I penned my very first journal entry on August 4th 1984. I was 11 years-old and one of our guinea pigs had taken ill. The next day’s entry reported the guinea pig had died overnight. It was all very grave. On the third day I detailed my shopping trip with Nana and how we’d had fish and chips for tea. Life was lived on the surface at that age and my view of the world only stretched as far as school, the shops and cherry-flavoured lip balm. I don’t know why that girl started writing in her Brambly Hedge notebook, but what amazes me now is that she never stopped.
Friends, I have been journaling my heart out for 38 years.
I journal to externalise, gather and examine my thoughts. In my late teens and twenties I wrote mainly about other people and how their actions (or lack of) affected me. Boyfriends, love interests, crushes. The disappointment of friends who didn’t get me. There was a bit of dreaming and scheming, not a small amount of moaning and surprisingly little celebrating. Like most of us, my 20s were dictated by things I thought were Very Important. I had separate notebooks for ideas and creating — art college and a journalism degree kept my creativity afloat — but my private journals were my therapy lite.
[some of my 40+ Moleskines, my notebook of choice until 2020]
At some point in my early 20s my boyfriend read my journal. He wasn’t the type to go snooping, and perhaps I’d unconsciously left the notebook out to tempt him, but indeed he opened the pages and read things he didn’t want to know. I was devastated by this betrayal; he was devastated for other reasons. We broke up for a few months before finding our way back together, but neither of us really trusted each other after that.
For the first year after The Incident I made a conscious choice not to journal, but it was so hard. I began jotting notes in my creative notebooks and explored my feelings in thinly disguised poems. I just had to get the words out. Approximately six months before we broke up for the last time I officially started journaling again. I kept the notebook in a locked filing cabinet and the emotional outpouring helped me find my way to the truth about us.
A devastating loss in my early 30s was the trigger for the next iteration of my journaling. At first the writing was focussed on his death — I filled an entire Moleskine in the first month and would spend hours writing out every wretched feeling onto the page. As the months turned into a year, I went deep into the unraveling of every part of my life, and my notebooks began to reflect this new inward path. After a lifetime of journaling about others, these new words were only about me.
[sticker visioning in my journal, 2021]
When I journal I’m not documenting the world around me — as much as younger me fancied herself the next Anais Nin, I never actually wrote about my world in that way. There was a time when I’d feel the need to flesh out my scribbles with reminders of who was who, what happened when, but after a time I let go of the recording and leant into the feeling. Writing with an imagined audience is not journaling. You might refer to your journals when writing a memoir, but I see them as two separate things. Sometimes I leave a sentence to jog the memory of future me, but mostly I write in the moment.
To me a journal is meant to be private, a place you can be your most whiny petulant self and the page will not judge you. I still decompress and vent on the page. I actually had the audacity to say to a friend recently that I had “nothing left to figure out” — I was joking, of course, but there’s something in that. The more self awareness I have the less there is to excavate — I feel I’m most often building and creating, rather than dismantling and examining, but there are still days I need to rail against the world. Like the softest blanket my journal holds me safe while I let it all out.
[dialoguing with my inner child, 2021]
As I stand in the shadow of my looming 50s, my journals feel much lighter and brighter. I know how to coach myself through the sticky feelings and I dance with my inner child more often than not. Sometimes I write pages simply to enjoy the sensation of my pen gliding across the paper. Sometimes I don’t use words at all and “write” with colours and sparkle.
I love my journal like a best friend. What would life have been like if 11 year-old me hadn’t grabbed a pen and written her first imperfect sentence?
Thank you, little Susie Q.
If you’re feeling the need for something to look forward to (me too!) my 4-week journaling course, Journal Your Life, starts on Monday! Come join us ❤️
Wonderful reflection. I started journaling in my late teens but didn't turn it into a regular practice until I was in my mid 40s. By late May I'll hit the milestone of 2000 consecutive daily entries. Some days were sentences, others were pages.
Ah Brambly Hedge! I did your Journal your Life course a few years back and I found it so so beautiful and insightful. Perfect for this time of year and our black page feeling. Happy New Year to you Susannah! ✨✍️🪄 📖