I’ve kept a journal since I learned how to write. I find I can’t really understand my thoughts well until I’ve put them into words. I need a place where I can write all of my words out until my hand is cramped or my laptop battery gives up or my heart feels settled.
I have years’ worth of journals full of my thoughts and experiences in a box in my closet. The oldest one is a tiny green book with a broken, tarnished lock and a blurry picture of a tree in a meadow on the cover. I got it for Christmas in first grade. Looking back, I chuckle at the entries. “We had sloppy joes at school today. I like sloppy joes.”
I gave my daughter the pink one I wrote in when I was twelve-years-old. I thought she’d like to read what her mama wrote at her age. Mistake. It turns out I wrote some really cheesy stuff about the boy I liked. She and her siblings got some laughs out of that one.
Once when my husband and I were engaged, I took out a journal entry I’d written during a time we’d broken up. I was sad and pitiful. Apparently, I still ran into him from time to time after breaking up because I wrote, “When will Andrew Wood ever be out of my life?!” I read it to him. I judged from his reaction to my subsequent comment, “I guess never!” that he wasn’t as amused as I was.
There can be danger in writing everything down on paper. There’s a chance people will find it and read my private thoughts. Once in a great while, we get one of our friends to stay at our house and watch the pets while we travel. About halfway through every trip, there’s a moment where I wonder, “Is he up in my closet right now, dragging down that box and reading all of my innermost thoughts?” So far, I guess I’m safe.
All joking aside, I do live with the hope that someday some descendant of mine will want to know what life was like before the internet or before flying cars or whatever there is to come and will take the time to learn cursive and decipher my writing. I myself would love to have my great grandma’s journal. Unfortunately, she didn’t read or write, so I’m left with only her name. Maybe someday my great grandchildren will have a decent idea of who I was because of my words.
I think I’m a better writer because of all of the hours I have spent journaling over the years. I’m in the practice of putting my thoughts on paper. I have a decent feel for my voice as a writer. My husband is surprised that I can write as quickly as I do, but I think it’s just from all the practice over the years. It feels natural to pick up a pen and collect my thoughts. Also, writing in a journal helps me turn off the critical part of my brain that tells me what I’m writing is no good. I know it’s not for publishing, so I can write as I want without really worrying about what anyone else will say about it.
At times, I think maybe I should censor what I write, though, and leave out the parts where I’m less than stellar. Maybe I should leave a better impression for posterity. Then I catch myself. What’s the use of writing it down if I’m not going to be honest? I don’t have to tell every single thing, but I know I’m not a perfect mom and have certainly messed up my poor children in ways that will affect the family line. What if a descendant struggles with the same issues I do, and what if I have insight she doesn’t have that I can pass on through my words? Or what if just knowing someone else struggled with those things helps her connect the dots and understand herself.
In reality, the biggest reason I write in a journal is that I need someone to talk to. I need someone quiet and intuitive enough to sort through my thoughts and figure out what I should do next, and when I journal I discover that person is really me. I write and write and by doing so I systematically think through what’s been swirling around in my head all day or all week. Suddenly, somehow, I see a solution. If nothing else, I may at least come to some peace about it.
So here’s to journaling, to leaving a legacy, to putting myself out there, to figuring out what I need by writing out my thoughts. And now that I’ve done that, maybe I’ll go make some sloppy joes! I bet that would have made those lunch ladies happy.
Laura McKillip Wood raises kids, cares for a husband and a house, and writes. In her free time, she works in the academic office at Nebraska Christian College, a job that provides the calm amidst the storm of parenting three teens and preteens. She writes a monthly column for The Lookout magazine (lookoutmag.com) and blogs at lauramckillipwood.com.
So do you journal? What have you learned about yourself or your writing through journaling?