“The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.”
Just recently a wise friend and mentor shared an interesting experience: She decided to go through some of her old journals and pull out any snippets of insight or reflections that she felt might be helpful to her today. In revisiting these journals, she was surprised and happy to see how she had worked through some key questions at an earlier point in her life and how certain concerns seemed to come up for her again and again. Having captured her concerns and trains of thought on paper gave her a very fulfilling sense of how far she had come in sorting out some major issues in her life.
Many writers I admire kept journals. Virginia Woolf, If I recall correctly, kept running journals that paralleled her novel writing. She would often puzzle out themes or jot down character sketches in her journals — and many of her spontaneous musings and ideas eventually found their way into her fiction. I know that John Steinbeck also Kept journals that chronicled the evolution his fictional creations.
Along with the creative support that journaling offers us as writers, there’s also growing evidence of its health benefits and therapeutic value. According to a recent study by Stanford University and Chinese University of Hong Kong, if you’re feeling frustrated or upset, then jotting down a few positive personal qualities you like about yourself — that you’re a loyal friend or a great listener, for example — can help defuse your stress. In fact, people who made a point of doing this for two weeks reported feeling more upbeat and less irritated by daily events in their lives. Why? Making it a point to think about and jot down what makes you special raises self-confidence and positive emotions.
Regularly writing down thoughts and feelings has also been shown in studies to improve memory, lower blood pressure, and strengthen the immune system. All of which just reinforces what we writers already know: Words matter. And when we write them down, their meaning often becomes clearer.
So, if you’ve hit a thorny patch in a novel plot or you have just the glimmer of an idea for an essay, why not crack open a shiny new journal, jot down your ideas, and see where they take you? You might find that journaling juices up your prose. Write on!