General,  Novel Writing

My Journals Told Me I Hadn’t Changed in Over Fifteen Years

And then I quit my job.

Does Journaling Mean You’re Crazy?

I was surprised when I read an essay by writer Peter Schjeldahl of the New Yorker where he said he didn’t journal because it creeped him out to write to nobody. As a journalist, he had always written to an audience. It never occurred to me that journaling could be comparable to talking to yourself (also known as “crazy”). Like many people, I view journaling as a way to think through difficult situations or put down my emotions on paper without being judged or provided unsolicited advice. As a middle schooler and then teenager my journal entries were often about friendships and boys. Then later in adulthood, I journaled so I could keep track of events and moments I didn’t want to forget, like how I felt at the time when I got married or started my first job, and the events of the world.

I Hadn’t Changed in Over 15 years

One day I flipped through some of my old journals to see if I should shred them because who would want to read embarrassing and nonsensical free flow writing of mine? Every few years, when I would move to a new apartment or house, I would re-read a few pages of a journal and pack them away. They’d follow me like heavy bag of sand on my shoulders. One day, as I flipped through them again, I recognized I had been pining over a writing career since the early 2000s. Entry after entry, year after year, I complained incessantly about how I was not living my dream! And I thought, am I just going to complain about this for the rest of my life, each and every year and not do anything about it?

Those journals reminded me that I had started businesses I didn’t have to invest a lot of money in to see if I could get out of my career trajectory in the legal field. Those journals showed how, for years, I toyed with writing as a hobby by taking online classes, weekend seminars on writing, and reading books on the craft before I attempted to create a story with the intention of publishing it.

Those journals made me realize I was stuck in a cycle of wishing and not accomplishing a dream. So two years ago I quit a fifteen year career in the legal world and dedicated myself to taking writing classes, publishing blog entries, and writing my first novel. Of course, this is not a recommended course of action for everyone, especially if you can’t afford to quit your job, but I had been saving my money over the years and had a backup plan, but that’s for another blog post.

Re-read a Few of Your Old Journals at Least Once a Year

Don’t put your journals away and never look at them again. Sometimes it can be painful to look at an entry and remember what you were going through in that year. As a writer, reading my journal entries can be painful for the mere fact that the writing is so poor. But it’s in those entries filled with free writing thoughts, that’s where the true feelings come through, unedited.

Reviewing my failures and setbacks reminds me how far I’ve come from that latest journal entry and that there will be another day. Writing down a setback or failure is like setting a point in the sand and that your job as a human being with any ambition is to move beyond that point. Thomas Edison, one of the most famous and prolific of journal writers, kept notes of his progress on inventions and ideas, and he sought to improve upon and learn from his many mistakes. When his lab burned down, he was quoted as saying “Although I am over 67 years old, I’ll start all over again tomorrow.”

Your Journal Will Tell You Things Your Friends and Family Won’t

People who you meet and get to know at a particular time in life won’t care you don’t change through the years. And that’s what they’re supposed to do – love you for who you are and support you. If my journal didn’t tell me the important message that I needed to pursue my dream, who would have? Friends and family will support you in what you do, but they don’t want to be responsible if you fail, thus they usually withhold their advice. When I told them I was going to pursue this dream, 9 out of 10 people were very supportive and even envious of my action to pursue my dream. 

Ultimately, working hard and the writing will be on my shoulders. I’ve always been ambitious and had a desire to grow and achieve my goals. Being a pessimist by nature but always nurturing the optimist in me, I continue to believe I will one day achieve these goals.

So when I discovered I had been talking about writing a book for way too long, I felt so distraught by the fact I let all that time pass by. Granted I had a busy career and was raising two children. But I wish I could have recognized time passing a little too quickly. The first step was to recognize I was only complaining and not acting.

If journaling is like talking to myself, I’m glad my journal told me that I was not moving forward and that I was unhappy for so long. Though it took over fifteen years for me to recognize the overarching message of those journals, I’m grateful to have seen the message before it was too late. Now my goal in my journal practice is to not fill more journals with repetitive regrets and complaints.

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