What does Sylvia Path, Virginia Woolf, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Benjamin Franklin had in common? Great strides? Ambition? A quirky sense of fashion? An overwhelming Personality? Maybe, I don’t know, but one thing I know for sure though is that they were all avid diarists. Many a great accomplished person from every field, be it of science, politics or arts have been dedicating their precious time for journal writings which continue for more than half of their lives. Is that a coincidence? Or a not-so-hidden secret that might have contributed to their success and quality of lives?
Let us examine the benefits of journal writing, and see for ourselves.
(There seem to be an overwhelming amount of pros here, so brace yourself, my reading beans.)
- Better language and/or writing skills: the very obvious reason most Cambodian youths take up journaling is to improve their English. Of course, if you write your entry in English, overtime, you will undoubtedly have a better grasp in English, and writing in general. In fact, I started keeping a diary in Mandarin to sharpen my Chinese competency (and it didn’t work for long), and switched to English for the pretty same reason. It has definitely helped me practice putting phrases and words I’ve learned into good frequent use. Also, most of my classmates from English class is amazed at my ability to write about almost anything in a short amount of time. Well, it’s nothing miraculous, really. I’ve just been writing on so many things that my brainstorming process gets more efficient. Sylvia Path, one of the most renowned poets, and novelist of the 20th century was an avid diarist; she thought it was a great warming up exercise for her craft.
- Legacy: wouldn’t it be nice to read about what your grandparents did when they were your age? Were they equally lost and somehow depressed? Did they have a crush on anyone? How did they meet? How did they fall in love? All these questions might also be asked by your future children and grandchildren. Your diary can become material for your memoirs later on. It might become one of the best-selling books in the world like Anne Frank’s (if you get famous or something), or just a hidden legacy for your private family. Without diaries, how many lines can you write about what you’ve been through for the past *insert your age*? I know I can write just about one page of my 21 years on Earth without the help of a diary.
- Improved problem solving skills: according to Karina K. R. Hensberry and Tim Jacobbe (2012) who did an experiment on the effects of Polya’s heuristic and diary writing on children’s problem solving found out (with a pretty limited sample) that children who wrote down the process of their math solving had an improved set of problem solving skills in their post-test. I do not believe it only works for children. Writing makes our heads clearer, thoughts more precise, and as a result, we get a better chance of pin-pointing what exactly is nagging our nerves away, and the best way to treat it.
- Improved knowledge retention: according to the educator, Roger Hiemstra (2001), learners are “urged to … use one of the journaling formats as a means for assisting them to obtain the maximum amount of interaction, knowledge and personal growth from their reading efforts or other learning experiences.” Apparently, just by reflecting and jotting down what your learning process help you maximize the amount of knowledge you can retain from the said experience.
- Critical self/professional reflection: Heimstra also suggests that journaling gives one the opportunity to conduct critical reflection upon oneself, one’s ideas, insights and world views. It can also give one a space to grow professionally by critically assessing a professional matter. Heimstra is not alone in this view as the Nobel laureate, Andre Gide at the ripe age of 22, thought that keeping a diary is a way for him to peel back the layers, and rediscover what lays beneath.
Whenever I get ready to write really sincere notes in this notebook, I shall have to undertake such a disentangling in my cluttered brain that, to stir up all that dust, I am waiting for a series of vast empty hours, a long old, a convalescence, during which my constantly reawakened curiosities will be at rest; during which my sole care will be to rediscover myself.” (The Journals of Andre Gide Volume I, and II).
- Improved health: studies have also demonstrated that journaling leads to better emotional health, especially when we deal with trauma, and stress. According to Itziar Fernandez and Dario Paez (2008) whose research had 607 participants some of whom are indirectly and directly affected by the terrorism attack in Madrid, generally called M11, use expressive writing to recall the traumatic event. Participants reported a lowered amount of negative emotions, while positive emotions were not significantly affected. Apparently, the study concludes that some aspects of expressive writing such as using positive emotion words can alleviate negative emotions in a 2-month follow-up, while emphasizing negative experience does not help.Strangely enough, journaling is also tied to better physical health. According to Karen A. Baikie, Kay Wilhelm (2005), long-term benefits of expressive writing include:
– Fewer stress-related visits to the doctor
– Improved immune system functioning
– Reduced blood pressure
– Improved lung function
– Improved liver function
– Fewer days in hospital
– Improved mood/affect
– Feeling of greater psychological well-being
– Reduced depressive symptoms before examinations
– Fewer post-traumatic intrusion and avoidance symptomsSocial and behavioural outcomes
– Reduced absenteeism from work
– Quicker re-employment after job loss
– Improved working memory
– Improved sporting performance
– Higher students’ grade point average
– Altered social and linguistic behaviour
- Letting loose: Anais Nin, and Virgina Woolf both agreed that by writing in their journals, they were able to put everything that was swimming in their heads spontaneously on paper, or in Woolf’ words
“I note however that this diary writing does not count as writing, since I have just re-read my year’s diary and am much struck by the rapid haphazard gallop at which it swings along, sometimes indeed jerking almost intolerably over the cobbles. Still if it were not written rather faster than the fastest type-writing, if I stopped and took thought, it would never be written at all; and the advantage of the method is that it sweeps up accidentally several stray matters which I should exclude if I hesitated, but which are the diamonds of the dustheap.” (A Writer’s Diary)
By doing so, they were able to jot down the most impulsive of thoughts which have the potential to spark a creative flare later on in the form of inspiration, or writing materials.
- Self-shaping: The great writer, Susan Sontag seemed to believe that by journaling, one not only discovers oneself, but one creates oneself as well.
That harmonizes with Hiemstra’s ideas as well. They both believe by writing down our thoughts, perceptions, and actions, we are creating an ideal self which we aspire to be. It can also be used as a place for you to be your own cheerleader.The famous writer, John Steinbeck used his diary as a tool for self-discipline and self-motivation for the work he made himself undergo to produce the masterwork that earned him several literary awards, The Grapes of Wrath. His diary is a rollercoaster of motivation and self doubts.In one entry, he wrote in Working Days: the Journal of the Grapes of Wrath :
“My many weaknesses are beginning to show their heads. I simply must get this thing out of my system. I’m not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people. I wish I were. This success will ruin me as sure as hell. It probably won’t last, and that will be all right. I’ll try to go on with work now. Just a stint every day does it. I keep forgetting.”
But in another, he picked himself up:
“I’ll get the book done if I just set one day’s work in front of the last day’s work. That’s the way it comes out. And that’s the only way it does.”
- What we are writing now may not be the same as what we will write in 10 years, 5 years, 1 month, or even tomorrow. We are constantly shifting, tipping back and forth in various dimensions of fluidity. Maybe, nothing is better than recording and being able to see how we evolve in this beautifully ragged journey we call life.
How about the cons of journaling then? Well, it’s a task that requires time, time that most people would rather spend otherwise. It also requires resources such as notebooks, pens, or electricity (in case you do it on electronic devices). Another issue from journal writing (which I am experiencing) is that writing becomes too addictive until what I write does not hold true anymore. Strong convictions, written down become mere marks on a crisp page of paper. I write and write and write, and never seem to get anything done! I guess, I’m just experiencing one of the motivation fall not unlike the one Steinbeck faced.
I guess the answer is pretty clear that journaling is definitely a worthy habit to form. How? Read how to write a journal here!
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- Fernandez, I., & Paez, D. (2008). The benefits of expressive writing after the Madrid terrorist attack: Implications for emotional activation and positive affect. British Journal of Health Psychology, 13. 31-34.
- Hensberry, K., & Jacobbe, T. (2012). The effects of Polya’s heuristic and diary writing on children’s problem solving. Mathematics Education Research Journal, 24 (1), pp. 59-85. DOI: 10.1007/s13394-012-0034-7
- Hiemstra, R. (2001). Uses and benefits of journal writing. Promoting Journal Writing in Adult Education, 2001 (90), pp. 19-26.
- Maria Popova, Celebrated Writers on the Creative Benefits of Keepiong a Diary
- Maria Popova, How Steinbeck Used the Diary as a Tool of Discipline, a Hedge Against Self-Doubt, and a Pacemaker for the Heartbeat of Creative Work