Writing Your Way Back to Yourself

Hohos JournalsYears ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Madeleine L’Engle, author of one of the best books ever, A Wrinkle in Time, speak.  I brought my sister, a designer along.  L’Engle was inspiring, gracious, and fascinating and when her talk was over, my sister turned to me and said, “She makes me wish I was a writer.”

Isn’t that wonderful? L’Engle had presented such an incredible picture of what it’s like to lead the writer’s life that even non-writers got swept up in the vision. And to me, it just reinforced what I already knew: that writing is the best passion in the world.  There’s nothing I love more than being totally enraptured by a story I’m writing, or completely wrapped up in putting together an article about writing.

But there’s another reason beyond both of these, that I love writing. And that is because it constantly and consistently brings me back to myself. Through throwing words at the page, I write my way home, over and over again.

It’s easy to get lost these days. There’s a cacophony of noise out there—social media, news headlines, videos, a contentious and distracting presidential election.  It is way to easy to drown in all of the input our poor overloaded brains take in on a daily basis and to feel confused, puzzled or out of sorts—without even knowing why.  When this happens to me, I pull out my journal.

It is all too easy to sneer at journal writing as the purview of the wealthy who have nothing more important to do than write delicate entries about their fragile emotions.  And yet, when one is in the grip of emotion, confounded about how to respond to the anxieties of the world, there is no better antidote than throwing words on the page.  I went through a period, many years ago, when I wrote in my journal every day.  That hasn’t been true of me for a long while, but I do journal in fits and spurts, regularly enough to call myself a journaler.  At the start of this year, for instance, I filled an entire spiral with words. And then one day I was just done and I didn’t journal again for a long time.

Most often these days I don’t journal because I’d rather be writing fiction.  If one has limited time to write, one must choose what one is going to write carefully.  Also, if one wants to write fiction but is blocked, one can easily use journaling as an excuse!  All those caveats aside, I do think every writer should consider keeping a journal at least sporadically, because it is so tremendously helpful in getting the crap out of your head and onto the page.

For the record, I come from a lineage of diarists. My maternal grandmother, who I don’t remember because she died when I was barely three, recorded a diary entry nearly every day of her adult life. (Those are her journals in the photo—they hold pride of place in a shelf in my office.)  To my great disappointment, they tell very little of her inner life, but rather, drily note who visited, what she made for dinner, etc. (And to what will likely be my descendant’s great disappointment, my diaries tell very little of what happened in my world, but rather are dedicated to me figure out emotions and stories on the page.)

There’s all kinds of journaling you can do.  I could write helpful snippets about writing morning pages , or keeping a gratitude journal, or writing unsent letters,, or writing about your day. But I’m not going to, because honestly, the best thing you can do is grab yourself a journal, open it up, and write. Start where you are now, wherever that is, and end when you’re finished. That’s all there is to it.

Do you write in a journal? Come on over to the blog and tell how you use it!

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6 Comments on "Writing Your Way Back to Yourself"

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birds9y9
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06/02/2016 10:10

I actually have three journals: my writing journal, my personal journal where I hash out my thoughts and process what’s going on in my life, and my “pump primer”, which is essentially freewriting when my brain feels constipated. When dithering in my pump primer actually produces something useful, I transfer to the relevant journal.

Daria Tarrant
Guest
Daria Tarrant
06/02/2016 10:57

Hi Charlotte,
First of all I want to thank you for this article and the newletters I receive from you as they are very refreshing in my daily life. I read them little by little but I save the writing prompts in a word document to do whenever I get writer’s block.
I keep a journal but its a recovery journal that is helping me with my feelings toward my eating disorder and even though I only tackle one question a week, it still helps. Otherwise, I’m working on my short story or coloring from one of my adult coloring books.
Daria.

J.D.
Guest
J.D.
06/02/2016 15:49
I have a vague recollection of the title but I haven’t read “Wrinkle.” It looks interesting. Your sister–and why should it be any other way–looks to be as interesting as you. Every time I visit here I seem to inch closer to journaling. Right now, I shouldn’t even be reading your blog; I should be working on my book. There seems to be a running feud between New Yorkers and Chicagoans over who has the best hot dog. The nation seems to come down on the side of Chicago just because New York can’t be the best at everything. Then,… Read more »
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