My Greatest Nonfiction Tool

I’m a disorganized perfectionist. Creative to a fault—I run off in a multitude of directions and suffer from the attraction of distraction. My husband loves to call me “bright shiny thing.” Whatever I’m doing can be interrupted by anything, and soon I’m involved in something and accomplish nothing.

This week my husband had enough. “Your piles of papers and stray books all over the house are driving me nuts! Can you please find time to go through and get rid of what you don’t need?” For some this request is an inconsequential written task on your to-do list. For me, well, you might as well ask me to strap an oxygen tank to my back and climb Mount Everest.

While organizing, I came across something so dear to me that I had to sit a moment and take it in. My journal.

It’s misleading for me to tell you I found my journal, when really I have many journals. I was one of those little girls who kept her words in diaries, locked with tiny gold metal keys. Pre-teen angst over pimples and parents found sweet refuge on paper. As I grew in age, my journals grew in number. No longer confined to only one, as a young mother I purchased a new journal for each precious child inside of me. It was one of those journals I discovered while cleaning yesterday.

Holding the words of first-time parenting in my hands, this flowery-fabric-covered time machine transported me to the winter of 1991. As I turned the pages I felt the flutter of new life again, and could almost smell the Pampers and Desitin. Taking a deep breath, I remembered the anxiety of a twenty-something mother who worried over ear infections, allergic reactions, and kidnappers.

As a nonfiction writer, I write about marriage and parenting. What better tool is there than my journals? A smorgasbord of material—it’s a place where I can remember my fears and joys and reach my readers with real words and stories—family permission permitting. So, I thought I’d share a few ways I used my journals to author my first book, and a couple ways you can use a journal as a keepsake.

Prayer Journal – I keep my prayer journal beside my favorite leather recliner in our family room. When I have my cup of tea in the morning, I jot down a few things that are pressing or maybe a scripture verse or quote that spoke to my heart. When I wrote my book I included a prayer at the end of each chapter. This journal was a helpful tool.

Family Journal – Funny things my kids say, life experiences, favorite recipes can all find their place here. I recently laughed out loud after reading my journal entry when the kids were five and seven. Since I write with lots of humor, what a great help my kids and this journal are. I took the time to write random things I heard them say that morning. My favorite? “When smoke comes out of the hole, turn it off.”

New Life Journal – When I discovered I was pregnant with each of my four children, I ran out and purchased a new journal. My words of love, joy, and their own baby milestones grace the pages. Now I try to write something each year around their birthdays. When they are married and expecting their first child, I plan on gifting them with this book from my heart, along with their very own blank journal to continue the tradition.

Gratitude Journal – This season is the perfect time to write what you’re thankful for. Pass a gratitude journal around to your family and ask them to write something down and sign it. Are you hosting Thanksgiving? Leave it by the spinach dip where your guests can see it and add their own thoughts of thankfulness. What a precious keepsake.

As an author, I take great joy in hearing from my readers. When my words have helped bring a laugh, comfort or teach, I am elated. But, my first love is my family. I’ve always believed as a writer I’m cutting a path for my children. This gift of writing is for them first. When my last day on earth draws to a close, my legacy remains. My journals are a part of that legacy. My words on paper are the fingerprints of my heart, left behind to remind them how much they were loved.

What about you? Did you keep a diary as a child? Do you write in a journal today? If so, what do you record on its pages?

25 Replies to “My Greatest Nonfiction Tool”

  1. Those are all great journal ideas.
    I have never been very good at consistently maintaining a journal. Blogging is the closest I’ve come to keeping something like a journal going on a regular basis.

  2. I was hit and miss with diaries when I was young, but I love keeping various journals today. I’ve been keeping a daily gratitude journal for several years now, sometimes listing only one thing, sometimes several. I also have a seed journal where I keep writing ideas, possible blog topics, and sometimes just phrases that I may come back to and flesh out in the future. I also have a mighty things journal where I’ve been remembering back and recording the mighty things or special touches the Lord has blessed me with throughout my life — a way to strengthen my faith through recalling His faithfulness and also a record for future generations. And for the past several years, I’ve been keeping a Christmas journal, recording some highlights of each Christmas season. Give me a journal, and I’ll find a use for it 🙂

  3. Joanne,
    At first I had to stop and think, “Hhhmm, did I write this post?” It sounded so familiar: piles and books and a husband saying, “This is driving me crazy!” (in a loving way, of course.)
    And yes, I keep journals too … there’s one in my car, one on my desk, one by my bed …
    And I kept a journal for each of my kids. While I haven’t utilized them as much for writing material as you have, it has been so fun to hand them over to my three adult children … and continue writing for my caboose kiddo. My oddest journal: My husband and I have close friends and whenever we meet for dinner I bring along a journal because the sound bites are too priceless to forget! Everything from sage advice to laugh-out-loud-I-can’t-believe-you-said-that comments.

    1. Beth, that is hilarious that you bring a journal to dinner with friends. I wish so much that I’d kept a journal over the years I worked at the police department. Dagnabbit!

  4. I’ve kept diaries and journals through the years. It’s fun to go back and see what I was dealing with, thinking about, and mulling over at different times in my life.

    What treasures your journals are, Joanne, and what a gift those you kept for your children will be to them when they become parents.

  5. beautiful post…and so glad i’m not the only one who winds up with piles of papers despite my best intentions to remain organized throughout the week. have a fabulous thanksgiving! i picture someone in your family yelling, “Smoke in the hole!” just as you carve the turkey 🙂 j

    1. Julie, paper piles are my downfall. There are little lumps of paper wherever I’ve been. When I go through the chaos I’m more frustrated than when I started.

  6. I keep a notebook for each of my children. I started them when they were in kindergarten, 2nd and 5th grade. Today they are in 7th, 9th and 12th grade. It is so much fun to go back and read what it was like when they were younger. My plan is to give each child their notebook when they move out. It is my legacy to them.

    1. Patti, my oldest daughter did that…wrote a letter to her OLDER self. She plans on reading it next year. Hope I can find it in my hope chest when she asks for it!

  7. I don’t keep a personal journal, but because of a book written by Tracey Finck, “Love Letters to a Child”, I have been keeping journals for my four grandchildren these past several years . The grandkids look for those books almost as soon as they come in the door to Grandma’s house. We go over them together and they add bits of information, and comments as well. They will eventually go to each child.
    Another type of journal I keep is one that has quotes, sayings, poems and scripture verses that have come to my aid in some way. They are words that help me understand the world, people,
    the character of God, the ways and means of living. I refer to this journal a lot.

    1. Thyrkas, well, you’ve just added a future tradition to my home. I can’t wait to keep a journal for my grandchildren. There’s no greater gift to leave them, if you ask me!

  8. Journals are a treasure trove of ministry! When I look back through mine, it helps me relate my writing to women through different stages of life. Especially painful times. Especially those moments where God feels so close that your breath catches. Journals are dear and precious – I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for your wonderful thoughts, Joanne.

  9. Wonderful and inspiring post, Joanne! With terrific comments from so many others, too. I also keep many journals, for lots of different purposes. But I had not yet started journals for my grandkids, and why not? I’m on it! I love hitting garage sales and buying up all the journals (brand new, of course!) I can find for mere pennies. I actually have, lined up on my desk and flanked by bookends, at least 30 journals—all waiting to be assigned their subject matter. A well-kept topical journal can be the basis for a book, with much of the work already done. Fun!

  10. I am impressed with your multiple journals! I really only have two — an idea journal that I carry with me in my purse, in case I am struck with awesome inspiration at a red light or in the grocery check-out line. And my prayer journal, which is really just a notebook that I use to jot down verses and thoughts while I am doing morning Bible study. I use both in my day-to-day blog writing.

    P.S. Loved the comment about strapping on an oxygen tank and climbing Mt. Everest.

  11. I never kept a journal when i was younger, but have started doing so recently. It’s called blogging! I have five blogs that receive attention, three weekly and two haphazardly. Oh, and Twitter, too. Right?

    More importantly, I do periodically journal my prayers and in a separate book I note significant spiritual events, which I suspect will someday be helpful when writing a book or two.

  12. I’ve journaled since I was eleven, and it’s fun to go back and read my teenage angst spilled out on paper. And my younger-mom journals are poignant and eye-opening…such a treasure! Thanks for encouraging others to journal, and for relating what a good writing tool they are. I so agree. Mine have been invaluable to me. 🙂

  13. I’ve kept a journal since about 5th grade. Initially they were full of short entries that said things like, “I think John is cute” or “nothing exciting happened today.” But they grew to be the place where I poured out my joys and angst and eventually became where I record my most precious of memories and spend time talking with the LORD. Seems like I listen better when I’m writing my prayers . . .

    I tried to start a book for each of the children, the cute things they said, my hopes and dreams for them, etc. Never followed through. ;o(

  14. Hi Joanne,
    I bonded with you the moment I read your husband’s comment about your piles, because he sounded, exactly, like my husband. My kind husband helps keep me organized, otherwise… let’s just say, it would not be pretty. He also “motivates” me to organize.
    I joke and say that I am a recovering perfectionist, but maybe I should borrow your line, and add “disorganized” but attribute it to you.

    To answer your question, I keep a gratitude journal and a prayer/diary journal.
    Your comment about strapping an oxygen tank and climbing Mt. Everest made me chuckle with recognition. Finally, someone else, who feels like I do, about organizing paper, except you said it so well.

  15. Great post! I never thought of journaling through my pregnancies. They were all traumatic so that might be why. I do keep a couple of journals but I’m not as good as it as I once was. I do enjoy going over the one I have written in the past especially the praise report of the thing God has done. Thank you for sharing. My daughter is much like you as far as the piles of organized disorganization. Today she went into her duaghter’s room to clean(she sixteen) and she was in there for hours and afterwards you couldn’t tell she had done anything. She got so distracted by her papers, notes, and drawings. Oh well!
    Glenda Parker

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