Why I Stopped Journaling

I started writing in a journal when I was in grade 3. One of my teachers took my parents aside on parent-teacher night and suggested that they get me a notebook so I could write my ideas down. I think this came about because I wasn’t paying attention in math class, but it in hindsight it was likely one of the events that lead me to writing.

I journaled daily for years — until my mid-twenties, in fact. I have boxes full of journals of all shapes and sizes stored in a basement somewhere. There are the pink, sparkly ones of high school days, filled with “I love so-and-so’s,” and lots of stickers, the angsty tirades of my early 20s, the day-to-day scribbles of my early 30s. I reduced my journaling to a few times a week as I grew older, and recently, I stopped.

I broke my life-long journaling habit because it was interfering with my writing.

For months I had been getting up at the crack of dawn to scribble my thoughts and feelings into a notebook. By the time I finished, the day’s writing time was nearly over. But there was more than that to the end of my journaling: it wasn’t a positive force in my life anymore.

Journaling can become an excuse not to write other, harder things, like fiction. (Fiction might not be harder for everyone to write, but it sure is for me.) I was spending more time writing about myself, and less time writing for others.

Before I quit journaling altogether, I wrote myself a list of the pros and cons of the art of journaling.

Pros of Journaling:

  1. It helps you get to know yourself
  2. It gives you an outlet to vent your feelings in a place where no one can get hurt (unless your brothers steal your journal, break the lock and read it — speaking from experience :)
  3. It creates a record of your life that can perhaps be shared with others

Cons of Journaling:

  1. When you have limited time, it takes time away from writing
  2. You can fall into a pit of self-reflection and over-analyzing
  3. When all is said and done, most of our journals won’t be found on more than one person’s bookshelf, which of course isn’t the main reason most of us journal, but, if you want to write for others…see number one above.
For me, journaling in a traditional sense had run it’s course. I can’t say that I’ll never start it up again, but for now, I’ve set it aside. I still take a few moments each week to write down a few things I’m grateful for in a notebook beside my bed, but otherwise, I’m focusing on fiction.

How about you? Do you write in a journal? Has it ever interfered with your writing?

Author: Carrie Mumford

Carrie Mumford is a writer and content manager living in Calgary, Alberta. She write short stories and non-fiction articles, and blogs about technology, editing, writing and (of course) books.

  • Hi Carrie; Yes, I admit, I am a diehard journalist. I started my journal sometime in 1995. I wouldn’t give it up for the world. My journal has become my hopes, my fears, the acheivements, and some of the chronicles of the losses of loved ones. I think there are some tears on some of the pages. So, on Christmas eve, every year, no matter where I am in the world, I take my journals out. I now have to skim them because there are so many of them. I get this taste of where I’ve been. Sometimes, in that very late night, as I drink my last dram of fine single malt Scotch, and I look into the night sky, I see where I’ve been, and delight into where I’m going.

  • I journalled when I was younger, but it always felt like a chore to me – something I had to do. Now, I write in a journal when I need to sort something out, and I find it very beneficial. Writing in a journal sometimes inspires me to write other things (poetry, songs, blog posts).

    You’re right – it’s nice to have a record of your life, and I love looking back at old journals, but not at the expense of precious time that could be better spent on something you want or need to do more.

    Great post!

  • I invested hours and hours over about a decade into various forms of journals. Part of it was that because much of it was for an online journal, it was actually shown to some friends and it was really for public consumption. Still, eventually I got past the point in my life where I needed that, and it started to slow down as I invested more time in real writing. I think journalling can be a valuable investment if you’re drawing something out of it, and I learned some things from it, but I would not go back to spending time writing in a journal.

  • Dear Carrie,

    I find your posting timely…because I have been pondering some similar thoughts about my own journaling story. I have been a journaler for decades and it has been a delightful creative endeavour, plus helpful in so many ways to track my emotions and thoughts and life over the years.

    But of late, I’ve been realizing that I want to do something NEW…which includes doing something new in my journaling. The old way doesn’t quite cut it any more. So I’ve been thinking about changing how I journal. For two reasons mainly:

    1. First, as I’ve indicated above I’m at a new stage in my life where I want to explore new ways of expressing myself, so I don’t really want to (or need to) journal the old way.

    2. Second, and this is key for me….journaling takes the edge off my writing. Once I’ve set my ‘first’ thoughts and my ‘first’ emotions down in my personal journal, I no longer have the passion or the need to write about it somewhere else for someone else’s eyes. So I’ve been thinking that I need to save that fresh ‘pouring out’ for my articles and blog postings (which I have done occasionally and received positive feedback). The ‘for-my-eyes-only’ stuff is easily edited out before publishing it for the world.

    So… it was interesting and encouraging to hear your thoughts on the matter.

    Thanks… and best for the day,

    • I totally agree with journaling taking an edge off your writing — I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it definitely can.

      I’d love to hear about your new way of journaling! Are you doing something artistic (drawing, photography)?

    • Hi Brenda!

      I had never though of journaling taking the edge off writing, but I can definitely see your point! What type of new journaling are you considering? Perhaps an art journal?

  • Well Carrie, journaling is my writing. I love to write to the point that I journal on line for others to read. I’ve been journaling since August 26, 1990 and I have no notion of stopping. I collage in journals, draw, make plans, record events, process my thoughts and feelings,create & do exercises to raise my consciousness, etc. I couldn’t imagine not writing at this point in my life. And I thank God each and every day that my hands move all of what is inside of me out, good and bad, happy and sad, creative and junk. I’m also very grateful that I am a conduit of something higher than myself. Although, I write for myself, my hope is that something I write will resonate with others.

    • Hello Lillian,

      Thanks so much for your comment! I admire your long-term journaling habit, and the fact that you share it publicly. I am sure that probably does help other people to read words from someone who is sharing their inner thoughts and feelings – it can give them something to identify with.

  • It sounds like you have been doing “personal journaling”. Lots and lots of personal and introspective entries; getting to know how the world is affecting you.

    I do “creative journaling” lots and lots of outwardly focused entries; getting to know how the universe affects absolutely everything. Works well for me. Maybe you could review your last journal and check how much is about creativity and the wonders around you?
    Then maybe the decision is not to give up journaling but to give up that part of journaling that is holding your writing back.

    “All writers are observers, fascinated with human goings-on, but journal writers are a special breed, I think, suspicious of their own memories, like tourists taking snapshots of everything they see.
    They’re different from diarists, of course — diarists seem, as a whole, fascinated with their own lives — journal-keepers are snoops, fascinated with everyone else’s life.”
    Robin Hemley, taken from “The Writers Journal” by Shiela Bender

    • Hello Andy!

      I’ve never heard of the distinction between creative journaling and personal journaling, but that makes sense! For now e main issue for me is a lack of time, so I feel like I need to dedicate any time that I have for writing to writing fiction (my current focus). I do like the idea of creative journaling though – seems much more productive! Thanks so much for sharing that idea.

  • I keep a journal by my bed but that was to jot down the visions of a book or poem I had during my sleep. For me, an everyday journal was time consuming and self-analyzing. When blogging first appeared on the scene, I thought that was what it was; a journal of a person’s thought or opinions on a topic. Hmmm! Did you Reallly give up your journal Carrie?

    • Ha! You raise a good point! There’s a fine line between blogging and journaling. I think the key difference for me is that I write blog posts for others; I usually try to include something that someone else would find helpful, whereas with journaling I was just doing it for my eyes only. This post borders on a journal entry though, so you may be onto something!

  • It would feel strange, even frustrating, if I didn’t journal. I like my own company, in that way. I have severely reduced the time spent by not being angsty, not expecting any insights, and not trying to be a prose video recorder.

    My writing time is therefore unaffected. Meanwhile, I have cut out both my TV cable and my rabbit ears, and at home I only listen to music that is ambient. (It’s still nice, but has no lyrics to attend to)

    I do put down high lights, such as something good, lesson learned, humour, and touched my heart. (Flagged with a handwritten icon)
    I don’t use point form, but I don’t write very much, either.
    In a way, these days, my journal is a to do list, in only a “one day” time frame, as I challenge myself to be productive, and then record gently whether I slothed out.

    It is important for me to note the good, stuff that might sound trivial to others, because I spent my formative years in ice station zebra.

    I’ll be at When Words Collide!

    • Hi Sean,

      It’s awesome that journalling works for you! I have found myself turning to my journal once in a while even since I’ve stopped making it an official part of my day, but not in the way I used to use it (as a chore I had to tick off my to-do list). It sounds like journalling is a wonderful tool that you use.

      So great to hear you’ll be at WWC! Hope to see you there!

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