My grandson’s kindergarten teacher announced, “It’s time to write in your journals.” Shrieking with delight, the children raced for their pencils and started to print. It was apparently a highlight of their day, this time to write whatever they pleased. I’d like to think at least some of them will keep this joy alive into adulthood.
Daily or sporadic, morning or evening, pen or keyboard, matter-of-fact or filled with angst—there’s no one way to journal. Do what brings you joy or peace or clarity, if you choose to do it at all. My practice involves pen on yellow pad, usually in the morning, usually three pages from top to bottom. (Partial credit to Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way.) If my mind is spinning in circles, writing helps move it forward. If my mind is blank, some buried issue tends to surface about the middle of the second page.
Historians draw on diarists from Samuel Pepys to Anne Frank for invaluable information about major events and daily life. Genealogists must feel they’ve struck gold when they uncover a diary to flesh out the raw data. How do we weigh this archival value against the presumption of privacy in diaries that were never intended for posterity? I’m torn. I’ll read a journal with a clear conscience after the diarist’s death, but share only what seems harmless to survivors, like my mother’s notation from early in her marriage: “Accidentally locked myself in the basement. Puttered and carpentered for two hours till H. came home and let me out.” As for my yellow morning pages, the question won't arise; every few months the latest batch goes out for recycling.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.