Writing to Remember
If you keep a journal, you fill pages with detailed memories and ephemera to remember events or people. You had a wonderful reunion with a friend. You write it down so you’ll remember that evening years from now. In your journal are all the details, ready to replay in your imagination long after your memory records it as fuzzy.
Writing to Forget
Pouring emotions on paper lets you release it. Have a disagreement with a friend? Pour your feelings out in your journal, and you will leave them there, because there is no reason for you to want to hold on to the hurt. Writing is an act of healing, and the healing begins when you release the need to rehearse the pain over and over again to make sure it’s still there. Knowing it’s in your journal is reason enough to quit rehearsing the details.
How can journal writing do both?
How can writing help you both remember and forget? Writing is a creative activity, and the act of forming words carefully, with a pen, creates a reaction between your brain and hand that lets you think through the emotional impact while you are writing. Writing by hand slows down your thoughts and helps you concentrate. (Some recent studies have shown that people who have learned to use a keyboard at an early age may get the same release from typing.)
Writing helps you forget, because you can vent on the page, examine your motives and reactions, and decide what to take with you as you move on. You learn from your hurts, as long as you don’t nurture them to feed anger and thoughts of retribution.
In the same way, writing down a to-do list allows you to forget, because you have the items written down. No need to keep rehearsing the list in your mind. Keeping a to-do list reduces anxiety and feeling overwhelmed because you no longer repeat what you haven’t done yet over and over.
When you write down to remember, something different happens. You write to enforce a memory, to recall more details, to bring a full range of emotions to the top of your mind. As you feel an enjoyable emotion or physical pleasure, the words you write create a path to feel that pleasure again, in full measure.
Keeping a journal is both a creative act and and act of healing. It can do both at the same time. Visit your journal often and allow your creativity to fuel healing.
—Quinn McDonald keeps a journal. She helps people learn how in her book Raw Art Journaling, Making Meaning, Making Art.