Journals and their backstory

Journals and their backstory

Journals and their backstory

A stack of journals sits on my desk. Hilroy notebooks, perfect-bound journals with elastic ties, a big black drawing book with many blank white pages, a couple notebooks with section tabs, and one with a hard cover.

Some have pages torn out. Most have empty sections. Some have logs of my attempts at healthy living and other habits that seemed a good idea at a particular point in my life.

For me, the impulse to journal is a layered, complex and inconsistent practice. The pile of evidence in front of me says that I launch into journaling with great intentions. Some are dated in the 1980s, some in the 90s, some this century.
Rare is the one that is full, complete.
Some of the journals attempt to track the daily pace and activities of life. Others were clearly intended more as idea-catchers. A few hold first draft poems, or essays. Others still record step-by-step attempts at life management programs – all about the process.
Inside most of the journals are one or two or more clippings – articles I found meaningful. Quotes. Wise advice from here or there.
What is the purpose of a journal? I’m tempted to see my mismatched piles as evidence of failure: they tell the story of failed attempts, aborted journeys. Certainly, they provide insight into my changing whims and interests.
In a more positive light, each journal in its way must have served some purpose. Here, I am luxuriating in a memorable vacation, there I am tracking a fitness regime, and over here I am trying to record the confusing slide of my father’s last weeks of life.
As a writer, the journals are a discontinuous collection of possible prompts for future work. Yet, mostly, their work is done. They got me here.



  1. Encouraging! I’ve many unfinished journals. Love my moleskines, though!

  2. Yes, so many writers love these. There’s a lot to be said for writing surfaces that are attractive in their own right – perhaps they encourage you to keep at it?

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