How does keeping a journal help a writer’s practice?

Madeleine L'Engle

Dear Literary Ladies,
Do you think it’s a good practice to keep a journal? What did you use your journal for, and how did it benefit your writing practice?

One of the most helpful tools a writer has is [her] journals. Whenever someone asks how to become an author, I suggest keeping a journal. A journal is not a diary, where you record the weather and the engagements of the day. A journal is a notebook in which one can, hopefully, be ontological.

A little more pragmatically, a journal, at least one that is not written for publication, and mine most certainly are not, is a place where you can unload, dump, let go. It is, among other practical things, a safety valve. If I am in the slough of despond, if I am in a rage, if I am, as so often, out of proportion and perspective, then, once I have dumped it all in the journal, I am able to move from subjectivity to at least an approach to objectivity, and my family has been spared one of Madeleine’s excessive moods.

A journal is also a place in which joy gets recorded, because joy is too bright a flame in me not to burn if it doesn’t get expressed in words. And it’s where I jot down ideas for stories, descriptions of a face seen on a subway, a sunset seen over the Hudson, or our Litchfield Hills.

Madeleine L’EngleA Circle of Quiet, 1972

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