Please, don’t write a journal. Please, just write.

Journaling: The Voyage of the Damned

Last month we were wandering through Freshly Pressed posts and came across 10 Ways Journaling Makes You a Better Writer. It prompted a lot of discussion around the office. The post opened with the remark:

Journaling is a self-indulgent, narcissistic waste of time. It’s nothing more than self-administered therapy – the writer simultaneously on the couch and in the psychiatrist’s chair, endlessly picking apart the minutiae of her life to no good end. Time would be better spent alphabetizing the spice cupboard.

We agree. (The blogger took the opposing viewpoint).

Journaling does allow you to vent, reflect, explore, etc . . . but most of the time doing that doesn’t improve your voice, your writing, or your health. In fact, it usually bogs you down, makes you more discontent with your relationships, job, life, and reinforces all your bad writing habits. Journaling is just the voyage of the damned.

When you write a journal, by and large, you don’t show it to people to ask advice about your writing style. So any bad habit you have, simply becomes ingrained. It moves you away from perfection, even from decent usage! Journals aren’t writing practice, unless that’s what’s in your journal, in which case, that’s not a journal.

Journaling will make you a good writer in the same way learning to cross-stitch will make you a good neurosurgeon.

Most good writing comes from a combination of ability to turn a phrase, an interesting life, and a vivid imagination. Few people venture into writing because they’re happy. Most weren’t raised in a stable home. Nor are they content pursuing a job as an account.

Great adult writing typically comes from people who are desperately trying to escape (fic), or desperately interested in their subject matter (non-fic). It’s also the type of writing that usually rings true and touches the widest audience of readers most successfully.

If you want to be a better writer, write. Have experiences, even bad ones, and write passionately, from the heart, about them. But never waste your time with a journal, except as a spiritual exercise.

Published in: on June 7, 2011 at 8:08 AM  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I do not keep a journal myself but I believe self-musing in the form of reflection through stream-of-conscious free writing could be very helpful to freeze inspiration in time, and thaw it out in the future. Maybe write a famous quote after an entry to summarize what it is you wrote. I think it’d be a great excersise in creativity if done right. I do agree that journaling should never be the focal point of any aspiring writer over the age of thirteen, but completely useless? I disagree. Enjoying this blog by the way!

  2. It’s a controversial topic and we 100% respect your disagreement (and many others!).

    For us, there is a value to journaling, but only for historians. Samuel Peyps journal would be a good example. Journaling one’s daily life informs historical record. Journaling spiritual reflection can help develop relationship with the divine. It does have some value. But for purposes of creative writing? No, that type of writing has miniscule value.

    Your example of giving one’s thoughts on a particular quote, is a perfect example. That’s not journaling. That’s a writing exercise. You call it that yourself : “a great exercise in creativity.” When people speak of journaling as an exercise in creativity, it’s no longer a journal. It’s an exercise book. There’s nothing wrong with that, but we need to be clear and call it an exercise book.

    Many writers have become confused and no longer know the difference between a journal and writing exercise. Much of that is down to writing instructors telling people journaling is good for their writing. What they should be sayings is writing the sorts of things you ultimately hope to publish (scifi, historical romance, contemp spy thriller, etc) is good for your writing.

    Journals are a specific form. Journals are wonderful, they keep track of the historical record of something. The focus is facts (and to a lesser degree the journalist’s feelings about them). Journals are record books. They are not creative writing. Journaling, in the true sense, therefore is highly unlikely to be of any help to a creative writer’s development. Creative writers need to be writing creatively and showing their work around (at least to friends who like to write or read). Think Inklings!

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