General,  Novel Writing

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

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 no one. 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”) even though journaling is writing to oneself. Like many other journalers, 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. As an adult, I journaled to keep track of events and moments I didn’t want to forget, like how I felt when I got married or started my first job. 

I Hadn’t Changed in Over 15 years

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. These composition books would follow me like past ghosts. 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! I thought, am I just going to complain about this for the rest of my life, 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 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 I can barely read my own handwriting as I scribbled along the lines with high emotion. But it’s in those freely written entries where the unedited thoughts sit.

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 said, “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 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 whatever you do or don’t do. They don’t want to be responsible if you fail, thus they usually withhold their advice or tell you that you’re doing fine just as you are.  Ultimately, pursuing the right path is my choice. I’ve always been ambitious and goal oriented. Being a pessimist by nature but always nurturing the optimist in me, I believe I will one day achieve these goals.

So when I discovered I had been talking about writing a novel 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 am raising two children, but I wish I could have recognized time passing a little too quickly. Re-reading my journals showed me that 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 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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