Why I persist in keeping a journal


“The nicest part is being able to write down all my thoughts and feelings; otherwise, I might suffocate.” — Anne Frank

I’ve been keeping a journal for 34 years.  It wasn’t easy to get into the habit.  I had tried doing it as early as age 12, then at 19, but it didn’t stick.  To pick-up a good habit, I find I have to stay with it up to 6 weeks for it to take hold.  Conversely, bad habits often proliferate easily because they involve more pleasure or less work, as in overeating, not exercising, delaying paying your bills, etc.

But why did I even bother?  The vast body of us don’t keep journals and don’t seem to lack for it, though the conundrum also exists that we’d all be impoverished had there been no journals, at least those of us caring about sensitivity woven into wise reflection, left by a retinue of masters like Woolman, Thoreau, and Woolf, or 12 year old Anne Frank’s precocious attempt to transcend human ignominy that moves us to compassion for every victim of  its malevolence.

In our digital era I’ve often lamented the eclipse of letter writing by email, doubtless apprehensive about the fate of hand-written journals. I think of prodigious letter writers like Jefferson and Voltaire, Dickinson and Keats, and many others, and of our loss had they written emails instead, substituting speed and convenience for their crafted labor, unveiling individuality and subtle conscience.

Fortunately, I find a positive in today’s proliferation of blogs, many of them genre journals of infinite, attractive scope capturing every conceivable interest.  My own blog comprises a journal likeness in its series of reflections on sundry subjects.  So then, why do I still pursue the old fashioned, hand-written kind?

Frankly, one reason I carry on is to beat back time in a world suffused with the temporal.  We do this with photos, reinforcing memory and preserving the essence of our experience.  So with words, and maybe even better, for while a photo yields only the external, a journal can be likened to a CT scan, imaging the otherwise concealed, defining who we really are; but more than that, journals hold in stasis, like art itself, our life passage in this parenthesis of light,  or as Keats memorably said of art, “When old age shall this generation waste,/Thou shall remain.”

For me, being faithful to my journal secures my privacy latent with its honesty, compromised by blogs, and lends affectionate intimacy with my past, though that’s sometimes painful, yet worth its filtering into insight honed by time.  Journals not only record, they clarify,

I confess that journals can be defiant creatures emotionally straying off course, and thus our vigil to seal off their access as passwords to ourselves.  Like barometers, they reflect our pressure points, for honest journals tell us we’re never one self, but many, which often nudges us to stop writing them.  As author William Boyd puts it, “We keep a journal to entrap that collection of selves that forms us, the individual human being” (Any Human Heart).

Labored sometimes in the soul’s night, my keeping a journal pays dividends nonetheless, for it nourishes that inner part of me, or serves as a rare friend who heals simply by listening


Author: RJ

Retired English prof (Ph. D., UNC), who likes to garden, blog, pursue languages (especially Spanish) and to share in serious discussion on vital issues such as global warming, the role of government, energy alternatives, etc. Am a vegan and, yes, a tree hugger enthusiastically. If you write me, I'll answer.

One thought on “Why I persist in keeping a journal”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: