When I was in my teens I had a five year diary. Every page for every day of the year was split into five sections, one for each of five years. Any five years. There were no days written on the pages, only numbers. No years written along the top, only spaces for me to fill in which years I used the diary for. The pages were edged with gold leaf and it was bound with bright red faux leather with a golden embossed pattern, a brass clasp and the cutest little padlock and key.
Nowadays, it might be called a journal because its purpose was to record thoughts and feelings rather than note appointments.
The diary itself was not very big, so the pages were not very big. The five sections were therefore rather small, with close-ruled lines so my writing had to be tiny – because I had much to say.
However, the benefits of ‘keeping a diary’ as I used to call it, or ‘journaling’ as I’d call it now, are huge. Just huge.
Let’s take a fairly light-hearted look at the benefits. I’m sure you can see they run deeper than that, but let’s not spoil the fun.
First benefit: it gives your pain a voice. We all need to be heard and we all need our pain to be heard – even if the only one to hear it is a red faux leather friend.
Life can be cruel sometimes. It can be unjust and mean. It trips you up and hits you while you’re down. But I’m sure you know that. Journaling about these injustices and rugby tackles lets you complain without judgement.
And that’s the second benefit: the pages of a diary make no judgements. They don’t criticise your choices, they don’t nag you into action. They only listen without judgement. And that’s so often exactly what we need. Your diary doesn’t have a conscience nor does it need to act as yours unless you choose to let it.
Third benefit: journaling voices your dreams, and in voicing them they can become intentions, and intentions can become goals, and goals can provoke actions. I wonder how many little girls wrote about their dreams to become a bride, a mother, a singer, a dancer, a gymnast, a teacher, an electrician or an astronaut. I wonder how many of their dreams came true. Once they saw it written there in pink writing on white paper, did they start to plan how they’d reach that goal? Or did the next section down, the next year’s entry, show a new dream in blue or green. The next in black or red. The thing with private journaling is – it’s just that. It’s private. Between you and your faux leather friend. So you can change your mind as many times as you wish with no one to call you fickle, no one to tell you your dream is unattainable. So it’s not. Everything you dream of can come true in that instance of putting pen or pencil to paper.
Another huge benefit, number four, is the opportunity to sound off at other people without offending them. You can say what you like about them, safe in the knowledge that little brass key is safely hidden in the little crack between the velvet lining and the shell of your little wooden jewellery box and covered by your bright pink popper beads.
Okay, who remembers popper beads? All the rage in the fifties, available in every colour you could ever imagine. You could mix them and match them, wear them in a long string or a short circlet. Ah, those were the days. Sigh. The innocence of believing they were chic. Sigh. Pop them together, the perfect fit – much as you and your red faux leather friend were.
Benefit number five: you can burn your journal when you’ve done with it and all the ugly words you used, all the disappointments and crushed feelings can be consigned to the flames. Then poof! They’re gone. Hopefully to be forgotten.
Bringing us to benefit number six: if not forgotten, you can always write about the same dreams, the same disappointments, the same hurts and injustices again if they still need to be heard. You can give your pain a voice in a new faux leather journal, with gold embossed pattern and cute little padlock and key.
Nowadays, I find cheap exercise books are easier to dispose of, not so pretty, so it pains me less to see them burn.
The thing is – there’s no end to journaling until you feel no need for it.
And, if you really can’t part with that little red faux leather friend, you could always write in code, like one of my characters in Family Matters, the first novel I ever published. No doubt David knew his code, but it caused a problem for his mother when she tried to get to know him through his diary after he died.
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Happy reading, happy writing and happy journaling.