Holden, Mass. — For a long time I was a reporter to a journal, of no very wide circulation, whose editor has never yet seen fit to print the bulk of my contributions, and, as is too common with writers, I got only my labor for my pains. However, in this case my pains were their own reward.m -- Henry David Thoreau, "Walden"
"I write, therefore I am," wrote Samuel Johnson, altering Descartes's famous dictum: "I think, therefore I am."
When writing in my journal, I feel keenly alive and somehow get a glimpse of what Johnson meant.
My journal is a storehouse, a treasury for everything in my daily life: the stories I hear, the people I meet, the quotations I like, and even the subtle signs and symbols I encounter that speak to me indirectly. Unless I capture these things in writing, I lose them.
All writers are such collectors, whether they keep a journal or not; they see life clearly, a vision we only recognize when reading their books. Thoreau exemplifies the best in journal writing -- his celebrated "Walden" grew out of his journal entries.
By writing in my own journal, I often make discoveries. I see connections and conclusions that otherwise would not appear obvious to me. I become a craftsman, like a potter or a carpenter who makes a vase or a wooden stoop out of parts. Writing is a source of pleasure when it involves such invention and creation.
I want to work on my writing, too, hone it into clear, readable prose, and where better to practice my writing than in my journal. Writing, I'm told, is a skill, and improves with practice. I secretly harbor this hope. So my journal becomes the arena where I do battle with the written word.
Sometimes when I have nothing to write, I sit idly and thumb back through old entries. I rediscover incidents long forgotten.
During a recent cold midwinter night, for example, I reread an entry dated a summer ago. My wife and I had just returned after a day at the beach. We were both tired and uncomfortable after the long ride home, but our spirits were lifted when we saw our cat come down the driveway to greet us, her tail held high shouting her presence. By reading this entry, I relived the incident, warming with affection for my cat and a sunny day at the beach.
I always try to write something, however, even if it is free writing, writing anything that comes to mind. Often this process is a source of a "core idea" that can later be developed into a more finely polished piece of writing. The articles I've published had their inception in my journal.
Journal writing, in addition, is a time when I need not worry about the rules of spelling and grammar; it provides a relaxed atmosphere in which my ideas and feelings can flow freely onto the page. If I discover an idea worth developing, then my rewriting is done.
My journal becomes a place where I can try different kinds of writing, as well, from prose and poetry to letters to the editor. Attempting different kinds is useful; once I find the inspiring medium, my writing improves.
When I write in my journal, I seek the solitude of my study. With pen in hand, I become omniscient; i am aware of the quiet, damp, night air, or the early-morning sounds of life. My journal is the place where I discover life.
"Usually when a man quits writing in his journal, . . . he has lost interest in life," attests E. B. White, an inveterate journal writer himself.
So for these few moments, at least, I hold myself in hand, I am.