Books about diaries or personal journals

For many years I’ve kept personal journals. I don’t mean blogs (though I’ve kept a few of those as well in recent years), but paper journals that I write for me alone. Journals (or diaries) have been an important outlet for me since I was a teenager, though I’ve kept them more regularly at some times than at others.

In the meantime, since I first started journaling, I’ve read a lot of books about writing, because I had a dream of being a published novelist. But I’d never read a book about keeping a journal until now. The other day someone posted a quote by Tristine Rainer about journaling. I looked up the name, found that she’d written a couple of books, and one thing led to another.

The New Diary, by Tristine Rainer, was published in 1978 and has a preface written by Anaïs Nin just a year or so before her death. One might expect this book to be dated and out of touch considering when it was published. What I found inside was a virtual treasure chest of gems on the journaling process, and that emphasis on the process is important. The primary product of this process is not the contents of the filled diary or journal, so much as what one gains internally from engaging in the process to begin with.

As I say, I’ve kept a journal since the mid-seventies, and I came upon some of the techniques, or devices, described in the book entirely on my own. But reading this book gave me new insight into why those techniques helped me, and additional techniques to try using in my journals. I also gained a kind of validation about some things that I’ve done in my journals that I considered negative and detrimental because I was focused on content rather than process and what was healing to me. I have never wanted anyone to read my personal journals, and I still don’t, except for tidbits that I share here and there (many blog posts start out as journal entries, as does most of my poetry). Even so I was somehow caught up in the idea that the contents, and how readable they might be to someone else, were what mattered. I came to realize, in reading this book, how much healing and emotional cleansing I’ve gotten out of keeping my journals the way I do, with my internal censors and editors turned off, and ways to make them even more personally satisfying from now on, in fact ways to go deeper into unconscious material, which is something I’ve wanted to do.

I can’t recommend this book enough, for anyone, from the person new to keeping a diary to the long-time journal keeper like me, as well as for those with painful pasts or difficult present circumstances who’ve never considered a diary, and creative people of all types.

Having finished reading The New Diary and penciled lots of passages that I want to keep in mind, I plan to go back very soon and try more of the devices that are new to me, and even rethink some of those I’ve already used.

I’ve also moved on to another book on journal keeping, by fiction writer and therapist Kathleen Adams, titled Journal To the Self, Twenty-Two Paths To Personal Growth. This one is a bit more recent, published in 1990, but again still completely fresh. I’m nearly finished and I recommend this book as a follow-up to Rainer’s or as a stand-alone key to open some of the secrets of satisfying journal writing.

Both Rainer and Adams mentioned the trademarked Intensive Journal program by Ira Progoff, which was developed in 1966 as a workshop in which he taught a structured kind of journal process using a loose-leaf binder with color-coded dividers. I have a book on my reading pile by Ira Progoff, titled At A Journal Workshop. Progoff’s book, which I’ve peeked through a bit already, is drier, a little more convoluted, and teaches a different type of journaling process than the more organic style that I’m used to. Kathleen Adams differentiates between the two types of journals by describing hers (and mine) as “smorgasbord” and Progoff’s as “a la carte.” One is simply more free flowing and integrated than the other. But both have their strength, I’m sure, and it’s a good idea to explore different ways, and especially to try one for a while and keep it in one’s toolbox rather than dismiss it out of hand. There is so much to be gained from the journaling process, from the experience itself, one shouldn’t really dismiss anything, because it’s likely to have its use somewhere or at sometime in one’s life.

One of the best things I’ve found in the books by Rainer and Adams are some journal organizing and indexing tips that help one find past entries a little easier. I’ve been thinking that I needed to digitize all my old journals, especially my dream journals, so that I could find older entries more easily, but their tips will, I think, help me avoid that nightmare and make more use of my past journals without going that far.

So I’ve veered away a bit now from my reading of Carl Jung and associates, into reading about journal writing. But that’s not such a bad thing. I’ve struggled for a couple of years now with beginning to do Active Imagination, doing it in stops and starts. Active Imagination was one of Jung’s primary tools for the self-realization or individuation process. Since reading these wonderful books on journaling, I’m feeling a lot more confident about Active Imagination. The two processes mesh very well. So I’ve veered off track with a purpose, after all.

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