Theodor S. Geisel—better known as Dr. Seuss—once said, “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment, until it becomes a memory.” In a nutshell, this is why I keep a journal.
I first began collecting my thoughts on paper almost 40 years ago. My third grade teacher Ms. Shadow assigned her students to keep a journal including both personal reflections and homework assignments. Since that elementary beginning, my journal has assumed many forms: several loose-leaf binders; a rainbow-hued Judy Blume diary; an old accounting ledger; a collection of letters to my sister while she was on a mission; two volumes of entries from my own mission; multiple blogs; two therapy journals (which I plan to burn at some point because no one needs to re-read those things—not even me); and most consistently, a collection of bound volumes dating off and on from middle school all the way through adulthood.
I’m not going to get into an esoteric discussion on the difference between diaries vs. journals. Here’s a thumbnail: diary=what I do in my life; journal=what I think about my life. For more details, Hubpages has a good comparative discussion here. Part of the beauty of keeping a journal is I’ve always been able to adapt it to whatever budget of time and/or money constrains me—even if I only have 15 or 20 minutes a day and a cheap spiral notebook.
Journaling has been invaluable in so many ways, like being able to look back at the past and gain perspective, articulating and clarifying reflections about personal challenges, recording important events, and (failing other avenues) availing myself of a judgment-free sounding board. Over the years (lately, more often than I’d care to admit), I’ve gone back to check names, dates, and events to trigger my memory. For me as a writer, though, the enduring value boils down to cultivating my craft. Practice makes, if not perfect, at least proficient. One entry at a time, I write a bit better, I become a little more attuned to my own voice, I learn how to listen and take dictation from life.
Don’t just accept my word for it, though; here are a few other advocates of the humble journal, some of whom include excellent ideas about why and how to get started:
- Mic.com: Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Still Journal
- Brain Pickings: Celebrated Writers on the Creative Benefits of Keeping a Diary
- Psychology Today: The Good and the Bad of Journaling
- University of Rochester Medical Center: Journaling for Mental Health
- Lifehacker: Why You Should Keep a Journal (and How to Start Yours)
- Mic.com: In Praise of Journaling, the Therapeutic Writing Form Anyone Can Do
- HuffPo: 10 Surprising Benefits You’ll Get From Keeping a Journal