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The Art of Journaling

Writing and emotion

In the act of journaling, there is a singular kind of vulnerability. Writers are almost always writing with audiences in mind, but those who keep journals do so for themselves. There is an authenticity to diaries that is not to be found anywhere else. Our journals become confidants of sorts, not because we bury in them our secrets and skeletons in the closet, but because they are the clearest outlets for complete intimacy and honesty. 

But writing in a journal is more than just keeping a record of a series of events and occurrences. We have much to learn from diaries — the more we write about life, the more we truly live it. In the process of reliving emotions and sensations, we can mine into our own characters. Journal writing should be treated as neither a form of documentation, nor a chore, but a way of wringing out the most intense parts of our lives. Two of my favourite writers, Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, kept journals, and to read them now is akin to stumbling upon some gem of thought and vitality, writing that lies somewhere between fiction and autobiography. 

In an entry written on 30 August, 1951, Sylvia Plath wrote “I act and react, and suddenly I wonder, ‘Where is the girl that I was last year? Two years ago? What would she think of me now?’” At 18 years old, she was the same age as I am now, and reading her journals, I see many of my own thoughts reflected in them. Her journals are as full of descriptions of feeling and nature as they are of insecurity. When reading the journals of such big names in art and literature, we are reminded how similar we can be to them.

Virginia Woolf viewed journaling as a way to exercise her writing abilities, to “practise writing; do my scales.” Her earlier entries begin in somewhat unassuming ways, detailing the events and practicalities of her day-to-day life. But with time she composes herself, her writing swinging between descriptions of the routine aspects of adulthood, and moments of exaltation and delight shared with other people, moments where Woolf marvels at what life has to offer, where she indulges in its pleasures and variety of feeling.

To keep a journal is to look back at our lives, but more importantly, to keep and savour what we can from the present moment. When we write about ourselves, we are making an active effort to better understand who we are. It is an act of self-service, a way to hold on to the most intense and remarkable features of our lives through writing. And if we have the dedication to record life faithfully as we see it, we come to have a certain love for what surrounds us; people, characters, their lives, and conversations become material for a writer, and so we learn to observe the world around us more closely. A person’s journal could be just about anything; a confessional, a record of the world, a literary work, or a form of therapy.

Writing is not limited to journalists and authors but should be a means of self-expression for everyone. Journaling allows us to take our (often incomprehensible, convoluted) emotions, and turn them into something tangible, even if that tangible thing is just a written word. When we write about how we feel, we come one step closer to relieving ourselves of the burden of emotions and thoughts that control our minds.

And when journaling, I would advise you not to write up various revelatory statements in order to seem profound. Perhaps the most freeing part of journaling is that there is no need to perform. Write about anything. In an entry written on 8th March 1941, Virginia Woolf wrote in her journal “I find that it’s seven; and must cook dinner. Haddock and sausage meat. I think it is true that one gains a certain hold on sausage and haddock by writing them down.”

Illustration by Aimee Robbins

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