Saturday, April 9, 2016

Jot it Down: My Personal History of Journaling

Yes, these are about three years worth of journals I dug out of storage containers in my parent's room... and these are only the ones within reach!

I, Savannah, have always been a journal junkie. 

I've been recording everything - from my personal thoughts and feelings, to ideas for stories and songs, precious recipes, dresses I would someday design and wear, and greatest aspirations and goals for the future - in some form of notebook (or even several concurrent ones) since the age of 11, the summer before I began the sixth grade.

Because I started doing it so young - mainly in emulation of many of my favorite written heroines - I never really felt like I had to give a reason for why I was doing it. It was just a pastime I pursued because it seemed fun and I liked to write, and it quickly became yet another habit of my life that provided me with structure and a means of self-reflection.

The first time I stopped keeping a journal regularly came at the end of 2014 (That's about 8 and a half years of composition notebooks!). I vividly recall the reactions of my family members after they recognized this fact in the early days of January of 2015, when I was returning to school from Winter Break. Basically, they ranged from my mom applauding my "letting go" of that old "coping mechanism," to sending my sister, the Ex-Cheerleader, into a panic, saying, "I can go grab my keys right now, and we can run to Barnes and Noble!" My two younger siblings, who had been taken to calling my journals "Savannah's feelings books," were not overly perturbed.

I hadn't had a real break in my regular recording schedule anywhere close to that long before, except in the case of serious personal tragedy (during my senior year of high school).  To give up this pastime for such a lengthy amount of time, carried a lot of emotional significance.

I still think I made the right choice in choosing to stop writing when I did. I was embarking upon an exciting year with the UW Panhellenic Exec Board, I was deep in my junior year, I was in the middle of NaNoWriMo, and to have deliberately kept that habit going would have been detrimental to my focus.

However, I definitely regret having taken this long of a break, for several important reasons.
  • I believe my sense of cognitive organization has suffered. Keeping a journal helps you structure your life into recurring themes and events, and allows you to make sense of your schedule to figure out your priorities. Recording events soon after they occur also just helps you remember them better. 
  • I think that my writing has also, if not suffered, then definitely not benefited from its absence. With my journal, the repetitive elements of such frequent writing helped me grow my vocabulary and advance the style and ability of my voice. It's like adding in practicing different strength moves at the gym to build different sets of muscles... and I've been going almost a year and a half without leg day. 
  • And how about this: It's my senior year in college! Yes, I'm busy, and frantic, but I'm also taking part in experiences that I will likely never have again in my life. Why would I ever want to let go of these details? I should have been preserving them for posterity's sake this whole time! 

It's also just something I've just plain been missing. In a fit of anxiety and emotion during my Fall Quarter this year - marking one official year since I'd stopped writing - I came home from class one day, took out a legal pad, and just kept writing until my hand cramped too severely to do it any more. I did this a couple more times throughout the Fall and Winter, giving the journal a name and a place on my desk, but I had just fallen out of the habit... I wasn't as dedicated to writing in it as regularly as before, and looking at it made me just feel more sad. 

However, that's not going to be the case anymore. Like I've hopefully impressed to you in the above, keeping a journal is important to me... for a long time, I counted it as a defining personality trait! Regardless of the opinions of my parents - who also incorrectly consider my relationship with my planner to be something a little abnormal - being able to record, sort through, define, and explore my daily thoughts is something that helps keep me happy, keep me productive, and keep me sane. And it's something that I'm going to be doing a lot more regularly from this point on, too. 

In writing this post, I decided to take a look at some of my past journals. This is how I defined myself, in my November 23rd, 2013 journal entry... something I found important enough to repeat later on. More than two and a half years later, and I still think it rings true!

Have you ever kept a journal before? Do you want to hear more about my journaling habits? Let me know, in the comments below!


  1. I used to be an avid journaler between oh gosh...the ages of 12 and 21. I thought of it as one of my defining traits, and I know my father used to think it was pretty neat that I kept journals for so long. I mean, a lot of people try to start a journal, but usually let the process fall by the wayside three days in. I'm not really sure why I stopped, but part of me is glad I did because I entered some pretty dark days after turning 21. There is also this part of me that wonders if I would have been able to process the events of those following years better or sooner, but I'm also quite glad that I do not have record of them to accidentally stumble upon.

    I actually have all of my journals sitting in the trunk of my car. They've been there for about a year, since I moved out of my mom's house an into a place of my own (I don't really have room to store them in my apartment). I've sort of been toying with the idea of giving them one last read-through and then purging them. I'm really conflicted about it though. I want to keep them because they're a reminder of who I was so many years ago, but also...I'm not that person anymore, and I don't know why I should cling to my past. Have you ever considered that before?

    I also want to start keeping a journal again because, like you said, I feel like my cognitive organization or awareness has suffered.

    1. Exactly! There's a lot of dedication that comes from keeping up a system like that for so long. And I can definitely agree with wanting to avoid unhappy memories in journals... I've had a couple rough patches of those, too.

      In writing this post, I started thinking more about what I'm going to do with my journals, too! It does seem like it would be pretty cathartic to do a cleanse of them, but I guess I started thinking about them like this: I hate having photos taken of me, and always have, because I don't like the way I look and I can't control how they turn out. So, in lieu of a collection of photos, I can choose to keep these journals - and find a lot more comfort and control in the situation - as a record of the ways I've grown, the places I've been, and the person I've been, really, because they're just like a stack of photo albums! No matter how much I've changed, I'm still going to want to look back some day, and see how much I've grown, just like you'd look at old school pictures or family photos.

      And let me know if you start keeping a journal again! I'm trying out different systems, and I'd love to know how you organize yours. :)