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On Keeping a Private Journal

Writing has always been a therapeutic endeavor for me. I turned to poetry when I had no other voice. However, I quickly realized that my will to live was intertwined with the art of writing when I channeled my teenage rage and post-adolescent hangups on paper.

I graduated from poetry eventually to major in English at the college level, writing short stories, creating modern-day fairy tales, participating in virtual television shows, scholarly essays, maintaining my blog, and the like.

“The preservation of our scattered thoughts is to be considered an object but of minor importance.”

To preserve these thoughts, one must write them down. One way to appreciate such meditations, as proposed by Thoreau, is to keep a private journal. There are many reasons Thoreau presents that advice on why maintaining a personal journal is crucial. The argument is that reflection should be the primary intention.

Writing down an internal thought is one step in the process of reflection. Reflection is a philosophical concept that allows a person to examine themselves on a deeper level than average. Human beings are the only animals in the natural world that can easily retain and recall memories.

These contemplative moments may or may not be in their best interests, but at least the option to do so is inherent to humans. Thoreau argued that:

“If each one would employ a certain portion of each day in looking back upon the time which has passed, and in writing down his thoughts and feelings,” the author of those thoughts could settle “accounts with his mind.”

These feelings could define a list of goals to achieve during the day. Perhaps they want their hero to see if they are near their level of greatness. Maybe they could weigh their thoughts against the greater good to examine the pros and cons of their decision-making process.

There is no limit to how an individual could interpret reflections. You could use written down thoughts to compare to anything that one’s consciousness could conceive. One could solve problems; deciphering symbols is easier, anything that had been an obstacle during the day. 

There are many ways to control the act of reflection. However, Thoreau advises that the most desirable way is to write down one’s thoughts and feelings in a private journal. This situation tells us that the physical manifestation of a person’s jumbled thoughts is understandable on a page.

Writing down feelings could make the act of reflection more formidable than if someone spoke those very same thoughts out loud. He says:

“His feelings and ideas would thus be more clearly defined, but he would be ready to turn over a new leaf, having carefully perused the preceding one, and would not continue to glance carelessly over the same page, without being able to distinguish it from a new one.”

Thoreau argues that it is one thing to reflect on thoughts, but they do not do much good if you don’t commit them to the page. Writing down daily inner reflections helps one to control the daily grind. Once committed to a private journal, one could move on from that point, whether physically or mentally. The writer could start fresh if they so choose. 

One thing I disagreed with Thoreau on was the idea that:

“Everyone can think, but comparatively few can write.”

I firmly believe that this is incredibly problematic. It creates a gulf of exclusivity between writers and non-writers. The argument discourages anyone who feels their writing is a weakness from taking up writing in a private journal at all. Literacy is like a muscle. It should be exercised at all costs, no matter the skill level of the athlete.

To me, formal training in writing isn’t necessary. If you want to write, write. No one will hear the thoughts you put down in your private journal unless you want them to. So forget your audience, fire away, throw open the floodgates. These reflections are for you, and you alone, to do what you wish.

You can burn them in the fireplace; you can hide them in a box in the attic; you can fix it up and try and get it published in an international magazine. But, as I noted earlier, human beings are the only animals capable of reflection. Therefore, if the primary mode of examination is the written word, one should express themselves through the medium without fear of reprisals or judgment. 

Thoreau goes on to support this line of thinking when he says:

“Most of us are apt to neglect the study of their own characters, thoughts, and feelings, and for the purpose of forming our own minds, look to others, who should merely be considered as different editions of the same great work.”

I would then argue how one can reflect if the cloud of judgment about how they write to begin with here? The expression of internal thoughts by writing them down should be open to everyone without any restrictions. The envy and need to compare oneself to another person is inevitable in life. We are cursed as human beings to continually reach our lot in life to the person next to us.

When writing down our reflections about our lives and overcoming our internal challenges, we are lessening the urge for comparison to those who may have it better or worse than ourselves. If anything, written reflection allows us to pinpoint the good and the bad and create a comfort level that will enable us to succeed from that point on in our own lives. 

Thoreau makes some admirable arguments about why one should keep a private journal. First, it provides an author with the chance to reflect on their daily lives. Second, it opens the doors for new thoughts while giving meaning to previous memories.

Furthermore, it allows one to find a more profound explanation in symbols and situations that you might not understand clearly at the time. However, the education level of an author should not prevent them from undertaking a private journal. Freedom of expression is available through prose if one makes the conscious choice to pick up the pen.

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