work Week, entitled What My Morning Journal Looks Like and rather graciously provided a very personal insight into his journal habit. The article included a photograph of that morning’s journal page, which he writes every morning before starting his working day. Ferris cites the following benefit he’s found through keeping his journal: ‘Morning pages don’t need to solve your problems, they simply need to get them out of your head’.

I don’t think this would work for me, as the early morning hours are when I’m at my most productive – I’m usually out of bed by 7am latest on a weekend as it is.

However, I do agree with him that journaling helps to ‘free up’ your mind. Here are the benefits I’ve found from keeping a journal:

  1. It acts as a ‘de-clutter’ of my thoughts before sleep, helping reduce my tendency to wake up in the night with insomnia
  2. It helps free up my mind from thoughts that are preventing me from writing (often I’ll write in my journal, then grab my notebook!)
  3. It helps ‘sort things out’ in my mind – if I write it down, it’s less of a problem

It does show that everyone is different though, so you’ll probably benefit from keeping a journal if you find a time to do so that suits you best. Don’t worry about what other people are doing – keeping a journal is a very personal thing, and not meant to be shared, so you’re free to warble on about anything you want!

You’ll need total respect from those around you, too. I know my other half would never venture into my journal to read my personal thoughts – it holds the same fear as when he’s looking for some cash and I tell him ‘help yourself – it’s in my purse’. He’s never going to go there!

Some other things to bear in mind, if you’re still a little unconvinced:

  1.  Your journal entries are not meant to be a work of art. You can cross stuff out, make spelling mistakes, and draw pictures – whatever works for you.
  2. If you think using a formal date-to-a-page diary is too restrictive (i.e. you want more than one page to jot down your thoughts, or you don’t want to feel pressured into having to write every day to start off with), then simply buy yourself a ruled notebook.
  3. Keep it somewhere within easy reach – mine is always in one of the drawers to my bedside table. You need to journal in an environment where you feel relaxed, in my humble opinion.

So, if you haven’t tried keeping a journal for a while, and you’re finding that extraneous thoughts are preventing you from writing when you should be, maybe it’s time to go back to it – or, if you’ve never tried it before, why not give it a go?

After all, it’s another great excuse to treat yourself to some new stationery too…

Do you keep a journal?  Are you like me and going back to writing a daily journal after a break? What benefits have you discovered? Let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear from you!

Rachel Amphlett, 2015

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