Gini Dietrich

Keeping a Journal: The Power of Daily Writing

By: Gini Dietrich | February 4, 2016 | 
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Keeping a JournalBy Gini Dietrich

When Batman came out, Michael Keaton was on David Letterman to promote the movie.

Apparently he spoiled the plot of the movie during that interview, but that’s not what I remember.

What I remember is the story he told of his son who got on a fight on the playground.

They were doing the typical kid thing, “Yeah, my such-and-such is better than your such-and-such.”

The kid he was arguing with said, “My dad is better than your dad. He’s an accountant!”

Michael Keaton’s kid grinned and said, “Oh yeah? My dad is way better than your dad. My dad is Batman!”

And….mic drop.

It’s funny that I remember that. I mean, it wasn’t just yesterday. I had a face full of zits (my poor cheeks were a mess until well after college) and I was teasing my bangs so they looked like I had run into a wall.

I don’t remember who my favorite teacher was or what we were studying. I don’t remember who my crush was or what mean things the girls had said (and there were a lot…particularly of meeting me after school to beat me up). I don’t remember what crazy things my brothers had done (just that they were crazy). I don’t remember the dances or the football games.

But I do remember that story Michael Keaton told…because I wrote it down in my journal.

For some reason, it stuck with me and, to this day, I can picture where I was sitting, what I was wearing, and with whom I watched it.

The Power of Daily Writing

That’s the funny thing about keeping a journal. It doesn’t have to make sense. It doesn’t even have to follow some chronological order. It can be whatever is on your mind—good, bad, or ugly—when you sit down to write.

In “The Power of Daily Writing,” the Wall Street Journal tells a story of a 78-year-old man who began to write in 1964 because he had long dreamed of writing a novel, but…well, life.

So he opened a notebook one day and wrote:

I have decided to be a writer. I will it, thus: I am a writer. Now—by definition if for no other reason, writers are distinguished chiefly by the fact that they write. I must write—two hours a day until I finish school.

Today, he has nearly 30 million words that he’s written about things as mundane as a trip to the Goodwill or things that could be hurtful to his family should they read it after he dies.

(He claims he’s going to go through and clean all of that up before he dies so no one is hurt when they read it all.)

But he writes every, single day and, kind of like brushing your teeth, he feels not-quite-right if he skips a day.

James Pennebaker, a psychology professor at the University of Texas and author of several books including “Writing to Heal,” says that is because writing every day is very powerful:

Taking 15 or 20 minutes to write freely about emotions, secrets, or upheaval can be a powerful tonic. Writing privately about traumatic experiences, even for as few as four consecutive days, can reduce stress, help people sleep, and improve their immune systems.

A Journal Reduces Stress

I presented a little foreshadowing in the comments of yesterday’s blog post on the fear of failure.

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That resonated with Karen Wilson, who said she’s been keeping a journal recently and has seen a big shift in her mindset.

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The experts say that is due to the practice of keeping a journal and she’s experiencing something that is not only stress-reducing, but is very powerful in how she approaches challenges in her life.

Blogging Doesn’t Count

The experts also say that blogging doesn’t necessarily count because we choose the right words and the right stories because we know it’s going to be published for the rest of the world to potentially see.

The real magic comes when you write whatever is on your mind and keep it to yourself.

It’s embarrassing to look back and see what you wrote about when you were 15. Man, life was so simple, but it seemed so hard!

It’s embarrassing to look back and see what you wrote about even a year ago, when you thought you’d never be able to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep going.

But it’s also very, very powerful to do that.

Because you did pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep going…even though how you felt at the time still gives you a knot in the bottom of your stomach.

It’s also kind of amazing to read some entries and think, “I remember feeling like that was a terrible year—and it was, but look at where we are today because of it.”

The practice of getting your thoughts out of your brain is powerful enough, on its own, but also take the time to read some of what you wrote so you are reminded of what you’ve overcome and accomplished.

Now the floor is yours. Do you journal? Have you ever done so? And, like my Michael Keaton story, what memories are conjured when you go back and read some of the things you wrote?

image credit: shutterstock

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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69 Comments on "Keeping a Journal: The Power of Daily Writing"

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Lubna Sadik
5 months 22 days ago

I love this post. I don’t keep a journal but I feel like going out and buying one today.

Danny Brown
5 months 22 days ago
Hey there miss, Been looking forward to this since you teased it, didn’t know it’d be here so soon. Woot! I don’t agree with the “blogging doesn’t count”. It’s a generalization that bloggers produce a sanitized version of the words they want to share. Business bloggers need to be sanitized, perhaps, given they’re trying to attract business, or do some weird “personal branding” thing. But that’s why so many business blogs have become bland, corporate crap. But then you have the bloggers that bleed rawness on the page. Whose words make you cry. Whose prose hit you like a jackhammer.… Read more »
Sherrilynne Starkie
5 months 22 days ago
I’ve done a bit of travelling. I spent two years on the road in a mid-career break in which I visited Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, North America, Australia and New Zealand. Almost ten years later I spent 20 weeks backpacking around South East Asia. I kept a travel diary during those trips which I love to read today…they help me remember details of my travels especially the people I met along the way. I’m so glad I kept this record and recommend this practice to all travellers. On a completely different track, my grandfather kept a daily journal… Read more »
kaitfowlie
kaitfowlie
5 months 22 days ago

Journalling is my lifeblood. Literally. (Lifeblood? Is that right?) I essentially journal the majority of the day. For realz.

Lori Gosselin
5 months 22 days ago
Hi Gini, How could I NOT come by when you were talking about journalling!??! My first “Diary” was a five-year one with five small lines per day. It was my first foray into journalling so I wasn’t very good at it. Some days I simply wrote “Paino” or “I forget” I did, however, attempt to write each day! My journalling style has changed over the years. At one point I purged my home of old journals (burned them, I hope). I have since accumulated a large stack of new ones. The best gift someone can give me is a pristine,… Read more »
Caitlin
Caitlin
5 months 22 days ago

I kept a diary daily from eight years old to last September. Having a newborn meant that I didn’t get to journal as much. And oddly, it’s the time when I could journal the most.

Kate
5 months 22 days ago

I was a pretty regular journaler (not a word, but journalist isn’t quite right…) all through school and then, a few years post-graduation, I dropped the habit. I’ve picked it up here and there, but for some reason it hasn’t been sticking. I’ve been trying this year to use a spot on my daily calendar for a quick bit of journaling to rebuild that habit. Still spotty, but getting better.

Sherree
Sherree
5 months 22 days ago

I love this post. I’ve been journaling on/off since I was a kid. There’s no “inner editor” when I journal, as there is when I blog. When I was younger, journaling was a lifesaver. I could pour my heart out while writing – it was safe there. Still is!

Paula Kiger
5 months 22 days ago

What a wonderful, alive discussion. If my day had not been such a cluster of meh-ness, I would have already commented. Hopefully I’ll make it back to do so! You people are all pretty awesome!

Sherrilynne
5 months 22 days ago

Does anyone keep a writing journal? I took a creative writing course once where I learned this can be useful for longer projects. But I’ve not done it.

Hanna Knowles
Hanna Knowles
5 months 21 days ago
To chime in a day late – I have kept a journal on and off since elementary school. I don’t turn to it very regularly, but always grab it when I am feeling overwhelmed. Putting it down on paper and out of my mind definitely helps me think clearer. Even though I don’t regularly journal, whenever I travel I journal religiously! I won’t go to bed until I have recorded the day’s adventures! I recently was cleaning out some boxes and started flipping through a journal from third grade. The big adventure of the day was building forts in the… Read more »
Lara Kretler
5 months 21 days ago

I had a daily journaling habit for YEARS and loved it. I got out of the habit, started blogging and social publishing and that sort of scratched the itch but not quite. I’m trying to get back to a regular journaling habit now after finding a wonderful online course called “Just F*cking Journal” (you can google it – run by a life coach out in CA – highly recommend it and her). Journaling is therapy, it helps me think clearer and overall makes me a better person. I love it!

Josh Stoodley
Josh Stoodley
5 months 20 days ago

This post reminded me of something that one of my instructors taught me back in school: if you look back on a piece of writing that you did years ago and find it too embarrassing to get through, this is a sign that you’ve matured as a person, or at least improved as a writer.

Danny Brown
5 months 20 days ago

Oooh, I like that! Saving for future reference, cheers!

Karen Wilson
5 months 9 days ago

I felt exactly like this when I went back and read my first blog post last week. I really hope I’ve improved as a writer in the past 7 years.

Karen Wilson
5 months 9 days ago
I didn’t have time to come read and comment when you first published this!! What a great post (yanno, cuz I’m quoted and all)! I have to say I agree with the experts about blogging not counting and I agree with Danny that it does. Sometimes. I think some bloggers really don’t hold back. They lay it all out there – or they put out enough that it may as well be all out there. I have a friend who has been writing about her daughter coming out as a trans female at 10/11 years old after years of struggling… Read more »
Danny Brown
5 months 9 days ago

Seemingly one of my posts gave Gini goosebumps the other day. For “not a real writer”, that was a nice validation. 😉

Karen Wilson
5 months 8 days ago

That post was amazing. I didn’t comment about them, but I had the goosebump experience too.

Danny Brown
5 months 8 days ago

Thanks kindly, miss. 🙂

Emi Nguyen
Emi Nguyen
5 months 6 days ago
This is really interesting. I’ve been writing journal a lot recently. It helps me focus and increases my self-awareness. And I have to say I completely agree when you say that blogging doesn’t count. I write different when I’m blogging vs when I’m journaling. Blogging is something that I put out there for the public to see and critic, while journal is something that I keep for myself. I can write journal in English today and have it switched to Chinese or Vietnamese tomorrow, just whatever I prefer, and that’s one of the best things about journaing. Everything is for… Read more »
Emily
4 months 17 days ago

I definitely relate with this post. I find that when I do remember to write things down, I end up remembering them for much longer than if I don’t. On top of that, it usually clears my slate of feelings if it’s something I’m stressing about.

My question is: Do you think this is applicable to writing on a computer? I’m a big fan of hand-drawn brain maps and charts and I consider those writing sometimes, but what about just writing to write in a blank word document? Do you think it offers the same effect?

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