Writing has always been a function, activity, means of expression for me and my cohort. When I attended St. Peter’s grade school, we learned to diagram sentences. I loved how orderly diagramming made the written world. I somehow gravitated to a creative writing class in high school. Maude Weinschenk taught us how to write poetry and how to edit everything seven times. In college I wrote book reviews and poetry for the school magazine. Now, after leaving work as a lawyer, I teach grammar to law students who have missed certain aspects of it or whose life and writing is so informal they need to learn how to write in a more formal and correct style. I also encourage my coaching students to keep a journal.
A recent New Yorker article about T.S. Eliot said that he criticized English writing of his time because the English “use literature as a means of expressing ideas and personal feelings. . . social commentary, or mysticism, or philosophy.” I’m not talking about literature here, I’m talking about personal, private writing. The value I see in writing as an avocation, as a delight, as a friend, is in expressing our feelings, clarifying our thoughts, having a place to write down things we don’t want to say out loud – fears, hopes, loves – and expressing our creativity. (Sorry, Tom.)
Journal writing can be therapeutic. My husband, Jim, is in a writing group of cancer survivors. He has led groups like this as well as participated in them. He knows first-hand that writing and sharing with such a group make him feel better as well as help him better understand his experience. Clients who have never used a journal are surprised at how much they like writing on a regular basis. I recommend they get whatever kind of empty book that appeals to them. I don’t like expensive, leather-bound journals because I usually throw mine away when they’re full: they’re so personal and un-edited, just for me, that I don’t want anyone to read them. I like the black and white composition books I get at the drug store. My friend Carolina and I have a pact that if one of us dies, the other will go to her house and destroy her journals.
Treat yourself. I strongly recommend giving yourself 10 or 15 minutes at the beginning or end of the day to write in your journal. Try it for a month. It will make a difference in your life.
[Classic books on journaling: The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron; At a Journal Workshop by Ira Progoff]