Does keeping a journal make you a better writer?

A healthy mind is a terrible thing to waste.

They say, confession is good for the soul. Turns out, that could be true. The research is coming back with a big thumbs up for baring the soul on paper.

University of Texas at Austin psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker contends that regular journaling strengthens immune cells, called T-lymphocytes. Other research indicates that journaling decreases the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Pennebaker believes that writing about stressful events helps you come to terms with them, acting as a stress management tool, thus reducing the impact of these stressors on your physical health.

Psychcentral.com article Oct. 2018

Anything that lowers stress helps you be healthier, but the benefits for writers go even farther than that.

Keeping a journal can help a writer organize their thoughts, preserve ideas as they have them, and, of course, any practice you get makes you a better writer.

Getting in touch with your roots

Our ancestors have kept journals and diaries for centuries. The difference between the two is that the diary is a dated record of events kept religiously over a year that details things you’d need to remember. A journal is a record of significant events and is generally more personal than practical.

For a writer’s purposes, a journal is much more effective, although both are good devices for growing at your craft. Journals allow the writer to explore their feelings about a subject and deliberate the significance of ideas. It’s a much more abstract type of record.

In a world of Kardashians, Be an Austen.

An entry in the journal of Kerouac gave insight into how he viewed the physical needs of the average person and how he viewed consumerism and capitalism in 1948:

People rush off to meaningless jobs day after day, you see them coughing in the subways at dawn. They squander their souls on things like “rent,” “decent clothes,” “gas and electricity,” “insurance,” behaving like peasants who have just come out of the fields and are so dreadful tickled because they can buy baubles and doodads in stores.

source is listverse

Even journals of regular people become historical data about a particular era. When I was young, I had a particular interest in primary sources of experience. To be honest, I still do to an extent. There’s nothing so interesting or as intimate as reading another person’s diary.

I remember reading the journal of a young girl of the confederate south, being raised as one myself and wondering how on Earth slavery and the civil war could happen, and thinking she wasn’t this horrendous monster I thought she must be. She was just a woman. That journal was of one, Sarah Morgan: The Civil War Diary of a Southern Woman.

It’s abundantly clear as you read this diary that Sarah has been taught a clearly defined view of herself and who she must be. It was an eyeopening experience for me as I realized you could become your raising without any hesitation. I was never one for doing just as I was told, but now I saw first hand how it was possible and, I think, the terrible cost it might require. It left an impression on me as a teen.

How do I do it?

So far? I don’t.

It is a personal choice of mine, and, honestly, I’ve never really missed it. Yet, I suspect that’s because I talk a lot. There’s little hidden subtext in my life. My work sometimes contains parts of my thoughts I wanted to let out, but I don’t seem to benefit from the running journal of them. It’s not second nature to me so I never continued though I’ve started many.

Every writer isn’t the same, so I don’t recommend doing or not doing anything. What works for me isn’t some gospel handed down on the mount. It’s just something that works for me, and journal writing hasn’t ever been that thing. That seems to make me odd for a writer. Most of the authors I know, keep and enjoy their personal journal.

There are online alternatives like Penzu and journey.cloud that allow you to keep a private diary on them. It requires a lot of trust in my opinion, and I would caution you to be aware how much of your information the website is collecting before simply trusting one with private thoughts.

Journals should feed your soul.

Honestly, this is the simple explanation for why I don’t keep one. I don’t get a benefit. As with any other method, if you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it. However, there are some seriously compelling arguments for keeping and maintaining journals for authors.

Maybe one of these days….

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