Write Like No One Is Reading

My seven-year-old son, Skyler, has a behavioral chart at school. The main obstacle to achieving four stickers, the highest level of success, has been narrowed down to mostly one thing, completing his journal. He either doesn’t write in the journal or doesn’t read the journal out loud to the class when requested. I’ve felt bewildered by this. I had always kept a journal as a child because I wanted to. My thoughts were written for my eyes only and I wrote what I felt I needed to write.

I haven’t kept a journal for a long time, and thought about doing so once again for my son, but also for myself. It’s been a while since I’ve written just for me; thoughts that were not going to be published, myself the only audience, no edits, no proofing, and usually no re-reading. I simply wrote to write them, to get them out of my head. I kept journal after journal and later they ended up in a box or a drawer. Unfortunately, most of the journals from my adolescent years have vanished. Looking through some journals, I realized I haven’t written one since 2006, a journal I kept during the first years of my son’s life in which every entry began with, “Dearest Holden.” Someday he may want to read it. I’m sure it’s gushing with sentiment that would probably make him squirm today. But maybe someday.

A journal for my firstborn. I thought he might like the colored paper.
A journal for my firstborn. I thought he might like the colored paper.

Generally speaking, journals are private. Where would crime drama be without the mysterious diary? It’s all in the diary. There you’ll find the clues. And hands off, NSA. They can’t touch this one. In this age of spontaneous, digitized reactions, private thoughts maybe are not recorded as they once were. Flipping through a few of my journals, I encountered pictures and receipts, like spontaneous, magical gifts of my past.

My son’s in-class, daily journal is seemingly more of an assignment, usually with questions about his weekend, maybe a field trip. Usually, he doesn’t share the topics or what he’s written, except in the case of this one:

Homework is…

His response:

 Homework is frustrating and tiring, but helps me learn.

Pretty good! I would give that sentence a 4 on their 4-point scale. I’m not sharing to boast like a proud mommy, but merely to express that, perhaps, it’s not writing that is the issue. He’s anxious, he’s maybe even fearful about being incorrect. I’m not sure, really. What I don’t want to see happen is for fear to get in way of him being able to enjoy writing, and to write as a means to express himself. Because he can and because he wants to.

A few journals from the past. The pink one on top from 1991, detailing a cross-country trip before I was married. I looked through that one for the first time today.
A few journals from the past. The pink one on top from 1991, detailing a cross-country trip before I was married. I looked through that one for the first time today.

I’ve always have the most fun dancing when no one is watching. As a trained dancer, I could be consumed with the technique of a step. But as a child, I spent a lot of time dancing alone, with joyous abandon, and then my mother would put me on the spot in front of tens of people. I would freeze, sometimes cry. I don’t know why I froze, I knew I could dance. I had tons of lessons; I loved to do it, yet I couldn’t when asked. I stumbled. I couldn’t deliver what she wanted.

Writing can be much like that with the pressure to perform on cue. As I ponder my son’s anxiety, I’m reminded of my own. So now I’m giving myself permission. I’m going to write in my journal like no one is reading. Because I can and because I need to.

My new journal. It's blank and waiting for words.
My new journal. It’s blank and waiting for words.

Do you have a journal? What do you like to write about? Or, hey, you don’t have to tell me. You can keep it all to yourself.

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70 thoughts on “Write Like No One Is Reading

  1. Really good post Amy. I wrote a journal for a while in my teenage years, but not since. I think I always found it hard to really believe that it was just for me, I always had half a mind on the thought that someone else might read it, and so I was partly always writing to an audience. In the end it just felt like a chore. These days so many people just put everything on Facebook or wherever, private or not!

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    1. Thanks, Vanessa. I haven’t kept one for a while, and may have not have considered it if it wasn’t for my son and his troubles. So, I’m revisiting it. Maybe it’s that missing link for me in my writing. I think I’ve forgotten how to write for myself. It may be a good thing to practice again, especially since it’s harder to do these days when it’s easier to post it on Facebook. Who has time to post it on FB and then write about it in journal, too? I know I will only go so deep on FB. Thanks for your comments.

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  2. This resonates with me a lot; thanks for your post. On one level, because I started my blog to write about what I really want to write about and quickly realized I’m limited because I started sharing with friends and family and community. Sometimes I wish I didn’t do that because you really have to think about what you put out there and what you want others to know. Sometimes when I stretch the topics, I think I’m brave and that’s good but then again, wonder if the mom’s at school think I’m a nutter….Anyway, a few years ago I went to my mother-in-laws house and she pulled out some amazing journals from when my husband was 5/6/7 years old. I was so inspired by reading these, I started one for my son (who is 8). Well, since it’s hand-written, I started off strong but have forgotten about it for the last year or so. But one journal success I do have is my husband and my Anniversary journal. I picked up this idea from a book I read years ago, do not even remember the name, but every year on our Anniversary, my husband and I write our thoughts about marriage and the year, and where we are at that moment. I must say, writing in it once a year isn’t so tough to keep up. And now that we are about to hit year 12, it’s really interesting to look back and see where we were in the first few vs. where we are today. I think my son will appreciate having it when he is older.

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    1. Robin, thank you. I glad it was meaningful for you. I never know if what I care about will matter to anyone else. See, you never know. I feel in our digital age, the idea of recorded, private thoughts that actually stay private are just not common anymore. I like the idea that my son has a journal in school, but wish it was more about free expression. Like you said, your blog, even if it is meant to serve as sort of journal, is limited, isn’t it? I know I am always aware of my audience, want to perfect my word choice, edit, etc. Not at all like a journal, which is more free flowing. I think your Anniversary idea is a great one! I’m just pinching myself how I never thought of that one!! As I read my old journal, it time standing still, and feels different when its rough and unpolished, like raw thoughts are. There’s a certain beauty in it. I think your son will definitely appreciate your journal. I find even if there are gaps in a journal that it is part of the journal, too. Thanks for your comments.

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  3. The stories I write are, in a sense, my journal. They are the thoughts that consume me- the things I need to purge. I don’t write them for anyone in particular. I just write them to get them out on my head. If people want to read them all the better. If they don’t, that’s fine too. The rest of the thoughts floating around in my head are just for me, so there is no need to write them down.

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    1. Do you mean your fictional stories? I guess I separate my blogging from my fiction from my journal writing. All separate things for me. I think I have worked out floating thoughts for a while now, so it will interesting how they might emerge as words on a page. I think writing, especially by hand, forces you to slow down. Sometimes my mind doesn’t want to slow down. In any case, I think what I write by hand is even different than what I might type. If working out things in your head works for you, then perfect! It’s all a personal choice.

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      1. Yes, I’m refering to my fictional stories. I guess a more acurate way of describing it would be a reverse journal. In a sense it’s kind of like my mind is my journal and my fiction stories are the doodles I’m prone to drawing in the margins. Need to erase them (write them) to make sense of the rest of the stuff on the pages and work through things.

        In any case, good luck with you’re journalling. Hope it works for you.

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      2. That’s fascinating, Adam. Thanks for sharing. Yeah, we’ll see. I’m interested to see how my writing may be different in a journal now that I try to write fiction and, of course, have the blog, which is a relatively new thing in my writing life. Thanks!

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  4. Outside of when it was required, I’ve never been into writing a journal. However, it can be a useful tool if the writer’s reflection causes them to go backwards to re-read/review a previous writing. Otherwise, it’s too much as a log.

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    1. Frank, I don’t feel it’s a log if it’s from the heart. Also, I think it may useful for recording details which you might think are meaningless in ordinary writing. But for the sake of recording them, you now have yourself a whole smorgasbord of ideas. I think it’s the little details that give authenticity to writing. I think writing them by hand may slow me down enough to recognize them.

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      1. Good point, Frank. I agree. I think when you write you never know what you’re going to use. But, still whether or not you use them is still not the overall purpose of keeping a journal. For me, it’s more about writing to express yourself completely without any limitations.

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  5. Great advice! I never kept a journal, I fear I would just doodle in it instead of write, but I do love the fact that you have something you can relive, especially any details the brain may have forgotten, but the pen remembered.

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    1. Exactly, Chris. It’s fun to re-read them years later to see what was so important back then, what you thought about. I would never be able to put that into words for myself now, because I’m a different person now. Also, I think it’s great for writing the little ideas that may show up, even subconsciously, in your writing because you have recorded them in your brain already. I think by writing them with the pen, your brain can remember them better. If not, hey you’ve written them down. Right!

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  6. I don’t have a journal, but I write down every day what I did, just to have a record (so it’s kind of a journal). I remember having to write a journal sometime in school and the teacher read them. So, I wrote a lot of it in code. She never mentioned it, although she probably thought I was weird.

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    1. David, I think I would call recording what you do everyday as a journal. Yes, I think so! I don’t even know if I will write everyday, although maybe that’s what technically makes it a journal. You wrote in code. Ha ha!! That sounds like you. You probably blew your teacher away with that one, which is probably why she never mentioned it. She was probably afraid of you and thought you worked for the government. Was she extra nice to you?

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  7. I was never much of a journaler. I keep a leatherbound one in my backpack in case something occurs to me, but it rarely does.

    So…how do you encourage the writing in your son?

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    1. I used to do it because I really enjoyed it. And, it’s the still the main reason I would do it today.

      Hmm…tough one. So tough! It’s such a huge ordeal right now. I’m hoping we can try planning the questions ahead of time, so he feels less threatened by it. For whatever reason, it’s a threatening experience. All he really needs is to feel success with it, and then I think he’ll be on his way and writing won’t be such a big deal. I thought I could share parts of my journal, too, and see if that helps.

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  8. Great post, Amy. I journalled for many years as a way of getting down my thoughts and healing from the past. It takes some discipline and I got out of the habit but I think it’s a great practice. One thing I have learned after going back and reading some of them is how much I’ve changed!

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    1. Thanks, Cathy. I think a journal is definitely a great tool for working through problems and a powerful way to heal. I wonder how I will squeeze it in actually. My journal never had to compete with a blog. I only want to do it if I enjoy it. I don’t want it to feel like an obligation. I agree it’s strange to read about your former self!

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    1. I think that’s exactly what I’m trying to get to…writing without worry. And, just to do it! I’ll see where it takes me. I wonder if I’m giving myself yet something else to do, but I guess it’s all about making choices these days.

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  9. I love this – it’s so true. I’ve kept all kinds of journals over the years. Probably one of the reasons I fell in love with writing is because of those journals. It’s always so much fun to look back through them. I wish I had kept it up, but then there’s always the fear of someone finding it and looking through it. Because I always just wrote for myself, all kinds of feelings that I sometimes didn’t even know were there would come pouring out. So it wouldn’t always be good for others to see. 🙂 I was just thinking about “writing like no one is reading” last night because it can be a good way to overcome any self doubt that might crop up while writing. I don’t think I’d want to read a journal in front of a class either because they can be so personal.

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    1. Oh, thanks Sheila! Your hesitation to write in a journal is understandable if you think someone might read it. I probably wouldn’t chance it either. For some reason, I feel like my journals are secure. Actually, they’re probably not! No one has seemed that interested in the past. I have a similar experience as you in that it was probably my earlier journal keeping that lead to want to write. Then is was an outpouring of feelings that had to go somewhere. I’m going to try it again. I agree with not wanting to read in front of the class. It could be something so personal, and isn’t that the point of the journal to sort out your ideas. If I kid knows he has to read his journal how does this influence his writing. I think it should be optional maybe.

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      1. Maybe we could get one of those journals with the locks on them. 🙂 I think that fear of someone reading them must have come from when my sneaky brother used to.

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      2. Oh, did he used to do that?! No wonder. I had one of those with the lock when I was a kid. I’m sure they still exist. That’s a thought! Or, you could put it in a safe. Like we have safes. But, you know, in case you have one.

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  10. My start/stop journal writing is kind of comical. Over the years, I’ve started journals several times in earnest only to discover half a dozen or so entries in moving box months or even years later. Reading my old concerns always gives me a chuckle. “What was that all about?” I say to no one, as I toss the spiral bound piffle of a younger and obviously undisciplined self back into the vault of good intentions to be stumbled upon again some time in the future when I need a good laugh.

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    1. Honie, I laugh because I have the same problem. I have many journals that are not completed. It doesn’t seem like I can pick it up and start writing in those ones either. They are eye-opening for perspective. Some of the really old ones have disappeared, but I don’t know if I could stand to read them anyway. But maybe for a laugh, sure. Then we can remark how much we’ve grown and how much smarter we are now! Hopefully, right? “I say to no one.” Haha. I’ve done exactly the same thing!

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  11. I love that you’re returning to journaling, Amy. There is something so wild about scratching words on a page. Something that is beyond the brain. The limits of how fast you can write with your hands, the impulsive choice of words and flow. Makes me wanna holler!

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    1. Thanks, Brenda. You make me want to sit down and write this second. Scratching words on the page, I love that. Even your comments are poetic. I like the fact that writing by hand slows you down. I think your brain must slow down, too, which isn’t a bad thing sometimes. But because you’re trying to keep up with your brain, I think the writing can be more impulsive. Very true!

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  12. I know writers should probably keep journals, but I don’t. One, I don’t really have the time or desire to chronicle my thoughts, and two, I don’t want anyone to find my journals when I die. 🙂

    But I DO try to take notes on things now, for example, if I visit a place that I think would be a good setting for a book. I guess that’s a form of journaling, and it’s really helpful when it comes time to write that book (or whatever it is), especially if it’s years later.

    As for your son’s entry? I love his succinctness. I could use some of that in my own work!

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    1. I think writers must do what works. I used to keep notes in my notebook until I kept misplacing it. Now if I’m in a pinch, I put my notes on my iPhone. I always have that with me.

      You’re not the only one who expressed doubt about someone finding your journal. Where are ideas safe these days? Maybe the only ones that are truly safe are the ones in your head. Kidding. But not really…I like to think no one will read mine, but I can’t be sure of that. I’m taking a risk.

      My son likes to get to the point! I like his big word “frustrating.” I feel his pain.

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  13. Skyler is my kind of kid. Why should they HAVE to read aloud their thoughts? I hate mandatory mindless busy work to achieve a stupid sticker. Because I have those kinds of rewards in real life… AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH…

    I think he should talk about the pledge in his journal 🙂 – would he have gotten a demerit there? If they write and read stuff that the teacher doesn’t like, do they get marked down? Those are my favorite things – when you get asked for your opinion, you give it and then you get dinged for it…

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    1. I LOVE YOU!!! and your comments… I have thought this very thing. Why must he read his thoughts aloud if he doesn’t want to?! That’s a brilliant idea to journal about his decision to not lead the class in the pledge! Brilliant. I think his teacher would probably penalize him for providing the “correct” answer. What is this? Some kind of game? It’s my child’s life. He gets stickers for good behavior and explanations when he doesn’t get the sticker. Hopefully, it won’t be too much longer. It becomes such the focus.

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  14. I too kept journals for years and wrote for me. I try really hard, REALLY HARD, to filter out others when I write my posts. I try not to think about what others will think or even who will read it… sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, I NEED to write. Nice post, Amy! Way to support your boy… and I love the colored paper! So thoughtful. 🙂

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    1. Thanks, Dawn! I try to filter everyone, too. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I don’t think I am successful at doing that. Anyway, I’m curious what I will write in my journal when I truly don’t have an audience. It’s a little experiment. At the moment, my biggest concern is having the time to do it all! I will try. I will always stick up for my kids!

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    1. Are you serious, Audra?! I’m shocked. I guess I don’t see archives on your blog. Hmm….they must live somewhere. I hope you have a hard copy?! Or a flash drive. You don’t need to tell me here, of course. It’s beautiful work, so I hope you have it somewhere.

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    1. I still dance around ALL THE TIME!! Always have. I dance around when I cook dinner, when I brush my teeth. It’s something I’ve always done. My kids don’t even seem to notice. It’s my normal. You should try it.

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  15. I’ve always loved to write, BUT, I don’t like to write in journals! Why? I have no idea. I’ve thought about, talked about it, even blogged about it. One day I tore out the pages from journal books that had writing on them because I had loads of books–mostly with blank pages. I also love to buy blank notebooks–if I knew where you bought that lovely book, I’d go out now and get one of my own-love the cover. But, next week there wouldn’t be anything written in it.
    I taught middle school forever and somewhere along the line was encouraged to have my students journal. I did it for a week or two and then dropped the idea. Too many kids have too many problems, too many kids don’t want to write their thoughts for fear they will be judged. I just decided it was not a good idea to do in a public school. I did have them keep writings about what they were reading. That seemed less threatening.

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    1. Ly, I really appreciate your feedback. I don’t really understand why anyone should be pushed to share their thoughts. I would think the whole purpose behind a journal is to write thoughts for you. I guess this depends on the educator. That’s just my feeling. In my son’s case, he feels so much anxiety around writing that it’s not a positive experience. I understand why you might have dropped the idea with your students. Writing about their reading would seem to be a good compromise.

      I got that lovely book at Target for $5! Go get one! So far mine is still blank, but I really want to write in it. If you have it, you might even write in it!

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  16. It was after a journal assignment in 7th grade when my teacher said she thought I could be a writer, I started writing in journals. I have been ever since. Mostly wire spiral notebooks. The date is on the outside. And boy howdy, what seems like mindless drivel today, is fascinating tomorrow. Journal writing is also where I developed my voice for writing. And I never think about who will read it cause I figure I’ll be dead before that happens. But I also always said, when my kid says “You don’t understand”, I’ll say “The hell I don’t” and I’ll whip out a journal entry. Start and don’t stop. Write when your happy, bored, angry, or horny. It’s great for your soul.
    Love,
    Shalagh

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    1. Shalagh, I love your comments. I think it’s so true what seems pretty ho hum boring could be enlightening at a later time. I’ve enjoyed reading some of my past ones. I just wrote and wrote. I hope I can do that now. That was before kids and a blog. Times have changed. That’s great you got that encouragement about your writing when you were younger. I never got that from anyone. I never thought about pulling out the journal as an example. That could come in handy.
      Love,
      Amy

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  17. Amy — a good reminder. When we edit and craft and sculpt all our words it can take the fun out of it. Or maybe the honesty or the spontaneity. I enjoy publishing a post I’m happy with, but sometimes I just need to get the words out and leave them out — for my eyes only.
    Great title, great post. Nice to have kids around to be reminded of a different perspective sometimes. 😉

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    1. I think I’ve forgotten how to do it, Tania, because there’s always this expectation of polishing something that I’m writing. That, of course, is a good thing. It forces you to commit to your words. But I also think there’s something really satisfying about just letting them flow out of you than for no better reason than to have written. I haven’t done that for some time, so I’m looking forward to it. Thanks! My kids always keep me on my toes. 🙂

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  18. I had journals while growing up, but like you, stopped a few years ago. The pressure, I think, makes it not fun for me to blog anymore even though I enjoy writing. I think I will start another journal. There’s no pressure there. 🙂

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    1. Oh, great La La!! I’m so happy to hear you say that. I don’t want to stop writing…don’t you dare. I had no idea you ever felt pressure. Your posts seem to flow effortlessly. I’m noticing many of our friends have backed off a bit. I’ve been wondering what’s up, because I miss people, you included, but I’m glad you’re still posting. It’s hard to keep it going. Believe me, I understand. Great idea to start a journal. They have cute ones at Target!

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  19. Hi Amy,

    Your post resonates. If I were to ask, what could be the core inspiration to keep such a journal? And presuming you do identify the inspiration, what could be alternate paths for reaching the same objective?

    Shakti

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    1. Shakti,
      Thanks for your lovely comments. I imagine the core inspiration of a journal would be to experience that kind of natural rhythm to writing that is sometimes lost when we start to write for an audience. This idea of writing without limitations. I suppose it can be attained on a blog, if you don’t hold anything back. Still, there may be an editing stage that you wouldn’t need with a journal. I’m not sure of any alternate path. I suppose you could keep a journal on a computer, but I don’t feel it’s quite the same. It’s all a personal choice.
      Amy

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  20. I’ve kept a journal twice. The first was on a cross country trip with my sister when she was moving to Calgary. I found it while packing last year and it ended up being a blog post. The second documented the year I had breast caner. It started from my diagnosis. I was on my own at the time and thought it would be a good idea to write down everything during appointments etc. so I could refer back to what was said and not so much what I heard. That one I have read a lot. There is actually very little medical stuff in it. It is filled with day to day feelings, anxieties and thoughts. It was very therapeutic.

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    1. Michelle, I didn’t realized you were a breast cancer survivor. How wonderful that it is behind you. You are such a fighter. It seems like a journal was a very positive experience in both cases. I think they can be a life saver, when your mind is soaring with too much information that needs to be processed. That’s great is was therapeutic for you. Thanks for sharing that with me.

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  21. My wife has BOXES full of old journals, stories and such. I don’t thin I really ever kept one, though… ever (now that I think about it). Hahaha… wait a minute… could this have something to do with my lack-o-verbal communication skills?! NAH! Not related things these two are things I am sure at all! 😉

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    1. Robert, you make me laugh. Since my post, I’ve only written in my journal once! My intentions are there. That’s cool your wife keeps journals. I think they’re a great way to process whatever is brewing at the time. Your communication skills seem fabulous to me! No lack-o-verbal there!

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  22. Always interesting to hear people’s relationship with their journals. Thanks for the post. It is funny I think that your title write like nobody is reading struck me. It made me realize that deep down I always feel like somebody will read…so I do often question if I am completely free. It hit me that maybe this is because I started journaling in 5th grade after reading Anne Frank. I think maybe I secretly thought at the time that when great tragedy hits I will have been known. Thirty-five years later I still journal–not every day, not even every week, but the habit is still there and I think I finally write like know one is reading.

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    1. Kristen, I received a lot of comments on this post with a similar view in that people suggested they couldn’t write freely and maybe would need a lock on that journal! As I write in it, I can relate. I guess there’s always the chance that someone could pick it up. Like you, as a kid, I think I wrote in my journal as if someone else was reading it. Funny, maybe it’s the nature of the journal. I remember Anne Frank too thinking that same thing. Hmm. So far at least my topics that I’m writing about have been written like no one is reading. Mostly it’s been short story drafts, not what I thought I’d write at all! I like having it again though. Thanks for reading and your thoughtful comments. – Amy

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