The journals that listen and keep and want so much.

I’ve kept a journal for seven years. Well, technically I’ve kept MANY journals.

The challenge started my senior year of high school. I’m sure it was a New Year’s resolution, only because I’ve always had a weakness for those. And I probably figured that, like all resolutions before, it would fade in importance, be swallowed up by time and work and whatever else causes resolutions to cease to be.


[The journal I didn’t want to write in because it was so pretty, and the one follows the entire evolution of NW, my college graduation, and my book deal. Moral: write in pretty journals.]

You see, I was so, so bad at sticking with things. I picked up habits and trends and dropped them just as fast, swore to challenges I’d forget and made goals I’d never keep. So when I made a resolution to keep a journal and write in it every night, everyone, myself included, expected it to last for approximately a week.

I surprised myself.

During my junior and senior years of high school, I started having trouble sleeping. I’ve always struggled, been unable to turn my thoughts down to a volume I can ignore long enough to achieve unconsciousness, but it started to get bad. While insomnia afforded me a variety of odd TV options, it was murder for the next day. Writing in my journal before bed became a way for me to sleep, to decompress after the day, to slowly shush my thoughts. Soon the chore, the challenge, became a gift.


[The journal that came with me to college, and followed my struggles with change and my determination to best an eating disorder that had plagued me for two years (I succeeded).]

When I went to college, journaling became a comfort, a measure of routine in a time of immense change. I’d crossed the threshold from challenge to habit, and was now rigidly dedicated to the ritual. Probably too much so.

But while that rigid journaling captured many inane details, it also chronicled the most important events in my life thus far.


[The journal from sophomore year, which starts with me wanting to leave WashU because they cut down half the trees, and then follows the writing of my first novel.]


[The journal that follows the signing with my first agent, and the agony of the many, many close calls of that first novel, the descent from elation to hopelessness, ending with the question of whether I was a fluke, and of whether or not I would try again (hint: I did).]

But as I finished college, the nature of the journal changed again. The habit was formed, the rigidness broken a bit (I didn’t chastise myself if I missed a day, though I tried very hard not to miss consecutive ones). I began to pay attention to the length of my journal entries. I used that length to gauge the amount of living I was doing. If journal entries became too short for too many days, something was wrong. In true neurotic fashion, I paid close attention to how much I had to report to my journal.


[The journal that starts with Do the Write Thing for Nashville and follows me through the second half of 2010, aka the hardest year of my life.*]

It seems obsessive, and it probably is, that a place many use as an emotional confessional I use as a litmus test for productivity, but the fact remains that to this day I judge my life by the length of my journal entries.

We can get lost, go astray, walk and walk until we finally look back and wonder how we got there. It happens in life, all the time. I use the journal to keep myself close to the path. It’s a path I have chosen, of course, one I’ve seen out, studded with goals, sometimes specific, and sometimes as simple as this:

LIVE ENOUGH THAT THE PAGES ARE FULL. EVERY DAY.

It’s a lofty goal, and harder than it sounds, but I try. Every night when I get into bed and take up the latest journal, I want to fill that page.

*2010 was miserable, because the first half was mired in edits, and the second half was filled with waiting. NW had a long road, and I felt every minute of it. Also tangled up with this was a massive amount of uncertainty as to my future and direction (it being my first year as definitively not a student).

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10 thoughts on “The journals that listen and keep and want so much.

  1. Rani says:

    I have ALWAYS found you inspirational, amusing, and so many other good adjectives, but this post really gets to me. You are all kinds of awesome and never cease to amaze me as an all-around human being. Just reading that you struggled with an eating disorder made me feel at a loss for words – because I’ve been there too. I just felt compelled to comment and let you know 🙂

    -Rani

  2. Rida says:

    I use a journal (well, journals) but now I actually just write it mine on my laptop- that way my fingers can keep up with my thoughts 😛 But I absolutely love how you gauge the amount of living you’ve done with how long your entry is.

    Awesome! And are those two journals pretty or WHAT?

  3. Oh, I love this! For a long time, I was an obsessive journal keeper too (naturally. why do I even bother using words like too anymore?). I started in 10th grade and was pretty compulsive about it all the way through my junior year in college.

    Then for some reason, the more serious I got about fiction, the less time I spent journaling. These days, I’m pretty capricious in my journal habits, and on nights I don’t sleep I just bake a pie and watch Arrested Development. But I miss ballpoint pens and journals too pretty to write in.

  4. I have a list of about 20 things I require myself to journal about. They’re the things that I’ve decided matter to me, things I don’t want to let pass by. I cycle through the list every two days or so, and of course I can (and do) write about other things as well. So I guess I agree about checking life against what you have to say about it in your journal. If I have nothing to report on one of those fronts, or if, even worse, I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT, I know I have a problem.

    • veschwab says:

      I love your sense of order. It speaks the neurotic part of me 😉 And YES to the red flag of resisting a subject.

  5. Tracy says:

    I’m writing in one of those “too-pretty” journals now myself…and am hoping it brings me luck. I started writing in journals when I was a freshman in high school and haven’t stopped since, though I don’t write every day. It’s a way to vent, to keep track, to process…but I also think it’s an exercise in the craft of writing – in expressing myself – that much of my fiction writing is built on.

    Thanks so much for this post. I love your idea of “filling the page” and living life so fully. I can imagine that it IS quite difficult, but what a worthwhile goal. 🙂

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