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Bonuses of Journaling by Kay Butzin

Writing helps us survive and stay sane. It holds us together or helps

put us back together after we fall apart. Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing


I picked up the morning pages habit in 1999 while taking a class on Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and have been journaling ever since. Two four-foot shelves hold my collection of morning pages, writing practice, travel logs, and notes from classes and books.


Often the content is a boring whine as I grapple with issues that seem too big to handle or that I didn’t choose and never wanted. But over the years I have scribbled my way to a better understanding of myself, my family, and the men in my life. I confronted angers and fears, processed grief, worked out the details of projects, and brainstormed personal essays and short stories. The exercise also helped me to quit smoking cigarettes: I substituted writing about it for doing it.

In 2017, alone, I filled a 12-week Artist’s Way morning pages journal and two one-subject spiral notebooks with details of and how I felt about the changes the year brought:


  1. a long-distance relationship after living single for over twenty years

  2. a Category 4 hurricane named Harvey making landfall in Rockport, TX, where I lived

  3. my 93-year-old mother’s death

Over the next months, I arranged Mom’s memorial service with my sister—while analyzing our complicated family history—and tried to recover some normalcy after the devastating storm. Within the year, I committed to the relationship and moved to Michigan. And I managed the particulars and emotions of it all in my notebooks, as usual.


Sometimes I tell myself, “You should destroy the evidence!”


Then I figure, if my heirs can stand to read the stuff, let them. Even I tire of the drone. Besides, it serves as great reference material. Also in 2018, the scribbling paid a literal bonus when my essay Before and After, composed from entries journaled during and following Hurricane Harvey, won the $500 first prize in a WomenOnWriting quarterly nonfiction contest.


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Lindsey Russell
Lindsey Russell
Sep 09, 2022

Kay, I can certainly relate to this. I have a collection of journals dating back to when I was a teenager. Your description of what's in them is spot on!


I need to go through it. I have one notebook in particular that houses some awful poetry. It all used to be online, but I kept my original journal. I'm glad I did so, otherwise it would have been lost. I need to hunt down one poem in particular.

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kaybutzin
kaybutzin
Sep 09, 2022
Replying to

Happy hunting!

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Ken Stephenson
Ken Stephenson
Sep 09, 2022

I, too, have been journaling for a number of years, though I have not been faithful to the craft, and sometimes go for long periods without writing. When I look at how long it has been since my last entry, I am saddened that I waited so long for inspiration to write again. Que sera, sera.

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kaybutzin
kaybutzin
Sep 09, 2022
Replying to

I think of it as a warmup for my real writing—cleaning out the cobwebs.

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