Friday Fun – Journals – stash ’em or trash ’em?

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, writing-related question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: If you journal, do you keep all your old journals, or do you purge them? Why?

Jamie Wallace: I have been journaling since I was seven years old and have never thrown out a single notebook. My collection lives in a variety of locations around my home – some on the bookcases in the living room, some in Tupperware bins in the storage space, some tucked in amongst my writing books on the bookshelf in my office. I rarely read them, but I like having them around. I’ve sometimes felt like I ought to lighten the load a little, but then I think about the box of old notes and love letters that I tossed when I was moving out of my parents home. It was an impulsive action and very out of character, but my boyfriend at the time was there and I was doing the whole “I-was-so-young-then” thing and into the trash they went. I still think about them now and again, and I wish I hadn’t let them go. It’s not that I have any ties or even clear memories about the boys who had sworn their undying love. Not at all. But, there was something captured in those notes – some essence of the boy-meets-girl story, some irretrievable moment of true and unblemished infatuation. I should like to have them still. They would make for interesting reading.

Diane MacKinnon: I, like Jamie, have been journaling since I was a kid, but I didn’t started until the advanced age of 11. Right after I read Harriet the Spy, I got a marble notebook and starting writing in it. I still have most of my old journals, but I’ve lost a few along the way. I still think about the ones I lost with regret. I have told my twin sister that, if I die, she gets all my journals, to do with as she wishes. She can read them or not read them. I don’t tend to save stuff–except letters and journals. Those I hang on to. My mom once told me that she threw out all her sister’s letters after she died of cancer at the age of 42 (my mom would have been in her late 30’s at the time) and she always regretted it. Maybe that’s why I keep anything with a handwritten note on it.

Lisa J Jackson writerLisa J. Jackson: I still have every journal I’ve ever written, including my childhood diaries. I always think I’ll go back and read them someday, or leave them for someone else to read, but as I continue to downsize my living space, I think I’ll end up destroying them at some point. I’ve always used them to ‘download’ my thoughts to declutter my mind, so I’m not sure I’d gain much by going back through them. I’m not sure there is any benefit to reliving my life, since I’m focused on moving forward. All my journals and diaries are all boxed away and stashed in a corner, except for the most recent ones. I have had quite a variety in the types of journals I’ve written in, too, over the years. My favorite is the composition notebooks that I can get at Walmart in August for .25 each – back to school sales are great for a writer!

Susan Nye: I don’t keep journals. I started one when I first moved to Europe. It seemed like a good idea at the time. A couple months into it, I re-read what I’d written. Instead of being filled with fascinating stories and characters, most of it sounded silly and mundane. The day I wiped out my hard drive. Missing my then boyfriend. Even when you live abroad, most days are not filled with enthralling adventures. Of course there were a few more interesting bits. Like the weekend in I spent in Vienna. I saw Don Giovanni in the fabulous opera house and ate in a 400 year old restaurant. But it was not enough to keep me at it.


Deborah Lee Luskin: I’ve been keeping journals – and saving them – forever. And recently, I took a huge box of them out of the attic to research the mind of a teen that was me forty years ago. For most of the last ten years, I’ve been keeping an electronic journal, and I don’t know if or how I’ll ever go back through it. I often think about burning the old ones and deleting the e-ones, but so far, running out of space in my attic or on my hard drive hasn’t forced the issue. I’m pretty clear that it’s the writing of the journal that is helpful, not so much the reading of them. And deciding whether to keep or destroy them  right now isn’t as important as, say, folding and hanging this week’s laundry, or picking the berries that ripen apace in this heat, so I’m not likely to do anything about them – except keep writing.

15 thoughts on “Friday Fun – Journals – stash ’em or trash ’em?

  1. I’m highly confident that all my childhood journals/diaries are up in my parents’ attic. I could never handle throwing them away, but I’d be super-embarrassed if anyone ever found them! lol My best friend had a different attitude…the second she realized how embarrassing her journals could be, she chucked them all in a fire!

  2. Like many who have already commented, I began journal keeping as a child. I kept them and revisited them often. Midlife, I realized with huge “trash bags” of journals, that as long as I kept the written words, I held on to the feelings. Possibly this was because my journals were a dumping ground for feelings I was trying to work through. I destroyed all of those journals and moved on. I agree with Robert, “nothing is real but the present” ~ what came before is what brought me to this present.

  3. I love journaling! It helps me to straighten out my thoughts and re-focus them when I’m overwhelmed! It’s a way to purge my soul so to speak and feel new and rejuvenated! I have kept all my journals since I started journaling and it has been a bit funny and interesting to see what I have written and how I have grown as I read back over them. I don’t think I’ll throw them away. I carried them all from one country to another across an ocean! 😀

  4. I think my journals (which have also always been sketchbooks) feel like memories in a solidified form. I don’t revisit them, but destroying them would feel a bit like willingly wiping my memory and my past. I don’t hoard or clutter much in other ways – in fact I quite enjoy the occasional purge and am happy to throw things away, but if ever I were to get rid of journals and sketchbooks I think I’d have to bury them, or burn them, or cast them into the sea or a bottomless lake or something.

  5. last fall i took all of my journals to my son’s large back “yard” and with the help of his fire-building skills, sent them skyward in a giant burn pile. it has not made a difference. living consciously, in the moment, with the life story within those words has little to do with whether they are paper or ash. what i have learned, and this is the value in having destroyed the mountain of journals, is how i carry these skeins within my self ..and how i weave them with grace…into this most precious present moment. so that my tapestry will be vibrant and of a peace…

  6. I have my first journal that I began when I was eleven. I do not have any of the “diaries” I kept before that because my brother was fond of raiding them and making fun of me — by the time he was twelve he had other interests. I kept a daily journal for many years. Periodically, I go back and read a section or two. This was particularly useful when I was working on a memoir — reading sections would jog memories that were not on the page as well as amplify things I did remember. My journals also contain draft work — songs I was passionate about when I wrote them: I was just thinking I wanted to hunt one up and take a new look at it, which I can do because they are all on my shelves — I haven’t indexed them though, so it takes awhile to find particular entries: I have to think, “Well, I was going out with Richard and I think that was in 2002…”

  7. I’ve been journaling nonstop since I was 12 years old, and I still have my diaries, with most of them in a box in my bedroom closet. Occasionally I read my old entries, and I get amazed by how far I’ve matured and developed as a human being. I’ve been through some tough times, so it makes me relieved that I am not the way I used to be. Sometimes my old journals scare me and those are the ones I consider destroying. But I don’t think I am ready to destroy any of my journals yet. I see them as a part of me, the story of my life, but someday I know I will have to part with them. But not yet 😉

  8. So far I’ve kept all my journals only “in case” I want to go back and get insight into who I used to be. It seems I’ve lived many lifetimes in one. When I’ve read back, sometimes I’ve been fascinated and marvel at the growth I’ve made. Other times I can’t believe I was still whining about the same old thing and this helps to know it’s time to let it go. My favorite journal I ever re-read were written just after I left my husband. I wrote every detail for six months of every step I took till there was nothing left to record but peace and happiness. I had been on constant overdrive and it was time to relax but I couldn’t. It was all done! A good friend suggested I go back and read where I’d been and then when I did, I could see that it was ok to take a break. It was ok to slow down and enjoy the fruits of all the work I’d done and changes I’d made the prior six months. It allowed me to appreciate the lack of drama. Talk about eye opening and I am grateful to this day I had that journal to show me my progress. My hope is to burn them one day. Until then, they are still a compilation of who I am today and I’m not ready to integrate all that once and for all quite yet. Or am I?

  9. I am not an avid journalista, but my diaries as a young girl and becoming interested in the boy next door are sweet. That, along with a narrative of what I ate that day (should have become a chef!) is a time capsule that provokes emotions of coming of age.

    Later journals certainly tread in much more complicated experiences, however, I hold on to my few diaries and few journals as a way of remembering what it was like during those times.

    It would be difficult to sever my roots.

  10. Thanks to everyone who shared their journaling journeys, habits, and reasons. Love the diversity of inspirations and approaches.

    Here’s to savored memories AND living in the moment.

  11. It seems to me that some of us can’t help writing. If we’re not writing creatively we’re probably writing emails or a journal. It’s nice to see how many of you keep journals. I started when I was about 10 but my mother destroyed all my diaries when I was away at boarding school (aged about 16 I guess), which came as a shock. This made me feel there was something creepy about expressing my thoughts and I stopped for several years. Now if I have a problem I start a diary about it and later destroy it myself .. well, most of it.

  12. Pingback: Friday Fun – How Did You Go Pro? | Live to Write - Write to Live

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